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March 24, 2017 6:41 am

Israel: Lost Without a Map?

avatar by Martin Sherman

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16, 2017. Photo: Twitter/Netanyahu.

“What I see clearly…is incredible negligence and lack of systematic, long-term planning effort on behalf of Israel’s top political brass…we are facing a deep crisis of political leadership, and a deep disbelief in our power to shape reality.”

–“Defeatism at Its Worst,” Jerusalem Post, Anya Zhuravel-Segal (former Netanyahu staffer), July 14, 2014.

“It doesn’t matter what Trump thinks but what Bibi does.”

— Response by user Richie036 to, “Trump Embraces The PLO Fantasy,” Jerusalem Post,” Caroline Glick, March 13, 2017.

The US elections have come and gone, and the high hopes ushered in with them for a widely-predicted sea change in official US policy towards the Israel-Palestinian conflict — particularly on settlement construction — seem to be fast eroding. In stark contrast to other issues the new administration has broached, when it comes to these issues, things are regrettably beginning to look like they are reverting to the pre-election “normal,” in substance, if not in tone.

Has Israel lost the moment?

After eight years of acrimonious relations with the Obama-administration, the election of Donald Trump to the White House, and a sweeping win for the Republicans in both Congress and the Senate, seemed to provide welcome respite for hitherto harassed Israeli policymakers and present them with a golden opportunity for change. Many saw — some with elation, others with trepidation — the emergence of a true point of inflexion in the bilateral relations in general and on the Palestinian issue in particular.

The expectation was for a dramatic reversal of what was widely perceived as an ongoing deterioration in ties between the two countries, and there was much to justify these expectations.

On the Iran issue, which had been a bitter bone of contention with the previous administration, Trump and Netanyahu shared outspoken condemnation of the agreement made over Tehran’s nuclear program; both harbored deep suspicions as to the true designs of its present theocratic regime.

On the Palestinian front, there seemed to be prospects for far greater US understanding of Israeli positions. Unlike his predecessor, the new president was not bound either emotionally to the “Palestinian cause” or ideologically to the notion of Palestinian statehood.

His immediate entourage and inner circle of advisors was replete with individuals strongly supportive of Israel and even sympathetic to Israeli settlement activity.

Moreover, during his election campaign, Trump had made some stridently pro-Israeli pronouncements, even a solemn pledge to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Yet, in stark contrast to some of his other controversial electoral declarations — such as imposing restrictions on Muslim entry into the US and the construction of a wall along the southern border — on which he has demonstrated stout resolve and initiative, on his Israel statements he has exhibited clear indications of hesitancy, possibly even retraction.

Was Obama merely a convenient excuse?

However, not all the blame for what is beginning to look like distinct backtracking from robust pre-election positions can be attributed to Trump. Perhaps much of it should be ascribed to Israel’s lukewarm to chilly post-election reaction to them.

Instead of enthusiastically embracing the moment to extricate itself from the constricting bonds of the Obama administration, Israeli leaders seemed caught totally by surprise and equally unprepared to take advantage of the momentous opportunity history had afforded them.

They stuttered and stammered when it came to initiating a dramatic upsurge in building in the Jewish communities across the pre-1967 lines. They hemmed and hawed over the prospect of the US moving its embassy to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem (even to the western portion of the city).

Instead of seizing on the chance to abandon the perilous two-state prescription, the Israeli government seemed to reaffirm its unfortunate commitment to that fatally flawed formula, as articulated in Netanyahu’s regrettable 2009 Bar-Ilan speech.

But now, the onus could not be placed on an inimical White House and the relentless pressures it exerted on Israel. This time, it seems that it was Israel who appeared reluctant to relinquish positions it had claimed to only adopt under duress.

With the Israeli government bereft of any coherent alternative paradigm, it is sadly beginning to look like — at least on the Palestinian issue — that Obama was, in fact, little more than a convenient excuse for Israel’s impotence and inaction.

“What if the GOP wins?” revisited 

Almost four months before the (then-unexpected) Republican victory, just after the party had expunged any endorsement of the two-state formula from its platform, I urged the Israeli leadership to prepare for such an eventuality (“What if the GOP wins?”).

I predicted that “the recanting of support for the two-state formula by the GOP…will create a dramatically different and challenging reality” for two state skeptics/opponents.

I warned that in case of Republican victory, it will not only “be increasingly less plausible to invoke ‘irresistible international pressure’ for reluctant acceptance, under duress, of a two-state compliant policy…To the contrary, with the declining dominance of the two-state concept, its opponents will be obligated to proactively produce and present a plausible and practical Zionist-compliant alternative…or suffer the consequences of its generally accepted default option: a multiethnic un-Jewish state-of-all-its-citizens.”

