Travel Report: Israel
I was in Israel when the latest fiasco occurred: Permits were granted for new housing construction in East Jerusalem – simultaneously with Vice President Biden’s visit. The Obama Administration considered this an insult, because the United States has been insisting that Israel freeze construction in East Jerusalem to allow peace negotiations with the Palestinians to go forward.
Netanyahu subsequently went to Washington and was humiliated by the way President Obama received him. In addition, some Israelis interpreted Obama’s demands of Israel as forming, in essence, a new American strategy in the Middle East that is distinctly less supportive of Israel than other recentadministrations.
There was an uproar in Israel, with some people accusing Obama of being a closet Muslim with anti-Semitic inclinations. At the same time, others charged that Netanyahu seems to have no peace strategy at all. A senior member of the opposition party in Israel told mehe believes that by challenging Israel’s only real friend,Netanyahu has shown not only incompetence but also,perhaps, that he is mentally unstable.
I have a significantly different take on the situation.
A “leader” of a democracy – especially the kind of democracy in which political parties achieve a ruling consensus by a process of coalition-building – does not have the luxury of making or implementing his own decisions. He has to integrate multiple interests, which means that often he has to compromise his own preferences and perhaps even his principles.
If he, as is the case with Netanyahu, has to satisfy the position of the centrist party, led by Ehud Barak,along with the position of the extreme rightist nationalistic party, led by Avigdor Lieberman, as well as the contradictory positions of multiple other parties in between, then no wonder he has to zig-zag constantly: He says one thing, then does something else; decides to take a chance on a certain issue, then reverses that decision. He claims to be ignorant that a permit for housing construction in East Jerusalem was being issued at the same time he was receiving Vice President Biden but was he ignorant or did he in fact approve the move to keep the coalition running?
The inconsistencies in his actions and decisions make him look incompetent, but I suggest to you that those inconsistencies are actually artful maneuvering to stay in power.
But what is the grand outcome of all the maneuvering?
I believe it means he is politically unable to make peace with the Palestinians. There is no decision he can take that both his ruling coalition and the Palestinians will accept.
He is stuck.
But the Palestinians are no less stuck: There is no decision that Abbas, their leader, can take that both Hamas and the Israelis will agree to.
Both governments are acting like a cat that climbed a tree and now cannot get down on its own. In fact, they have been yowling up there for sixty years, with no peace agreement to show for it.
What do we do when a cat gets up a tree and can’t get down? We call the fire department. In this case, the“fire department” is the United States, which is the only entity with the power to rescue both “cats.”
To expect that the two sides, Israel and the Palestinians, can reach agreement on their own is unreasonable in light of the conflicting interests that rule the parties.
To get both cats down from the tree, there has to be an imposed solution.
Obama’s demands of Israel are a good beginning,not a bad one – but those demands should not be one-sided. He needs to make demands on the Palestinians too, especially on Hamas to stop the daily missile attacks on Israel – or else.
Both cats need to get down from the tree.
I often find that in order to get elected, politicians make populist promises that turn out to be impossible to fulfill when they do get to power. One example isKosovo: No Serbian politician wants to go down in the history books as the leader who gave up Kosovo, even though it is clear that Serbia lost Kosovo many years ago, and there is no chance the Kosovo people will be willing to rejoin Serbia.
So the Serbian politicians are also up the tree, yowling and waiting for a fireman to force them down.
The same is true of Greece in its dispute with its neighbor, which it believes has no right to call itself Macedonia.
The United States is the world’s most powerful nation, and that gives it certain obligations and responsibilities. It must lead. It must be involved. There is no other country that is capable of achieving results in certain international disputes.
I welcome Obama’s involvement and his demands, as long as he insists that both Israel and the Palestinians make compromises.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes