It's a good thing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak didn't listen to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Instead of going to hell, as Lieberman has recommended, he sent his police to stop would-be terrorists planning to send many Israelis to that destination. I wonder what Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, well known for his fondness of Egypt, might have to say about the operation against Hezbollah in Egypt.
Most likely, Lieberman and Steinitz would say the Egyptians didn't do us any favors. Mubarak is struggling against fanatical Islamists undermining his government. The right will use the case to support its belief that peace can be achieved without giving up land; that security and settlements don't contradict. This is our chance to hold Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his motto: "If they give, they'll get. If they don't give, they won't get."
At the start of his return to office, Netanyahu announced that the Palestinians wouldn't get any free lunches. Unlike his predecessors, he promised to base his relations with their leaders on reciprocity, a legitimate demand. What will happen if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announces he will stop giving Israel information on terrorist threats unless he receives guarantees that Palestinian land will stop being seized? Can anything be more reciprocal than that? Why must the Palestinians be the Jews' keepers? Why shouldn't Mubarak tell Netanyahu in their next meeting that if Israel wants to continue its military cooperation with Cairo it should let food and construction materials into the Gaza Strip? After all, this fits with the Israeli expectation that if you give, you'll get.
Such an equation has a nice ring in every language. Reciprocity should be the basis of Israel's relations with the international community. How would Netanyahu respond if French President Nicolas Sarkozy told him that talks over upgrading Israel's status with the European Union were on hold until it evacuates illegal outposts in the West Bank? That's reciprocal, isn't it? What if the German government hinted it would limit its trade with Iran only if Israel reins in settler organizations buying up Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem? Here's a reminder: Diplomatic ties between Israel and China were established only after the Madrid peace process began.
Reciprocity isn't a foreign concept to U.S.-Israeli relations. The prime minister may have even learned it from Washington. Netanyahu was deputy foreign minister under Yitzhak Shamir when George H.W. Bush told him in 1992 that if Israel wanted U.S. for immigrant absorbtion it had to support the Madrid process. Bush clarified that Jewish settlements in the occupied territories contradicted his administration's policy.
Shamir believed that support from the Israel lobby and Congress would allow him to get without giving. Eventually, Netanyahu and his Likud friends lost the elections to Yitzhak Rabin. Seven years later the Americans again taught Netanyahu a lesson in reciprocity. Bill Clinton gave him the cold shoulder during his first term as prime minister and directly contributed to the public's lack of enthusiasm in his performance, leading to Ehud Barak's victory in the next elections.
Journalist Nahum Barnea reported in Yedioth Ahronoth last weekend that Netanyahu had a "cordial and friendly" chat with U.S. President Barack Obama. "The most important question raised was when Obama asked what his political constraints were," Barnea wrote, deducing that Obama won't push Netanyahu beyond the limits of his coalition.
We have to hope that such a conclusion reflects nothing but the personal whim of the prime minister (or reporter). Netanyahu's political constraints should not interest the leader of the free world any more than those Abbas, Mubarak or Jordanian King Abdullah are facing. The people put their faith in a government that opposes U.S. policy. It shouldn't expect any pats on the back from the Americans. Reciprocity is a fair concept if not used against a weaker side, and "political restraints" cannot serve as an excuse when used against you by a stronger side.
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