Regrettably, the Israeli leadership has been unequivocally remiss — even derelict — in addressing this crucial challenge. There have been no high-level discussions to fashion such an alternative, certainly not at the cabinet level. Moreover, and more disturbing, there seems little likelihood of any government consensus emerging regarding such an alternative.

From the puerile to the pernicious

Although it is true that there has been no official ratification, either in the government or the Likud, of Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan parameters — which entailed qualified endorsement of Palestinian statehood — it has become generally accepted that this largely reflects official Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Arab question.

Within the government, there are considerable misgivings in this regard, with several ministers declaring that they, personally — as opposed to officially — reject the establishment of a Palestinian state. Some have come out, with varying degrees of conviction and persuasiveness, in favor of extending Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria — or parts thereof — usually at some later indeterminate date when, presumably, the hope is that the international community, for some unspecified reason, would become more amenable to the idea.

Several ministers have even formulated  “plans” (for want of a better word), which upon even cursory analysis are so patently implausible, that one cannot but assume that rather than being intended as serious strategic alternatives, they are aimed at domestic constituencies, and for whipping up political support by exploiting misinformed/uniformed segments of the electorate.

Typically, such proposals fall somewhere between the patently puerile and the positively pernicious. Virtually every one of these alleged “alternatives” would, in the unlikely event of their implementation, precipitate realities no less perilous than the two-state paradigm they are designed to replace.

Poppycock not policy

At the risk of appearing uncharitable, these proposals are, arguably without exception, pure poppycock rather than practical policy prescriptions.

These include:

— Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s proposal to annex Area C alone, which would leave Israel with an array of enclaves and corridors; a contorted border about 2000 km long, virtually impossible to demarcate and secure; no real solution for 90% of the Palestinian-Arabs in the disconnected “islets” that make up Areas A and B and comprise 40% of the territory across the pre-1967 lines;

— Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s proposal, which endorses a two-state reality, but with borders even more tenuous and tortuous than the pre-1967  “Auschwitz” borders — and involves stripping Israeli-Arabs of their Israeli citizenship  (on the basis of their ethnic origins) and transferring sovereign territory, on which they are resident, to the administration of the envisaged Palestinian state, in exchange for Israeli sovereignty over several “settlements blocks” across the  1967 “Green Line”;

— The “one-state” proposal, entailing extending Israeli sovereignty over the entire area of Judea and Samaria and incorporating the Palestinian-Arabs into Israel’s permanent population, with paths to future enfranchisements,  and which — even if optimistic demographic assessments are correct — will lead to the Lebanonization of Israeli society and to the country’s descent into Islamic tyranny, within a few generations;

— The “regional” solution, favored by several ministers, which entails making perilous, irreversible territorial concessions in exchange for guarantees from some of the most despotic and decadent regimes on the planet, all with a highly questionable “shelf-life,” just so that they will deign to accept Israeli assistance confronting the common Iranian foe.

— Transport Minister Yisrael Katz’s proposal to offer Hamas a seaport and airport if Hamas will promise to stop being Hamas, with no guarantee how Hamas will behave once the project— liable to take a quarter century, and inflict grave ecological damage to Israel’s northern beaches — is completed.

Required intellectual integrity

This is a partial list of hare-brained and hazardous schemes that are being promoted by senior Israeli ministers. Either they actually believe in these preposterous proposals or they do not but persist in promoting them anyway. It is difficult to know which is more disturbing. However, one thing is certain: They serve only to discredit the endeavor to displace the two-state paradigm and bring efforts to do so into disrepute.

At the heart of the flawed attempt to produce a cogent, comprehensive, Zionist-compliant alternative to the two-state formula, lies the failure of Israeli leadership to muster the required intellectual integrity to follow through on the logic of their own objections to that formula.

Such intellectual integrity imposes several politically incorrect obligations:

(1) The need to define the Palestinian-Arab collective as what it really is, and as it, through its leaders, defines itself: An implacable enemy.

(2) Given this definition of the Palestinian-Arab collective, in order to endure as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel must address both its geographic and demographic imperatives – which dictates retaining the strategically vital territory of Judea and Samaria, while radically reducing the Arab presence in that territory.

(3) Formulation of policy that takes (1) and (2) above into consideration, and creating the conditions for its practical implementation.

Defining the Palestinians as “enemy”: The consequences

Israel will never arrive at an effective alternative to the two-state proposal while it refrains from naming the Palestinian-Arab collective as the enemy, and instead labels solely the terror organizations themselves.

The Palestinian population is not some hapless victim of the terror groups, but the very crucible from which they emerged. It has, by its own hand, deeds and declarations, made it clear that it will not, except on some temporary, tactical basis, brook any manifestation of Jewish political independence (sovereignty) between the River and the Sea.

The clash between Jew and Arab over the Holy Land is a clash between two collectives, as former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon once correctly diagnosed (Nov 25, 2015).

