Aug 30, 2011
Israel must credibly convey that support for unilateral Palestinian statehood will not be a cost-free decision for whoever acts to effect it – or fails to act to foil it.
As September 20 – and the Palestinian unilateral initiative (UDI) for UN endorsement of a state within the 1949 armistice lines – approaches, Israeli policymakers would do well to adopt this perceptive dictum as a conceptual compass and an operational guideline in formulating effective responses to the looming diplomatic offensive.
The urgent imperative
The “Palestinian Problem” was created – or at least elevated to its present prominence – by Israel’s recognition of the Palestinians as a legitimate national entity. It can only be resolved – or at least reduced to future insignificance – by retracting that recognition.
This must be done by sustained assault on the Palestinian narrative, its factual authenticity, moral validity and political legitimacy, and aim at undermining the material, intellectual and emotional underpinnings of the Palestinian case for statehood.
Of course, this is easier said than done. However, this difficulty negates neither the necessity nor the urgency.
Indeed, the longer action is delayed, the more difficult it will become.
Defiance, not compliance
Indeed, it seems that in the corridors of power in Jerusalem, the lessons of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington have not been well-construed.
No one present in the US capital last May, when he confronted President Barack Obama and mesmerized the American political establishment with his rhetorical brilliance, could fail to feel the waves of admiration, identification and support he generated.
The unequivocal message this response conveyed was: Defiance is far more efficacious than compliance.
Assertive self-respect resonates far better than fawning self-effacement.
Resolve trumps retreat
It was a message further underscored by the recent flotilla fiasco, which – in the face of Israeli firmness – evaporated like the morning mists. (Wednesday’s rejection of US demands to apologize to Turkey is, hopefully, a well-overdue sign of a new understanding of this.) This, then, is the spirit in which Israel must approach the UN vote. It must bring home that the decision to recognize unilateral independence will not be cost-free; it is liable to entail significant penalties for those who endorse it – or refuse to thwart it.
The first, most immediate measure is to make it clear to the Palestinians – and to their UDI supporters – that if it is independence they demand, then independent they will have to be.
Accordingly Israel must convey in unequivocal terms that unless the Palestinians abandon their UDI effort, it will cease to provide every service and all merchandise that it provides them today. In other words, no water, no electricity, no fuel, no postal services, no communications, no port facilities, no tax collection or remittances will be supplied by Israel.
Indeed, what possible claim could be invoked to coerce one sovereign entity to provide for another allegedly sovereign entity – and an overtly adversarial one at that? After all, when Israel declared its independence, no Arab country rushed to help it develop and evolve.
Quite the opposite: The Arab world imposed embargoes and boycotts on it – and on anyone with the temerity to conduct commerce with it.
This message need not be delivered in a provocative, confrontational public statement, but through confidential diplomatic channels to all concerned parties.
Discretion notwithstanding, there should be no doubt as to Israel’s resolve to implement its stated intent – or as to the repercussions of thereof: The Palestinians will have to find alternative sources for their utility requirements and day-to-day needs.
It must be underscored that this burden will fall to those nations that endorsed the unilateral measure – should they care to shoulder such an onerous and expensive responsibility. It may be surprising how rapidly international appetite for UDI wanes if its sponsors realize that they will have to bear the financial consequences of its creation.
Ending the charade
If credibly conveyed, this declaration will compel the Palestinians either to forgo their UDI initiative with massive loss of face, or to launch a huge and humiliating appeal for urgent international assistance, exposing their total dependence on the very body from which they seek independence.
Either way, it will demonstrate the futility of the endeavor for Palestinian statehood, which almost two decades after the Oslo accords and massive investment has not produced anything but an untenable, divided entity crippled by corruption and cronyism, with a dysfunctional polity, an illegitimate president, an unelected prime minister, and a fragile economy that, with its minuscule private sector and bloated public one, is unsustainable without massive foreign infusions of funds and the largesse of its alleged “oppressor.”
However, to generate the necessary credibility, the Israeli government must halt its complicity in perpetuating the farce that led to the current predicament.
Instead of trying to cajole an unrepresentative Palestinian leadership – with promises of ever-increasing pliancy – to re-engage in futile negotiations, it must declare that all previous offers are off the table, all previous agreements null and void.
It must announce that since agreement on a “twostate solution” has proved unattainable, Israel will seek alternatives – now unavoidably unilateral – to ensure its security and survival as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.
Containing the consequences
Yes, there will be diplomatic consequences from such radical departure from established diplomatic convention – but none as grave as those of continuing capitulation.
In this regard, Israel must refrain from concessionary gestures that might afford the Obama administration any political gain or foreign policy victories. Indeed, it must distance itself from it as far as the niceties of diplomatic protocol permit –leaving it to stew in juices of its economic woes and flounder in the moronic morass of misconceived actions and misguided inaction that masquerades as its “policy” in the Mideast.
Instead, energies should be channeled into generating as much domestic pressure on the White House as possible to convey that a failure to veto the Palestinian UDI move will entail dire domestic political ramifications – and a windfall for Obama’s rivals.
After all, the White House will not order a Security Council veto because it is the morally right thing to do, but because it is the politically expedient thing to do. It should remember that the present acrimony is “small potatoes” compared to that which prevailed during the 1975 US “reassessment” of ties with Israel, when Gerald Ford brusquely suspended all aid and new arms deliveries to the Jewish state.
This policy was reversed not because of moralistic second thoughts on the part of the administration; as Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has observed, it was only when “confronted with opposition from both houses of Congress [that] Ford rescinded his ‘reassessment.’” Israel – and Netanyahu – have demonstrated considerable clout in Congress. With the 2012 elections looming, this must be utilized to the utmost to make withholding a veto of the UDI bid too daunting to contemplate.
Moreover, today Israel has an additional card to play: the Evangelical Christians, who by some estimates total close to a quarter of the US electorate, and sizable minorities in other countries across the globe. They comprise a political asset of huge and hitherto sorely under-utilized strategic potential.
The plight of Christians under Islam today, and the massive erosion of Christian presence in Christ’s birthplace, Bethlehem – under the Palestinian regime – make any policy to deliver control of Jerusalem’s holy sites to Muslim rule, as is implicit in the UDI initiative, a cause for alarm not only for Jews. It is also a prospect of the utmost gravity for hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide, many of whom are among Israel’s most fervent supporters and are searching vainly for some sign of direction from Israel of how to express that support.
The time has come to mobilize this asset and translate the potential into practical political influence.
In the US, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to win elected office against the united will of this community.
To date, such unity of will has been lacking. But what could be a better banner around which to rally such unity of will than the unity of the holy city? What more effective vehicle though which to bring political pressure to bear?
Israel is far from helpless in facing the Palestinian UN initiative. Much can be done to defuse it. True, it requires political will, moral resolve and the appropriate “anatomical appendages” on the part of Israel’s leadership.
So the only question is, will it rise to the occasion…or be found wanting?