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January 1, 2014

Israel should choose a strategy of confrontation

By EVELYN GORDON

What a strategy of confrontation would look like in practice on the Iranian and Palestinian issues.

A reader posed a relevant question regarding last week’s column on the value of confrontation in achieving Israel’s diplomatic goals: Granted, confrontation sometimes works, but how could it work today to persuade the West to address Israeli concerns on either the Iranian or the Palestinian issues?

Regarding Iran’s nuclear program, the answer is relatively simple: Israel must make clear that its military option remains on the table if the current talks either drag on too long or produce a deal that doesn’t address Jerusalem’s concerns. Since Western leaders have repeatedly proven their deep desire to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, a credible threat to attack creates a powerful incentive to take Israel’s interests into account.


A credible threat obviously requires countering the widespread view that Israel wouldn’t dare attack in defiance of Washington. This demands clear, consistent, public messaging, so the government made a good start by vocally denouncing the interim deal with Iran and declaring that Jerusalem won’t consider itself bound by a deal it opposes. But no less important is reminding the world of the relevant historical precedents – because contrary to the prevailing wisdom, Israel has repeatedly proven willing to defy superpower patrons when faced with something it deems an existential threat.

One particularly salient example, as I’ve noted before, is Israel’s preemptive strike on the Egyptian air force during the 1967 Six-Day War. At that time, France was Israel’s superpower patron, principal arms supplier and sole source of vitally needed fighter jets; Washington assumed those roles only post-1967. And Paris warned unequivocally that if Israel preempted, the French alliance – including those all-important arms sales – was over. Since Israel had no alternative arms source, that was a potent deterrent. Yet facing what it deemed an existential threat from three Arab armies, Israel defied Paris and preempted anyway. By contrast, defying Washington to attack Iran would probably be less costly, since Israel’s support on Capitol Hill makes an American arms embargo unlikely.

The Palestinian issue is more complex, because confrontation would entail reversing a 20-year-old policy: Israel would have to publicly reassert its own legal rights in the West Bank, which successive governments have shamefully allowed the world to forget.

This doesn’t require doing anything that could permanently stymie a two-state solution, like annexing Area C or embarking on massive construction in places the government envisions as part of a future Palestinian state. But the West has consistently opposed even steps aimed solely at protecting Israel’s negotiating interests, which Jerusalem should have taken long since. Thus Israel should make clear that it will finally do so if it’s pressured to accept a deal it deems unacceptable or if it’s blamed for the talks’ breakdown because it refuses to concede its red lines.

Step one is for the government to finally adopt the Levy Report. This document, drafted by a blue-ribbon panel of jurists in 2012, lays out Israel’s legal claim to the West Bank and refutes the canard that this is “occupied territory.” Adopting the report wouldn’t preclude ceding land for peace. But by putting Israel’s legal case in the public domain and forcing government officials to publicly defend it, it would change the negotiating dynamic (as I explain in detail here): Israel can legitimately demand concessions for ceding its own land that it can’t demand for returning “occupied territory.”

Second, Israel should exercise its legal rights via massive construction in areas that it intends to retain under any agreement: Jerusalem, the settlement blocs, the E-1 corridor linking Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, and perhaps the Jordan Valley. Construction reinforces Israel’s hold on these areas, since the more Israelis live there, the harder uprooting them becomes. Yet building in areas Israel would keep under any deal clearly doesn’t preclude a deal, and every peace plan ever proposed has assigned the settlement blocs, E-1 and Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel.

One might ask why the West would seek to forestall such measures if they don’t undermine prospects for a deal. The answer is that Western leaders have adopted two key elements of the Palestinian narrative: First, the West Bank and East Jerusalem are “occupied Palestinian territory” to which Israel has no claim whatsoever; and second, despite being the ones ostensibly suffering under occupation, Palestinians are the ones who must be coaxed to negotiate by ever greater Israeli concessions.

Clearly, any assertion of Israel’s rights undermines this narrative and strengthens Israel’s negotiating position: If Israel has a valid claim to the land, it can legitimately impose conditions for ceding it, and is thus less likely to make the egregious concessions the West deems necessary to appease the Palestinians. This, of course, is why Israel should have been making its case forcefully all along. But it’s also why the West vociferously opposes any Israeli attempt to do so.

