In the early 2000’s, after another secular, nominally right-wing prime minister of Israel let down his constituents by betraying his campaign platform and lifelong values, I suggested to a settler leader that perhaps Binyamin Netanyahu would make a good replacement, having been chastened by his failures in office the first time he served as prime minister. The activist responded: “Usually when the first movie is a failure, they don’t make a sequel.” Behold, the sequel is upon us, and let us count the errors.
As predicted here, one freeze begets another, and then likely another as well. “Negotiations” are to be conducted, if the PA deigns to do so, over the heartland of Israel after Israel has repeatedly demonstrated by its actions that it has no genuine claim to the land. The existence, substance and pace of these “negotiations” are completely dictated by the enemy. The PA can have the Israelis dancing through hoops and doing back flips while reciting Koranic verses, if they wished. To negotiate with such an entity is not as much an exercise in futility as in willful suicide. One side, with the appalling agreement of the other, controls whether or not negotiations will take place, and for how long they will take place, and on which terms they will take place. That side reserves the right at any time to walk out on negotiations, and to declare itself unsatisfied, if not unsatisfiable. Israel is like the pathetic soul who has to pay for a meal in his own home, and then does not even get the meal.
It is astonishing how such an articulate, thoughtful individual as is Binyamin Netanyahu while speaking, writing books, or leading the opposition can completely lose his moral and intellectual moorings when he becomes prime minister. He has claimed that “what you see from here, you don’t see from there.” That is true, but not relevant. What animates most human beings are their values and principles – the Arabs are certainly guided by their principles, as depraved as they might be. A person without principles is hollow; a person who asserts during a political campaign that he has principles, and then reveals in office that he has none, is shameless.
The travesty of denying Jews the right to build homes in the heartland of Israel is compounded by the unseemly horse-trading that PM Netanyahu considers statecraft. How about a few planes, which Israel would likely be sold anyway by a friendly American president ? How about a hint that maybe the US will sort-of veto some anti-Israel UN resolutions for a few months, that a friendly American president would veto anyway as an expression of American values and interests ? And what good are American pledges when Obama himself treated President Bush’s pledges (in writing, no less) as non-entities? Thus the land of Israel promised to the Jewish people by G-d through our forefathers for all eternity is disparaged as a cheap commodity that commands little respect or loyalty. There are dozens of territorial disputes across the globe, and in none of them is either side willing to relinquish any claim or right, however tenuous. From Japan and Russia, to China and Vietnam, to Ecuador and Peru, to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, no country gives any quarter on what it considers its national soil. Just recently the British were apoplectic when President Obama suggested that perhaps the time had come for Britain and Argentina to “begin” negotiations over the Falkland Islands, 6000 miles from the United Kingdom. The suggestion was rejected out of hand. There are territorial disputes on every continent, and the only country actively engaged in surrendering its homeland piecemeal – Israel – is the only country whose territory was promised to it by the Creator. As a Jew, it is embarrassing, but also quite revealing.
I wrote in this space (December 2009) something I heard years ago from one of the leading Hesder Roshei Yeshiva in Israel with whom I discussed the persistent betrayal by Likudniks of any principles they might profess. He answered me as follows: Torah Jews and secular right-wing Jews can all love Israel, fight for Israel and even die for Israel. Both groups can demonstrate great self-sacrifice for both the land and the people – but for secular Jews, it must stop at a certain point. “If it were possible,” he said, “to achieve the same love of Israel through Torah and not-through-Torah, then why would you need the Torah?” Therefore, their dedication collapses at a certain point – each person (Netanyahu, Sharon, Livni, Olmert, etc.) at his/her own level.
