Prime Minister Netanyahu has left Washington, and the fact that there was no shouting match between him and President Obama is being touted as a sign of the restored friendship and alliance between Israel and the United States. Symbols matter to the simple, and undoubtedly the choreography was designed to obscure memories of the insults of the recent past. But only substance matters in the real world, and, once again, Israel’s style of negotiation is almost designed for – and destined for – failure.
For one reason, Israel is again negotiating with itself, offering concessions to the Arabs that, because they are delivered through the American intermediary, are not construed by the Arabs as concessions at all. And even if the PM shows a backbone and does not extend the freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria – he presently hints in that direction, but his coyness, considering the explicit promises made to his nation, is dishonorable – nevertheless, a dangerous precedent has already been set. And for what ? What exactly has been gained through this moratorium, a concession unacknowledged and unrequited by the Arabs ?
And why wasn’t the matter of Jonathan Pollard raised seriously ? How is it that the Russians can extract their spies within a week of their arrests, and Israel’s government fears even raising the issue ? How about a good-will gesture from the United States, after the recent tensions ? Israel has held Russians (i.e., Israelis who spied for Russia) as spies, perhaps they still might have one or two. Why not a three-way deal ?
And why does Israel accept with equanimity the continued incarceration of its soldier, Gilad Schalit, in gross violation of international law (soldiers are accorded certain rights), and continue to afford rights under international law to the terrorists in its custody (who deserve no rights, being combatants that do not wear uniforms and prey on civilians). Why even consider exchanging a soldier – a protected class – for terrorists – and unprotected class ? And how did Israel succumb to the mistreatment of its soldier, while acquiescing in the continued delivery of food and fuel to his captors – the residents of Gaza ? And, yes, Israel is at war with Gaza, not just the three members of Hamas who hold Schalit, but the residents of Gaza who elected Hamas to be their leaders. How about an embargo on food and fuel until Schalit is released ? That would be a serious act, and one that would be executed by every other country in the world. In its inchoate desire to be more “moral” than the nations, Israel is in fact less moral. Diplomatically, it is haplessly incompetent.
Secondly, Netanyahu, as always, dazzled audiences with his eloquence and the cogency of his rhetoric. It is therefore mindboggling that his policies seldom adhere to the tone or substance of his rhetoric, which infuriates both friend and foe, and serves to anesthetize his erstwhile supporters.
These events reinforce the sense of ineptness that has always marked Israel’s diplomacy, a point underscored by former diplomat and long-time Hebrew University Professor Moshe Sharon, who advised PM Begin in his time. The following, written several years ago and sent to me this past week, is a comforting reminder that not all Israelis have lost their common sense and their grounding in reality. One can only long for the day when these ideas will pervade the leadership and political class on Israel, and pray that that day comes before the point of no return is passed.
A SHORT GUIDE TO THOSE OBSESSED WITH PEACE
Professor Moshe Sharon
“Everybody says that his donkey is a horse.”
“There is no tax on words.”
(Two Arab proverbs)
On December 25, 1977, at the very beginning of the negotiations between Israel and Egypt in Ismailia, I had the opportunity to have a short discussion with Muhammad Anwar Sadat the president of Egypt. “Tell your Prime Minister, he said, that this is a bazaar; the merchandize is expensive.” I told my Prime Minister but he failed to abide by the rules of the bazaar similar to all the Israeli governments and the media.
In the bazaar of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the two sides are not discussing the same merchandise. While the Israelis wish to acquire “peace”, the Arabs wish to annihilate the Jewish state and get rid of the Jews.
To achieve their goal, the Arabs took to the battlefield as well as to the bazaar diplomacy. The wisdom of the bazaar is that if you are clever enough you can sell nothing at a price, however in the bazaar only a foolish buyer pays for something he has never seen.
In the present situation in the Middle East and in the foreseeable future “peace” is nothing more than an empty word. Israel should stop speaking about “peace” and delete the word “peace” from its vocabulary together with such phrases as “the price of peace” or “territory for peace”. For almost a century the Jews have been ready to pay the Arabs any price for peace. They have received nothing, because the Arabs have no peace to sell.
Since this is the situation, Israel should openly declare that peace does not exist as an option in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that if the Arabs ask for peace; they must pay for it. For unlike the Arabs, Israel has this merchandize for sale and therefore, Israel should be the side demanding payment for peace and fixing its price.
Therefore, if anyone asks Israel for plans, the answer should be: “No plans, in fact no negotiations at all.” If the Arab side wants to negotiate, let it present its plans and its “ideas”. To which the Israeli answer should always be: “Unacceptable! Come with better ones.”
Here are ten rules for bargaining in the Middle Eastern bazaar:
1. Never be the first to suggest anything to the other side . Never show any eagerness “to conclude a deal”.
2. Always reject; disagree. Use the phrase: “Not meeting the minimum demands,” and walk away, even a hundred times.
3. Don’t rush to come up with counter-offers. Let the other side make amendments under the pressure of your total “disappointment”.
4. Have your own plan ready in full, as detailed as possible, with the red lines completely defined. However, never show this or any other plan to a third party.
5. Never change your detailed plan to meet the other side “halfway”. Remember, there is no “halfway”.
6. Never leave things unclear. Always avoid “creative phrasing”. Remember playing with words is the Arab national sport.
7. Regard every detail as a vitally important issue. Never postpone any problem “for a later occasion”. If you do so you will lose; remember that your opponent is always looking for a reason to avoid honoring agreements.
8. Emotion belongs neither in the marketplace nor at the negotiating table. Friendly words as well as outbursts of anger, holding hands and kissing, do not represent policy.
9. Beware of popular beliefs about the Arabs and the Middle East – “Arab honor” for example. Remember, you have honor too, but this has nothing to do with the issues under negotiation.
10. Always remember that the goal of all negotiations is to make a profit. You should aim at making the highest profit in real terms. Remember that every gain is an asset for the future.
To these ten rules another one should be added:
11. You should never agree to negotiate with more than one side. The Arabs will try to bring as many participants to the negotiating table to put you in an inferior position. Never agree to bring in even so called “friendly participants. There is no such thing.
The Arabs have been practicing negotiation tactics for more than 2,000 years. They are the masters of words, and a mine of endless patience. In contrast, Israelis (and Westerners in general) want quick “results”.
In this part of the world there are no quick results, the hasty one always loses.
So wrote Professor Moshe Sharon in 2007. He makes so much sense, it is no wonder he is no longer in government.