Why does Benjamin Netanyahu make it so hard for people to support him on what he rightly terms the existential threat to Israel – Iran? He needs the support of all Israelis. Indeed, he claims to foreign statesmen that he has it. But the fact is – and he knows it – that many pro-peace Israelis react with the same suspicion and skepticism to his Iran policy as they do, invariably, to his policy on the Palestinians and the occupation.
Netanyahu, for his part, instead of keeping the two policy issues apart, deliberately and demagogically lumps them together.
"Iran got the deal of the century," he asserted boldly last Friday, "and the international community got a very bad deal. Israel totally rejects it, as do many others in this region, regardless of what they might say publicly. Israel is not committed to this agreement and Israel will do whatever she needs to do in order to defend herself and the security of her citizens. [Now the lumping together:] That applies, too, to the negotiations with the Palestinians. I will never compromise on the security of Israel [the spurious, self-defeating analogy] and its vital interests – not in the face of any international pressure . No amount of pressure will bring me or the government to compromise over the security interests and basic national interests of Israel. The people of Israel know that, and support it."
How can an Israeli leader who seriously respects the intelligence of his people – and the intelligence of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to whom this diatribe was effectively addressed – analogize between the existential Iranian nuclear threat and the threat to "the security of Israel" purportedly mounted by the weak and unmilitarized Palestinians?
For Kerry and Israel's other friends abroad, as for the peace camp in Israel, Netanyahu has it in his hands, unilaterally or by agreement, to end the occupation, leaving security arrangements in place. For them, therefore, any analogy to Iran is spurious, is transparent rhetorical opportunism and can only detract from the credibility and conviction of Netanyahu's indefatigable efforts to persuade the world of the unique danger of Iran's ongoing enrichment of uranium.
Lumping them together is the ultimate assurance of incredulity at home and abroad. Surely Netanyahu knows this, even if he gags at it. As a practical politician, why doesn't he relate to it? I feel I have the right to ask because, as a believer in peace with Palestine and though an unbeliever in his commitment to such peace, I have gone out on a limb many times in recent years in support of his Iran policy.
Truth to tell, Israeli peaceniks are not generally disposed even to contemplate much less to accept this distinction. Their resentment of, and contempt for, Netanyahu in his third term as prime minister goes across the board. They blame him, rightly, for the lack of progress with the Palestinians and suspect that his frightening the country with the Iran bomb scenario is designed primarily to serve his Palestinian no-peace policy. Abroad, more readers are prepared to consider Iran separately from Palestine.
On Friday, at any rate, I found myself admiring his grim, resonating rejection of the agreement with Iran that seemed to be evolving in Geneva – until he launched into his cheap, windbag analogizing.
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