Israel's politicians simply don't get it: The world is sick and tired of the Israeli government's cat and mouse games. Netanyahu's one 'great' move so far has been to utter the words 'Palestinian state' during his foreign policy address at Bar Ilan University in June. For some reason the world did not rejoice and laud him for his enormous political creativity. Accepting a Palestinian State in principle is no breakthrough in 2009: it is, at most, par for the course.
Ever since then, Netanyahu's behavior resembles that of a haggler at the Shuk more than that of a statesman: his major success has been in appeasing his right-wing coalition by not addressing any major policy issues. Instead he has engaged in endless bickering over whether Israel will or won't stop the building in the West Bank settlements, and has effectively prevented any serious peace negotiations.
The cost of Netanyahu's behavior is on the wall in huge letters. Just this week, the White House left Netanyahu hanging until the very last minute, when Netanyahu was already on a plane to Washington, in scheduling his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, even though the prime minister's office expressed a desire for this meeting for weeks. The message is clear, and the humiliation is obvious. Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu's media consultant says that there is no crisis between the White House and the Israeli government. That's a matter of semantics. It may indeed not be a crisis, but simply an ever-growing feeling of being sick, tired and somewhat disgusted.
In his recent speech in Hebron, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed what Obama cannot say in public: "What do the Israelis want? They seem not to want the two-state solution; they won't stop settlement expansion; they seem not to want peace." The rather humbling answer to "what does Israel want?" is that Israel has no idea. Netanyahu's associates have an elegant name for this lack of long-term policy: it's now called "managing the conflict."
Of course those on the Right will say that Abbas is merely playing his cards right; that he is just trying to deflect the responsibility for stalled peace process; and they will add "we said it the entire time: Obama is anti-Israel; here you have proof."
Let us be clear, the Palestinians have certainly made their fair share of mistakes, too. Abbas may wonder at night why he didn't accept former prime minister Ehud Olmert's offer, which is probably the best any Israeli Prime Minister will ever present. And of course there is Hamas which continues to refuse to accept Israel's right to exist. But using these Palestinian mistakes as a pretext to maintain the stalemate is a sorry excuse for a lack of policy.
Even Israel's friends no longer buy these excuses for doing nothing except build a few thousand more apartments in the territories.
Tom Friedman, probably the world's most famous columnist, is Jewish; he's not particularly left-leaning, but closer to being a liberal hawk. Except for the small minority of Jewish Republicans nobody on earth thinks that he is against Israel.
In his column on Sunday in the New York Times Friedman voiced his distaste for the farce that is called Israeli politics. His advice to the U.S. administration is "Let's just get out of the picture. Let all these leaders stand in front of their own people and tell them the truth: 'My fellow citizens: Nothing is happening; nothing is going to happen. It's just you and me and the problem we own.' Indeed, it's time for us to dust off James Baker's line: 'When you're serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix.'"
Friedman's analysis is simple: he thinks that the current Israeli government believes that we can have peace without leaving the West Bank and that the Palestinians haven't made up their mind whether they accept Israel's existence or not.
I share Tom Friedman's sentiments. I too feel sick and tired, and his plan may be sound from from the American perspective. But I am worried. His advice to the U.S. administration primarily serves the Netanyahu government. If you were to ask Netanyahu what he covets most, the answer would be that he wants Obama and Mitchell off his back. After all, the only policy he has formulated is to remain in power without an overt break with the U.S. If the U.S. administration indeed backs off, this government can last for quite some time.
The result, as King Abdullah of Jordan keeps warning us, will be another round of bloodletting. We don't know whether it will start from Gaza, the West Bank or Lebanon, but the current situation is the perfect recipe for the continuation of the low intensity warfare that Israel has been involved in for years now.
But this is exactly Friedman's point: he says that neither Israel nor the Palestinians seem to feel enough pain to want to change the status quo. An increase in pain possibly means the resumption of suicide bombings in Israel and, as a result, more dead, wounded and traumatized Israelis and Palestinians. The further decline in Israel's moral fiber and international standing will be the inevitable result.
Previous blog entries by Carlo Strenger:
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