You know things are bad when one of Israel’s most influential apologists throws in the towel and practically concedes defeat. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Tom Friedman use these words before:
I’VE never been more worried about Israel’s future. The crumbling of key pillars of Israel’s security — the peace with Egypt, the stability of Syria and the friendship of Turkey and Jordan — coupled with the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel’s history have put Israel in a very dangerous situation.
On every possible diplomatic front, Friedman concedes not just that Bibi has made a mess of things, but that the situation is hopeless and irretrievable. That’s about as low as someone of his impeccable pro-Israel credentials can go. Here is how he characterizes Bibi’s “strategy,” such as it is:
Mr. Netanyahu has a strategy: Do nothing vis-à-vis the Palestinians or Turkey that will require him to go against his base, compromise his ideology or antagonize his key coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extreme right-winger. Then, call on the U.S. to stop Iran’s nuclear program and help Israel out of every pickle, but make sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return — like halting Israeli settlements — by mobilizing Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and by encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote. And meanwhile, get the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration or Congress who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack. There, who says Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t have a strategy?
Friedman, who knows the pro-Israel lobby well and undoubtedly at times shares much in common with it, analyzes very persuasively the damaging impact that it has on political discourse here in this country and for Israel:
…The powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.
He also quotes this persuasive critique by Aluf Benn, Haaretz’s new managing editor:
“The years-long diplomatic effort to integrate Israel as an accepted neighbor in the Middle East collapsed this week…The region is spewing out the Jewish state, which is increasingly shutting itself off behind fortified walls, under a leadership that refuses any change, movement or reform … Netanyahu demonstrated utter passivity in the face of the dramatic changes in the region, and allowed his rivals to seize the initiative and set the agenda.”
Friedman also notes a fascinating account of the failure of the Israel-Turkey deal over the Mavi Marmara offered by Nahum Barnea:
…The two sides agreed that Israel would apologize only for “operational mistakes” and the Turks would agree to not raise legal claims. Bibi then undercut his own lawyers and rejected the deal…
This, of course, is perfectly in character for Bibi. He flies by the seat of his pants, decides he must reject a carefully crafted compromise for domestic political considerations, and refuses to consider the long-term implications not just for relations with Turkey, but for Israel’s status in the entire region. The result is an utter disaster externally, while Bibi sits golden in terms of the domestic political situation.
Ehud Olmert did precisely the same thing when Turkey had arranged for proximity talks between Syria and Israel which could’ve led to resolution of their half century conflict. Instead, Olmert decided to go to war with Hamas, believing this would help his domestic political standing far more than a peace deal with Syria. Olmert too didn’t reckon that the war would turn into an unmitigated disaster, lead to the Goldstone Report, accusations of war crimes, and the long-term fracturing of Israel’s relations with Turkey.
How heedless and heartless these Israeli leaders are. They remind me of the Pharaoh of old who, when Moses appeals to him to allow the Israelites their freedom, at first concedes; then thinks better as his heart hardens, and ultimately says no. The end result: Pharaoh and all his army are drowned in the closing waters of the Red Sea.
Is this the type of disaster that will have to happen for Israel to come to its senses?
Friedman puts his faith in the Israeli electorate to do so and elect new leadership:
One can only hope that the Israeli people will recognize this before this government plunges Israel into deeper global isolation and drags America along with it.
I’m afraid we are far beyond that point. Besides, Tzipi Livni will only mean changing the names on the office door. She won’t change attitudes or policies fundamentally. Not to mention that if anything, the Israel electorate is going to the right rather than the center. Recent polls show Kadima hemmhoraging support to Labor which, for some odd reason is getting a new lease of life. I’m afraid that if anything, the future shines much brighter for Avigdor Lieberman than Tzipi Livni. So no, looking for an electoral solution to this problem is not in the cards. It requires, rather, international intervention. Israel has become Serbia. It rampages through the region like a bull in a china shop leaving in its wake death and disaster. It must be stopped. And there is only one way to do it. Impose a settlement.
Of course, Barack Obama, frightened of his own shadow as he is, and in thrall to his Aipac-Svengali Dennis Ross, will not lift a finger to this end. Which means that either the EU or other international bodies must have the courage of their convictions or this will drag on for years longer with thousands more corpses piled on the funeral prye. How many dead will it take till they sit up and take notice?
I do take strong issue with this paragraph in Friedman’s column:
Israel is not responsible …for Turkey’s decision to seek regional leadership by cynically trashing Israel or for the fracturing of the Palestinian national movement between the West Bank and Gaza.
Look Tom, no one but Bibi and Barak (Ehud, that is) are responsible for the Mavi Marmara debacle and everything that followed from it incuding Turkey’s decision to throw Israel into the stocks for refusing the deal worked out. If Erdogan exploited Israel’s missteps for his nation’s political interests, who gave him the opening to do so? No, sorry, I don’t blame a nation for doing what is in its interests, especially if those interests are articulated in a constructive way, which Erdogan’s are in a regional context.
And as for the fracturing of the Palestinian national movement, certainly Israel is totally at fault for that mess as well. First, Israel and the U.S. encouraged Abbas to mount a coup d’etat, which Hamas pre-empted. Had there been no coup attempt, there still would be a unity government in power. No, Israel wanted a Palestinian government controlled by Fatah or by no one. It got instead the mess it has now inherited. Again, no one’s fault but its own.
Sorry Tom, you get a B+ on this one. You couldn’t help but be dragged down a bit by your inherent pro-Israel inclinations.