Here’s a quick take on the big Middle East summit that will take place next week, and fail miserably. No one here in Israel – right or left – trusts Binyamin Netanyahu. The right suspects he is a man without principle, and the left suspects that he is secretly a hawk (if so, it is a well-guarded secret). No one here trusts Mahmoud Abbas, the PA “President” whose term ended more than 18 months ago but who continues to rule in that charade of an entity known as the Palestinian Authority. Hamas doesn’t trust him because even talking to the accursed Jews is perceived by much of the Islamic world as an obscene sellout, Israelis don’t trust him because it has suddenly dawned on all but the willfully-blind that a man who was Arafat’s deputy for 40 years is unlikely to be a Zionist, and his own people don’t trust him because…well, his term expired around the same time George W. Bush left office but somehow Abbas is still around. And no one trusts Barack Obama, whose natural sympathies for the Arabs have been somewhat muted for political reasons but whose understanding of the Arab-Israeli dynamic is perceived by all sides as woefully inadequate. Obama’s early humiliation of Israel is not forgotten here, and his (self-) heralded Cairo speech and outreach to the Muslims has been mocked by the Arab world, when not ignored altogether.
Obama, master of the grand speech and empty gesture, is likely to make several more, attempt to show a foreign policy “accomplishment” that cannot be attributed to a George W. Bush policy, and bask in the good intentions that generate glowing editorials in the liberal press, but little else.
So, no one wants to be in Washington next week, and it will show. The Palestinians have been threatening to leave even before they arrive – a neat trick – all to put pressure on Israel as the impediment to peace. In that, they might succeed, because of Israel’s legendary, mediocre negotiating skills. Pressure will be put on Netanyahu to maintain the building “freeze” in Judea and Samaria. As predicted here last year, the Arabs would wait until the very end of this “gesture” to pocket new concessions in exchange for Israel to have to privilege of sitting with them and surrendering. It is a strange world we live in.
A week ago, I visited a family living in one of the settlements on a street with beautiful private homes, but across from an empty lot strewn with rocks, sand and garbage that looked incongruous. Asking whether anyone was planning on building there, my host reminded me of the freeze. Someone had bought the lot and hired a contractor who was ready to build, but the freeze intervened before they could lay the foundation. How bizarre, how immoral, if you think about it in those terms ! A Jew is not allowed to build a home, in Israel, because of pressure placed on a weak, feckless Israeli government by Obama and Clinton to induce the Arabs to come to the peace table, once again, and again, and again. I don’t know who is more shameless – the Americans who demanded it or the Israelis who succumbed. But a lot – thousands actually – stands vacant and fallow, because of …why, again ?
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is so blunt in his speech that he – rare for a foreign minister – is almost not allowed to conduct foreign affairs – was asked this morning whether the “gesture” (the freeze) should be extended. He answered, as is his tendency, that the time for Israeli gestures is over. Let the Arabs make some gestures for once. “It can’t be that we always have to pay for the pleasure of sitting at a table with the Palestinians; let them pay as well.” He makes so much sense that I doubt he will even be allowed in Washington. Of course, even he is not trusted because his policy positions don’t always match his rhetoric, and to keep him in line, a “police investigation” now hangs over his head for almost a decade.
Nor does any significant segment of the population here – even on the left – believe anymore in the efficacy of the “two-state solution.” That dog won’t hunt. Even if Abbas started wearing a kippa seruga, he is a chief without Indians, i.e., he represents no real constituency. He could not make any concessions even if he wanted to, so negotiating with him is like entering into a contract for the purchase of a house with someone who is not the owner. The paperwork could be in order, and the rituals followed perfectly – but nothing really happens in the end except the buyer loses money if he is foolish enough to pay. The “Palestine” dreamed of by the naïve utopians who are the useful idiots of the evildoers who hate Israel has absolutely no resources, industry, talents or infrastructure to support a modern state. Their national history is as much a fabrication as the notion that their future intentions are peaceful and wholesome. So their renewed “demand” for a continuation of the freeze is a smokescreen.
Of course, why then have such an event ? Everyone knows that, at present, the minimum the Arabs will accept (Israel’s self-destruction) is more than the maximum the Israelis are currently willing to give (more expulsions and surrender of land). Certainly, Obama needs a optimistic photo op, with the American economy still tanking, unemployment and the market stagnant at unpleasant levels, the US sinking into bankruptcy level debt, and Democrats fleeing from his very presence for their electoral lives. In some quarters, he gets credit even for trying. The real danger, as always, is for Israel. They are the only party expected to make concessions (after all, get ready to hear again about the “Arab street” and how Arab public opinion suddenly matters in that region of 23 brutal dictatorships), and those concessions are pocketed in exchange for new papers, words, promises and ceremonies. It is a macabre dance that every American president – even those with purer motivations than Obama – tries to choreograph.
The estimable George Will: “The biggest threat to peace might be the peace process — or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one. The mirage becomes the reason for maintaining its imaginary “momentum” by extorting concessions from Israel, the only party susceptible to U.S. pressure. Israel is, however, decreasingly susceptible. In one month, history will recycle when the partial 10-month moratorium on Israeli construction on the West Bank expires. Resumption of construction — even here, in the capital, which was not included in the moratorium — will be denounced by a fiction, “the international community,” as a threat to another fiction, “the peace process.”
Israel has to learn to say “no.” In that, Lieberman would be a much more effective spokesman than the glib Netanyahu, who is too clever by half and thinks he can speechify his way out of any predicament. Instead, he just sounds both duplicitous and disingenuous, and makes his interlocutors – fiends that they are – look straightforward by comparison. His approach is good – insistence on Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state (that’ll stick in their craw for a century or two), demilitarization, end to incitement, etc. – but the great unknown is whether he has the fortitude to stick with it. His track record is not good; hence, the apprehension whenever he embarks on one of these missions.
Perhaps the time will come soon when a credible Israeli spokesmen will address his own people, and the world community, as adults, and tell them that peace is not at hand, that the Arab rejection of Israel’s continued existence is unabated, and that the only democracy in the Middle East cannot jeopardize its existence to accommodate terrorists, and that negotiations are on hold indefinitely until the Arab states democratize. That should be a winning argument, at least among the decent people. And among the indecent, it does not really matter.
And Israel is in a good place now – economically and militarily. Terror has decreased considerably, and the PA police have done a commendable job in this regard in Judea and Samaria – not because they love Israel but because they hate Hamas (remembering well, as Jews do not, how the Hamas threw the PA police officers by the dozens off roofs in Gaza when Hamas conquered it in 2006). Patrols in the Arab towns and villages, arrests of terrorists and the thwarting of terrorist acts before they are launched have engendered a sense of security and calm that is much enjoyed after the terrible decade (1995-2005). The myth of the “demographic bogeyman” has been exploded by research, mainly that of Yoram Ettinger. Israel’s population is growing as the Arab growth has stagnated.
The Arabs will certainly play their usual game, and threaten to walk out whenever their demands are not met. If that happens, the Israelis should simply point to the door. Can Netanyahu restrain his impulse to be liked, and put the onus on the Arabs ? Can he demand the immediate release of Gilad Schalit as an Arab good-will gesture, and the immediate release of Jonathan Pollard as an American good-will gesture ? He certainly can; that he likely won’t is to his discredit. Even worse, he will seek to split the difference – a “partial freeze” – thinking it offers everyone something. In fact, it just makes everyone distrust and dislike him.
Fortunately, this empty ceremony will likely last just a day, break up into “committees” that will accomplish nothing, and send everyone home in time for Rosh Hashana.
It could not come soon enough.