Netanyahu Has No Good Options
JNS.org – The last two weeks were not a good time to be the prime minister of Israel.
A series of unfortunate events led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make decisions that wound up being attacked from both the left and the right. Those decisions were, at best, debatable. But the resulting tsunami of disparagement that accused Netanyahu of simultaneously being intransigent and a weakling may tell us more about the nature of the conflict between Israel and its enemies, than it does about Netanyahu’s shortcomings.
Though the prime minister deserves criticism, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the Temple Mount crisis is that — much as Netanyahu has told us for years — his nation’s security dilemma may be managed, but it cannot be solved. In such a situation, the options available to any Israeli leader will always range from bad to worse.
The latest proof of this dismal fact was a series of events set in motion by a July 14 terrorist attack near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount that killed two Israeli policemen. When Israel installed metal detectors to try and prevent another such atrocity, Palestinians and Muslims responded with outrage at what they considered an affront to their faith. Though it requires a staggering amount of cognitive dissonance to construe a security measure such as installing metal detectors as an attack, that is exactly what Palestinians and Islamists did. What followed was more violence — including a Palestinian terrorist’s slaughter of a Jewish family in Halamish, and then an attack on the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan.
Until the attack in Jordan, Netanyahu resisted calls to end the trouble by removing the new security measures. But when an Israeli embassy guard — who had been wounded before shooting his assailant and a bystander — was told that he would not be able to leave Jordan without being first put on trial, Netanyahu was put in an impossible position. Jordan’s King Abdullah was willing to sacrifice the guard in order to appease his Palestinian Arab subjects. Netanyahu couldn’t let that happen. But the price for the guard’s freedom was the removal of the Temple Mount metal detectors.
It’s arguable that installing the detectors in the first place was a bad idea. Officials knew that Palestinians would seize on any pretext to claim the status quo on the Temple Mount was being changed. But it’s also arguable that doing nothing would have been equally irresponsible.
Once the detectors were in place, removing them would not only reward the terrorists — but would demonstrate that Palestinian mobs were in charge. That would be a blow to Israeli sovereignty, and an undeserved triumph for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who — like his predecessors — has done so much to cynically stoke the fires of religious warfare with lies about the Jews attacking the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Anyone who has followed Netanyahu’s career knew what the prime minister would do.
Just as he has done in the past when Israelis were held hostage by their foes — such as the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit by Hamas — Netanyahu paid the ransom. In this case, his surrender didn’t lead to the freeing of terrorists with blood on their hands. But by agreeing to a deal in which the guard would be allowed to leave Jordan in return for taking down the detectors, Netanyahu ensured future attacks and outrages.
The prime minister is a student of history, and knows that appeasement will only make it more certain that further demands and violence aimed at chasing the Jews out of their holy places will follow. But had he let the Jordanians put the guard on trial, Netanyahu would have been attacked — with equal vigor — for leaving an Israeli behind in the hands of hostile foes.
The Israeli public thinks that Netanyahu’s decision is a defeat, with the prime minister’s right-wing supporters calling him a weakling and his left-wing opponents damning him for provoking the controversy.
Yet it’s not clear that any of the alternatives that Netanyahu could have chosen would have avoided more trouble or ended the problem without damaging Israel’s interests. In other words, Netanyahu had no good options available to him.
A conflict rooted in religious rhetoric cannot be solved by a territorial compromise or more goodwill. For the foreseeable future, as Netanyahu has asserted, the conflict can be managed but not solved. That means that Israel’s leader — no matter what his or her name might be — will be fated to make more such unpopular and unsatisfactory decisions. Netanyahu may have been wrong this time. But it’s not likely that anyone else would have done better.
Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.