What is worse is that this recent collapse comes after Netanyahu’s repeated promises and boasts that the “freeze” was one-time and not-to-be repeated, and after much “Jews have a right to build” rhetoric. Worse than that is the distressing recognition that Israel is the only country in the world that actually feels today it must defer to the American president. Obama just spent ten days in Asia, making requests, demands and suggestions that were summarily rejected by China, Japan, South Korea, India, Britain and possibly the Marshall Islands. On currency, trade and security issues, the American president is perceived as weak, a spent force who speaks softly and carries a wet noodle. Only Israel, perhaps out of nostalgia, somehow feels “pressure,” a reflexive need to be obeisant, and an obligation to kowtow to American demands – without any merit or rationale. Israel, whether it appreciates it or not, is a regional power with a strong, vibrant economy and a robust military. It is only plagued by “leaders” who seem trapped in the 1970s, who perceive themselves as presiding over a nation that is poor, victimized, and decrepit, and that can survive only on the good will of hostile nations and not on faith in G-d who has blessed it with great might and courage. It has maneuvered itself into a situation where it has to beg for scraps of international respect, even as it is begrudged any right of self-defense.
Israel’s crisis of self-confidence that afflicts its leadership, one pathetic soul after another, is belied by the strength, fearlessness and commitment of many of its citizens. It is defined not by its Sharons, Netanyahus, Olmerts, Baraks, Pereses and Rabins, but the people who continue to believe in the G-d of Israel, the Jewish state and people, who weather all storms (physical and political) and continue to build the Jewish homeland with pride – in Hevron and Bet El and points beyond. I have just returned from attending the annual dinner celebrating the rejuvenated Jewish community of Hevron, in the company of many hundreds of devoted, passionate lovers of Israel (even as two dozen self-hating Jews protested outside). Each new home, each new yeshiva, each new business, and each new oleh is a challenge not only to Israel’s enemies across the globe but also to Israel’s spineless, spiritless leaders who squeak to electoral victories on the basis of empty rhetoric, hollow promises and inane campaigns and then bask in the vacuous applause of American Jews desperate for a photo op with the latest pinup star. The Jewish people deserve better, and will ultimately receive better.
As always, Netanyahu thinks he is clever-by-half, with another freeze that is designed to win some short term benefit (planes?! How about Pollard ??) at the price of yet another public declaration that the land of Israel does not belong to the people of Israel. He must reason that the right-wing won’t abandon him to Livni’s Kadima, so he further risks alienating the true faithful of the land of Israel. But no one – left, right, center, Israeli, American, European – trusts him. One who thinks that he is securing Yerushalayim by abandoning Judea and Samaria is betraying Yerushalayim as well. Surely he has noticed that opponents of Jewish rights in YESHA oppose Jewish rights in Yerushalayim as well.
Not to be outdone, the Shas Party – the underwriters of Oslo in the 1990s, if anyone still cares to remember – again demonstrates that its cherished values are for sale to the highest bidder, literally hiding behind “abstentions” so it can claim to its benighted masses that it did not “vote” for another freeze, even though Shas’ abstentions allow the vote to pass. When will Shas voters wake up ?
Israel should not rely on the obstinacy of the Palestinians, even if they will probably again spurn any negotiations; they are always the ones who look principled, and it is obvious they see no benefit in talks. And why should they, when they have garnered windfalls without negotiations? But it is never too late for Israel to turn back and regain its moral and spiritual high ground – to admit that negotiations are futile, that peace is not on the horizon for decades (if that), to put facts on the ground, to ignore the dire warnings of “intelligence officials” (“the region is a powder keg, and if the conflict is not resolved in five or ten minutes, everything will blow up”), to exercise strength and steadfastness diplomatically, politically and militarily, and to remember the destiny of the Jewish people in its land, when it is faithful, worthy and proud.
It starts with a simple declaration, known in a different context to every American of a certain age: “this land is our land, given to us by G-d in perpetuity. We have returned, never to be uprooted. If you wish to live here in tranquility, then let us negotiate the conditions of your residence.” Such a statement cannot be made by the stars of this failed sequel, but it eventually will be made by stars of a different order of magnitude altogether.