Explaining Doublespeak to our Friends

September 1, 2011 by Isi Leibler
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These are difficult times as we simultaneously confront threats from our Middle East neighbours and intensified pressures from every direction including the Obama Administration….writes Isi Leibler.

Isi Leibler

The situation is aggravated by the upheavals in the Arab world, which have in all instances resulted in radical anti-Israeli Islamic elements either taking control or significantly strengthening their influence. Even our peace treaty with Egypt is now in question. And at the same time, Hezbollah and Hamas have accumulated arsenals of deadly rockets which in the event of a conflict would be directed towards all the major Israeli populated areas.

In this context the enthusiastic bipartisan congressional support accorded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his – Washington visit, should not create excessive euphoria. It is the White House, in the main, which controls foreign affairs and in view of the current economic meltdown, the pro-Israel Congress is more likely to be concentrating on urgent issues of domestic concern rather than confronting Obama over his Middle East policies. We also have legitimate grounds for unease that should Obama obtain a second term and no longer face election constraints and party pressures not to alienate Jewish support, he is likely to intensify his one-sided demands on us.

To this day President Obama has not diverged from his initial approach of appeasing Islamic states and making harsh demands on Israel. Yet, the American president is neither respected by friend nor foe. The manner in which he unhesitatingly abandoned his long standing US ally Mubarak, whilst delaying calls for the ouster of Syrian President Assad have encouraged the traditional Moslem allies of the US to lose confidence in him. At the same time, his adversaries consider him a wimp capitulating on every front. Even Israel dove and former Labor Minister, Yossi Beilin, maintains that Obama “holds zero accountability for his presidency” and “waits for someone else to implement his grand plan”.

We are confronted with a major challenge in September.  Irrespective of whether the UN General Assembly endorses Palestinian statehood, there are likely to be concerted attempts to encourage tens of thousands of Palestinians to bypass roadblocks into Israeli territory. We will be obliged to exercise force to protect our security and sovereignty. Even taking maximum precautions, there will almost certainly be casualties and Israel is likely to yet again face global condemnation and demonization.

In the face of these imminent challenges, only idiots or those relying exclusively on Divine intervention would dismiss the crucial importance of maintaining US support. Aside from our essential defense requirements it is only the US which is in a position to economically pressure the Egyptian military regime not to concede to the Islamic extremists baying for the annulment of the peace treaty with us. In addition, the absence of a US diplomatic umbrella would leave us to the mercies of the Europeans who would have no compunction in abandoning us by supporting boycotts and sanctions at the UN in order to appease the Arab and Third World countries.

Politics is the art of the possible and we must therefore resist demagogic populist attitudes exhorting us to be “tough” and face the world alone. In this context, one would not envy the role of an Israeli Prime Minister. He is obliged to retain the critical support and friendship of the American people and Congress who can, at least substantially, limit the administration’s efforts to pressure us. To achieve this in such a fake environment, requires an extraordinary diplomatic balancing act in which he remains firm on essentials but must not be perceived as the obstacle to resolving the conflict.

It is in this context that one must assess the unconfirmed reports that Netanyahu has tentatively agreed to Obama’s ‘revised’ formula of employing “1967 borders with swaps” as a benchmark for negotiations with the Palestinians. In return, Obama has allegedly undertaken to revert to the Bush commitments which recognize that demographic changes entitle Israel to retain the major settlement blocs and defensible borders. Netanyahu is said to have made this offer subject to a quid pro quo by the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. As this would imply a repudiation of the Arab refugee right of return – which the Palestinians would never endorse – this exercise remains an extension of the theatre of the absurd in which we are obliged to dance through meaningless motions in order to humor the Obama Administration.

Unfortunately, previous experience has demonstrated that vague understandings are frequently selectively implemented to our detriment. An example is the total disregard of the clause in the Quartet Road Map stipulating that prior to any further Israeli concessions, the terrorist infrastructure would be dismantled.

An agreement along these lines with Obama may thus return to haunt us. In the absence of clear definitions of defensible borders and “major settlement blocs”, these new undertakings could be exploited in future negotiations to pressure us into making territorial concessions to the Palestinians with potentially disastrous long-term security consequences.

The even more detrimental outcome of these theatrics is the confusion and bewilderment it sows amongst Diaspora Jews and our friends. On the one hand, we occasionally speak the truth and expose the Palestinians as a criminal society promoting a genocidal culture designed to destroy us. Then, to placate our western ‘allies’ we relate to Abbas as a peace partner and babble on about negotiating for a settlement, fully aware that in the current climate this is simply delusional.

One day our Prime Minister has a confrontation with the US President and the next day Defence Minister Barak proclaims that Obama is God’s gift to Israel. In contrast, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has a penchant for occasionally firing aggressive statements (often based on reality) which enthuse his supporters, but embarrass the government and frequently detract from our international standing.

Of course, ideally ministers of a government should speak with one voice. However the concept of Cabinet responsibility in Israel has for many years been ignored and individual ministers feel entitled to say what they like, even in stark opposition to the policy of their own government.

Nevertheless, within the constraints of the fantasy world in which our government must operate, a strategy must be devised to ensure that despite the ‘doublespeak’ in which those seeking to destroy us are portrayed as “peace partners”, we ensure that Diaspora Jews and our friends are enabled to comprehend the reality of the situation.

Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. 

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