In short, precisely because both Europe and the current US administration back maximalist Palestinian positions, they see any Israeli move to counter Palestinian demands as contrary to their own interests. And this, ironically, provides Israel with leverage. Indeed, the efficacy of such pushback can be seen on the issue of security arrangements, where Washington has reportedly moved toward Israel recently – but only after being convinced that on this issue, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wouldn’t budge.

Until now, Israel has largely capitulated to Western pressure and refrained from taking steps such as building in E-1 or adopting the Levy Report, fearing to be accused of thwarting prospects for peace and slapped with financial sanctions. But both Washington and the EU have made clear that virtually regardless of why the talks break down, they intend to blame Israel and penalize it accordingly. If so, Israel would have no reason to continue refraining from these steps, which would bolster its negotiating position in the long run. And it should make this clear to its Western interlocutors.

For far too long, Israel has tried to appease the West’s pro-Palestinian sensibilities, even at the cost of seeing its international standing steadily erode. It’s therefore long past time to try a different tactic. For if Israel doesn’t stand up for its own interests, assuredly no one else will.

*** If you know anyone who might be interested in seeing my blogs, please feel free to pass them on with a note that anyone who would like to subscribe regularly should contact me at eviegordon@gmail.com.

 

Posted by Ted Belman @ 5:22 am | 5 Comments »



5 Responses to Israel should choose a strategy of confrontation

  1. NormanF says:

    Jewish stupidity and servility doesn’t win Israel friends and it stimulates anti-Semitism.

    Anti-Semites don’t like Jews, period. But no decent person likes Jews who have no self-respect and who are afraid to stand up for the basic values of Jewish civilization.

    Should Israel’s international standing continue to erode, its leaders and people would be well advised to go look at themselves in the mirror: we have met the enemy and he is us.

    Israel won’t survive without proud Jews who can defend their people and their state. Rest assured, if they continue to demur out of fear of what the world will say, they should not expect others to stand with them.

  2. bernard ross says:

    A reader posed a relevant question regarding last week’s column on the value of confrontation in achieving Israel’s diplomatic goals: Granted, confrontation sometimes works, but how could it work today to persuade the West to address Israeli concerns on either the Iranian or the Palestinian issues?

    The words in bold demonstrate the utter failure of this sort of thinking. Instead of discussing confrontation which might naturally result from Israel pursuing its own interests it views confrontation as a tactic to continue leaving Israel’s interests in the hands of those that just do not give a damn about Israel, or the Jews.

    Its time to abandon any policy based on continuing dependence on, and trying to please, these hostile foreign interests. Such policies repeatedly prove to be a disaster to Israel and all Jews.

  3. wpapke says:

    Bernard hits the proverbial nail on the head. Retention of the West Bank should not be a negotiating tactic. No security agreement will ever change the fact that the primary goal of ANY arab negotiation is the weakening of Israel’s ability to survive. Recognition means nothing when it is from a party that treats any treaty as nothing more than a tactical tool.

    bernard ross Said:

    A reader posed a relevant question regarding last week’s column on the value of confrontation in achieving Israel’s diplomatic goals: Granted, confrontation sometimes works, but how could it work today to persuade the West to address Israeli concerns on either the Iranian or the Palestinian issues?

    The words in bold demonstrate the utter failure of this sort of thinking. Instead of discussing confrontation which might naturally result from Israel pursuing its own interests it views confrontation as a tactic to continue leaving Israel’s interests in the hands of those that just do not give a damn about Israel, or the Jews.

    Its time to abandon any policy based on continuing dependence on, and trying to please, these hostile foreign interests. Such policies repeatedly prove to be a disaster to Israel and all Jews.

  4. winta says:

    I agree that appeasement does not gain anything and has not gained anything. However I would go one step further. Don’t threaten, Act! Israel should beat Iran into the dirt, as well as Gaza. Then when the world starts screaming, state the conditions for stopping. The conditions must be harsh. Israel must make politically incorrect demands for stopping the continuing destruction of arab areas. Action works much better than a threat, especially in view of all the previous western countries’ threats which never materialized into anything. The demands must also cow the UN as well as the arab countries, so that any form of anti-Semitism will bring reprisal. Zero tolerance is the path to success.

  5. watsa46 says:

    Bibi must have refused to support the Levy report for the lack of “Lawyers”!

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