Captain Netanyahu's Crew Is Running Israel Aground

It is true that the Palestinians also bear a large share of responsibility for the impasse, but can the government truly say its own hands are clean?

This week, we learned that the commander of an Israel Navy vessel was jailed for seven days for a navigational error that caused the boat to stray some 700 meters into a neighboring country's territorial waters. His punishment would presumably have been more severe had the vessel run aground - and not inadvertently, but on purpose.

But that is precisely what is happening in another sphere, about which Israel's judicial system is considerably more forgiving: the diplomatic sphere. There, at least for now, the commander and his crew of eight are exempt from punishment, even though they caused an entire country to run aground, consciously and deliberately.

Benjamin Netanyahu - Emil Salman - 16092011
Emil Salman

Assiduously, stubbornly and systematically, if not with nihilistic arrogance, this entire crew navigated the country into a situation of forced paralysis, diplomatic isolation and international vulnerability that has already drawn attention, and even deep concern, from leaders and media outlets worldwide. What Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon did not do out of stupidity was done with defiant brutality by his master, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. And what Lieberman did not do was done by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appointed him on purpose to serve as a loose cannon.

If any tiny fragments of hope were left and any life rafts were still floating on the water, Netanyahu made sure to personally sink them with his own words - by his personal clashes with the American president, by his hollow speeches, by his forecasts of disaster and terror that would "merely prove" there was no point in doing anything, and above all, by revealing his deep belief that "the conflict is unsolvable."

Groucho Marx boasted in one of his films that he worked his way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty. Netanyahu's achievement is much more impressive, since he began with countless political options and diplomatic leads, yet in a mere two years, has reached extreme diplomatic poverty: with no hope, no friends in the region, no partners for dialogue, no real allies, even bereft of military options (some will take comfort in that, at least ).

He and his crew of eight devoted this entire time to riding roughshod over every diplomatic finesse, to scattering threats, to provoking crises, to searching for anti-Semitism and to finding various bizarre excuses for continuing the annexationist status quo. Only when they were absolutely forced to did they pay lip service to "two states" and "willingness to negotiate" - but with a lack of conviction that was worse than an direct refusal. For in so doing, Netanyahu did not merely irreversibly lose sympathy; he lost a much more important card: trust.

For many years, the right and the settlers demonized the Oslo process, and indeed, any diplomatic process that entailed withdrawing from the territories. They called its initiators "the Oslo criminals" and even demanded that they be "brought to trial."

For the past three years, an extreme right-wing government has had the chance - and almost total political freedom - to implement the alternative policy of "peace and security" by which they swore. But as the months went by, it became clear that Netanyahu and his government had nothing positive to offer, only the drastic application of an anti-Oslo policy - that is to say, undermining and uprooting any trace of goodwill and hope that had ever sprouted in the United States-Israel-Palestine triangle.

It is true that the Palestinians also bear a large share of responsibility for the impasse. It is also true that the radical developments now unfolding in the region would have occurred anyway. But can the government truly say its own hands are clean?

Only the relative and very transient quiet on the security front - whose time is also running out, as the government itself admits - has deferred the question of the responsibility borne by the anti-Oslo crew, who steered Israel into an unprecedentedly dangerous strait from which there is no exit. These leaders, unlike the leaders of the Oslo process, do not even have the defense of having acted in good faith.