It, therefore, cannot be individualized.

One collective must emerge victorious, the other vanquished. Only then can the issue of personal misfortune be addressed.

But defining the Palestinian-Arab collective as the enemy has clear consequences. If Israel wishes to be taken seriously it must behave in a manner consistent with that definition.

If the Palestinians are defined as the enemy, Israel must treat them as the enemy, not as temporarily recalcitrant potential peace partners.

If the Palestinians are enemies Israel must not offer them a port in Gaza, as does Yisrael Katz; it must not offer them “autonomy on steroids” in a quilt-like hodge-podge of detached enclaves, connected by a dizzying array of over- and underpasses, as suggested by Naftali Bennett; it must not offer them a path to future enfranchisement and access to Israel’s generous social security system, as proposed by “one-state” proponents…

The one coherent consistent alternative 

Therefore, short of large-scale military action, there is only one policy paradigm that is consistent with relating to the Palestinian-Arab collective as the enemy and adequately fulfilling the requirements of Israel’s geographic and demographic imperatives.

Accordingly, in a brutally condensed nutshell:

Israel’s must announce that it will begin a staged denial of services to that enemy collective – water, power, tax collection, port services and so on – and, in parallel, offer generous relocation grants to allow non-belligerent individuals to extricate themselves from the impending hardships. All remaining Palestinian-Arabs will be considered enemy aliens.

That is the only intellectual “roadmap,” the only policy blue-print, that can bring Israel to safe shores and genuinely extricate it from the threatening waves of two-statism.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • AlgorithmicAnalyst

    Seems logical.

    One problem is that the Red-Green leftist/Muslim alliance has been waging civil war on Trump at home, so he has his hands full dealing with that, including not being able to appoint adequate staff.

  • Lynne Marton

    Avi, you, as most others make one very critical error. You think like a Westerner, HOWEVER, our enemies do NOT think the same way Westerners do. You can’t impose Western values on a people that shun anything and everything Western – it will never work.
    These so-called “palestinians” are not and never will be our friends, or “peace partners”, or anything else but our enemies. Forget your “rules of democratic Western society” – they do not apply here.
    The Yisraeli-Arabs are a different breed entirely and they are not really a part of this equation, as they have already become part of Yisraeli society – as citizens, working with us, among us, toward a common goal – the betterment of all our lives – and even serving in the IDF to protect our common values from our common enemy
    This is only in reference to those who constantly attack and swear that they will annihilate us and wipe our country – Yisrael – from the face of the earth. That is the bottom line with them – and they live to die for that goal. They have been afforded all rights – to live and prosper – and yet they still seek to destroy the one place and people that gives it all to them. Is THAT normal? Is THAT “Western democratic values”???
    And, btw, these individuals already have a home – and it’s Jordan – 85% so-called “palestinian” – and we can’t forget Gaza – they just want it all.
    Martin’s solution at the end of his piece is the only way.

  • Lynne Marton

    Martin Sherman, the last part of this “get to root of the issue” piece is the only solution that really is the best possibility for our country, Yisrael. Sad, but true! There is no point trying to work with an enemy – and yes they have proven that point many times over – whose only raison d’etre is to see your death and your country wiped from the face of the earth. There is no moral high-ground here – or the raw facts. And those facts have been shoved in our faces time and time again. They have stated time and time again that they will NEVER accept Yisrael as the homeland of the Jewish People, much less as a country. And therein lies the irrevocable TRUTH. All the politics and seesawing back and forth about how to make a “deal” with them is futile! We have to once and for all time accept that FACT – they will never accept us in any way, shape of form – PERIOD. Anything by the left is a sell-out – and I can’t understand why the right lets them be such a big influence. You can’t make everyone happy – especially in a situation like this – when your enemy is just waiting for a chance to annihilate you!!! There are too many dissenting opinions in the Knesset – and MKs that really do not even belong in there. Anyone that actively seeks your death and the eradication of your country, should NOT be in your country – much less a part of the governing body of said country.
    I could continue, but I am getting sidetracked.
    In closing, I really need to reiterate what I wrote to start this – the last part of this piece, Martin, is the only solution that makes sense for the State of Yisrael and our people – the Jewish People.
    Just as an aside here, yes – I am Canadian-Yisraeli with a stake in this. I am making my plans to be coming HOME, and I NEED a HOME to come home to!!

  • ged


  • Pinchas Baram

    Moshe Feiglin’s plan is the best: annex A,B, and C. Local rights for self-government; but no voting rights for Israel’s knesset; but yes, voting rights for jordan’s parliament. Arabs in J & S who accept these terms will be helped; arabs who don’t , will be encouraged to emigrate and will be subsidized in the process; arabs who resist or resort to terror will be killed, jailed or deported.