Plea Bargain

Instead of offering the public a vision, optimism and hope, our leaders expressed profound anxiety over Israel's survival.

Listening to the speeches by our country's leaders in the Knesset on Sunday, I found myself increasingly worried. Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni all spoke like leaders of a defeated country, not of the Middle East's strongest power. Instead of offering the public a vision, optimism and hope, they expressed profound anxiety over Israel's survival.

Netanyahu is perturbed by the Goldstone report, which he fears set out to weaken Israel and prevent it from defending itself. He is so anxious he even gave the names of three people liable to find themselves accused of war crimes - Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni - and made clear he would not extradite them for trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as if they were Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic. But Netanyahu is wrong if he thinks Goldstone is out to get only the previous government's senior members at the helm during Operation Cast Lead. The report harshly condemns the siege of Gaza, which Netanyahu is continuing, so he too is a suspected offender against international law.

Peres and Livni are worried about the demographic threat that will turn Israel into a binational state and bring about the end of Zionism. The president called for a "peace of no alternative" and the opposition leader wants accelerated negotiations on a two-state solution. Both are very critical of Netanyahu, whom they believe is sitting on the fence and avoiding decisions, but like him, Goldstone worries them.

The British military theoretician B.H. Liddell Hart wrote that battles are "usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men." Discussing Germany's defeat in World War I after its generals lost their composure, he observed that the psychological aspect was decisive. He believed that the key to winning lay in the "indirect approach," in the concentration of forces to undermine the enemy's confidence and throw him off balance, not in storming fortified positions.

But today, Israel's leaders are conveying confusion and distress. Goldstone and his threats to have Israelis tried as war criminals have frightened them much more than special U.S. envoy George Mitchell and his abortive attempt to freeze the settlements, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's centrifuges, Hezbollah's rockets and Hamas' Qassams.

The true cause for anxiety in Jerusalem, however, is not Goldstone, but U.S. President Barack Obama, who has taken an indirect diplomatic approach against Netanyahu. Instead of coming out publicly against the prime minister with a demand that he end the occupation and get out of the territories, and wasting political energy on a quarrel with Israel's friends in Congress, Obama has simply made Netanyahu understand that American support is not axiomatic, that if Netanyahu looks over his shoulder he may not see Obama there covering him.

That has been enough to shake the prime minister's confidence. In his Knesset speech, Netanyahu quoted Obama's promise to block the Iranian nuclear bomb, and asked the international community to stand together against Iran. He was speaking like someone unsure that his allies would come to his aid in the hour of need, someone trying to tie them down in advance.

Netanyahu was signaling for a plea bargain: Amnesty for Goldstone's suspects and action against Iran's bomb in exchange for ... for what then? Another withdrawal from the West Bank? A Palestinian state? Partition of Jerusalem? Netanyahu did not speak of the right of Jews to live anywhere in the Land of Israel, or about expanding the settlements. He never even mentioned the Land of Israel or Judea and Samaria, just the right to self-defense and his demand for Palestinian recognition and disarmament.

Obama, who is already turning out to be quite indecisive, won't be in a hurry to respond to Netanyahu. He'll wait for the prime minister to feel pressured, soften up and agree to pay more for American backing in The Hague and in Natanz. That's the way the Soviet Union folded - when it lost the Cold War after the United States launched a successful diplomatic flanking movement. Netanyahu may turn out to be an Israeli Gorbachev who came to save the empire but in the end dismantled it. Either way, that's better than being a Bar Kochba, whom Netanyahu cited in his speech on Sunday as a model to be emulated.