Prime Minister Netanyahu is about to take his administration past the point of no return and down the road to its ruination, for the second time in a decade. Two fateful decisions are before him, and word is his choices will be designed to promote popularity, foreign and domestic, and will therefore likely not succeed.
One decision relates to his apparent concession to American pressure and his agreement to freeze new construction in the “settlements” for nine, ten or whatever number of months. This is wrong-headed on a number of counts. There is an obvious immorality in Jews being directed by a foreign power not to allow Jews to live normal lives in a given geographical area, and becomes even more abhorrent when that policy applies in the Land of Israel. And by freezing construction – even for a brief period of time – he allows the Arab and American narrative to take root: that “settlements” are the obstacle to peace, even though any rational observer and casual student of history remembers that there was no peace even when there were no settlements (1948-1969).
This narrative, once subscribed to by Israel, is a tacit admission that building in the land of Israel is wrong, and something about which Jews should feel guilty. Is there anything that more undermines the very enterprise of Jewish nationalism, and that threatens Yerushalayim – and Tel Aviv ? If only Arabs can build – and illegally at that – and not Jews, then why should Jews feel any confidence in the future of the Jewish state ? To allow the Arabs to essentially dictate the pace and direction of Jewish settlement – unprecedented in the history of Israel – is to give them a veto over the Jewish national idea entirely. Indeed, a cogent argument can be made that only an increase in Jewish settlement will succeed in bringing the Arabs to negotiations, as they will see the clock ticking against them.
Obviously, the freeze, once enacted, can never painlessly be lifted. No American administration will openly admit that the ostensible purpose of the freeze – negotiations with a “successful” outcome – has ever lapsed. That would be tantamount to conceding that the “peace process” has ended, and that will never happen. Ten months can easily stretch into ten years, because the Arabs will gladly wield that cudgel, threatening to halt any negotiations if any home is built. So why make a concession, likely to be permanent, without achieving anything in return ? Well, that question answers itself: that has been Israeli “diplomacy” for decades – the surrender of vital assets and interests in exchange for nothing of substance.
What is even more likely to happen is the continuation of surreptitious building, which transforms Jews from being proud builders of our G-d-given land into liars and cheats who cannot be trusted to uphold any agreement. And doesn’t a freeze pre-judge the outcome of negotiations, by implying that these lands cannot – or should not – remain under Jewish sovereignty ? So why would any skilled negotiator weaken his own position ? Because he is convinced that this will purchase short-term good-will. And it will, just like the expulsion of Jews from Gaza and Northern Shomron made Israel the world’s darlings. Right…
The worst aspect of the freeze is the implication that Netanyahu subscribes to the fiction that peace is possible and that negotiations are warranted, when for ten different reasons the entire “process” is a macabre joke, from the continuation of terror to the risibly weak Palestinian interlocutors who represent no one to the growing sense in the Arab world that Israel’s days are numbered. Netanyahu should be propounding this concept – the impossibility of peace in the current environment – because he would then sound credible, courageous and leader-like. Instead, he is gripped by the illusion that Barack Obama will be his friend if he agrees to this one concession.
That type of vacillation doomed his first tenure as prime minister, and will doom this one as well, with the recognition that, once again, the secular-right in Israel has proved itself incapable and unworthy of leadership.
The second fateful decision is the pending negotiations for the release of Gilad Schalit in exchange for nearly 1,000 murderers of one stripe or another. Most Israelis acknowledge the irrationality of the move, which will only encourage more kidnappings and engender more terror. Prisoners previously released have gone back to their chosen line of work, and have subsequently murdered more than 150 Israelis.
But even people who acknowledge its irrationality and the likelihood of an upsurge in terror support the trade because of something in the Israeli culture, or better said, the Israeli mythology: not leaving a soldier on the battlefield. But these myths – like the hoary one that “Israel does not negotiate with terrorists” – have been shattered in the last few decades. All Israel does is negotiate with terrorists, and soldiers – Katz, Baumol, Feldman, Arad, Pollard – have all been abandoned on the battlefield. So why prop up a failed myth, a myth that will shed more Jewish blood ?
Rabbis and scholars of Jewish law are almost unanimously against this release, on grounds that the Mitzva of Pidyon Shvuyim (ransoming captives) applies only when the price is “reasonable,” and will not encourage future kidnappings. But the Arabs – Hamas and others – boast that they will take more captives until Israeli jails hold no Arab prisoners at all. And is the price “reasonable” ? It does serve as convincing proof that Jewish lives are more precious than Arab ones – apparently, each Jewish life is worth 1,000 Arab lives.
Those who say that soldiers are not typical captives – for they serve a government that has promised to spare no efforts to free them – miss one point: they are soldiers, who occasionally even die in battle, give their lives for their country. If winning the release of one Jew costs the lives of another hundred, then there might as well not be an army. Granted, the anguish of the family must be unbearable – poor Yona Baumol z”l went to his grave never learning of his son’s fate since 1982 – but if the needs of the society in wartime did not trump the rights of the individual, then there would be no justification to send any soldier into battle at any time – because he could potentially lose his life.
The great compassion of Jews is here a tremendous weakness that our enemies willfully exploit. And any parent would do what the Schalits are doing – placing their child’s interests above the national interest. And that is to be expected, and that is quite reasonable and understandable. But it is unacceptable in a leader who must weigh broader concerns, and catering to this phenomenon is no different than a prime minister catering to a mother’s request not to send her son into battle. It is compassionate, it is sensitive – but it is also deadly, and a leader can make other choices.
How about cutting off the entry of ALL food and supplies in Gaza until, at first, Schalit is visited by the Red Cross ? Why accept this gross, Nazi-like violation of international law ? ALL food. Cut off oil, electricity, power. If the Israeli public is suffering vicariously the torment of the Schalit family – let the Gazans (who voted Hamas into power) suffer as well, but really suffer.
How about gradually re-taking the territory from which rockets are fired into Israel ? Each time a rocket is fired, Israel re-occupies that area – slowly driving the Arab inhabitants of that war zone further south (from northern Gaza) and further west (from eastern Gaza). Let them feel the noose tightening, let them feel the grip of the vise around their necks, let them feel the loss of their homes, let them feel the yearning of the Israelis for peace and tranquility.
How about Israel stating unequivocally that until Schalit is released there will be no normalcy in Gaza, and there will be a price of voting into power that band of murderous Jew-haters.
Israel has options; if they choose not to use them and instead the leadership again treads the path of weakness and vulnerability, then undoubtedly the right and then the left will turn on Netanyahu – and before he can right the ship, his term will be over and his government a failure – a second time.
The quest for popularity abroad is an Israeli fantasy, and populist decision-making at home is a recipe for a disaster. Message to Netanyahu: if you want to be a leader, then lead; or get out of the way.