uploaded : Saturday 17th Sep 2005 at 22:15
by : M J Rosenberg
Washington, DC -
Israeli Minister of Education Limor Livnat has joined former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in calling for West Bank settlement expansion now. The Gaza withdrawal, she says, opens up a "window of opportunity" on the West Bank which the Sharon government should seize.
As for the Bush administration's objections, she said that Israel must "demand of the Americans that they do not pressure us on this matter" noting that "we are a sovereign nation There are times when we will act in accordance with our interests."
Talk about erecting a straw-man and then demolishing it in the most offensive way possible. Neither the Bush administration, nor any of its recent predecessors, has ever "pressured" Israel to act against its own interests.
No question, the government of Israel has (like any government) taken actions which turned out to have been "not in accordance" with the country's interests, but these decisions were not forced by the United States. To its credit, the US has pushed the Israeli government to adopt policies that would advance peace agreements with its neighbours. That is what president Jimmy Carter did when he personally brokered the Camp David peace with Egypt. It is what presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did when they worked to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It is what president Bill Clinton did when he supported Yitzhak Rabin's efforts to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians and a peace treaty with Jordan.
And it is what President George W. Bush is trying to do when he urges Israel not to take actions on the ground that could compromise the road map and reignite the intifada.
Daniel Kurtzer, America's outgoing ambassador to Israel, said that the Bush administration expects Israel to fulfil its commitment to remove unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. He said that the US has not set a deadline for the outpost removal, adding, "We don't put a gun to Israel's head on commitments that it makes to us. We still expect as a country that Israel is going to fulfil its commitment."
Livnat and other like-minded individuals, both in Israel and here in the US, will call that "pressure." But the sad truth is that they are not so much concerned about US pressure as worried by the prospect of their own government adopting policies they don't like.
In fact, during Rabin's tenure in the Prime Minister's Office (and later during that of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak) the right wing of Likud dispatched a team of lobbyists to Washington seeking US pressure on Israel against accommodation with the Palestinians or the Syrians.
So it's not pressure that is the issue; the issue is what the pressure is about.
THE US is certainly within its rights when it does what it can to advance the diplomatic process. Just as Israel has its own national interests to taken into account, so does the US. And high on that list is a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One would think that after the experience of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Netanyahu and Livnat would be hesitant about telling the US to "butt out" of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That disaster could have been avoided if Israeli officials had paid more attention to what the US government had told them prior to the war.
At that time the Israeli government adhered to a strategic view called the "concept." According to that view, Egypt would not attempt to push Israel out of the Sinai until it had joined in an alliance with Syria and had certain Soviet-built weapons in hand. As far as Israel knew, neither of those conditions was met, so Israel neither prepared seriously to deter an attack nor pushed for negotiations with Egyptian President Sadat.
Even after King Hussein of Jordan flew to Israel to warn of an imminent attack, the "concept" governed. He was ignored.
The Nixon administration did not buy into the "concept." US officials believed that without movement on the diplomatic front Sadat would launch an attack to recover the Sinai. Accordingly, as early as 1971, it strongly urged the Israelis to seriously consider Sadat's offer to begin negotiating a peace deal with Israel in exchange for an Israeli pullback of a few miles from the Suez Canal.
The Americans thought Sadat's idea was workable. Withdrawing a few miles from the canal would not have damaged Israel's security. In fact, defence minister Moshe Dayan thought it would strengthen Israel's deterrent capacity by moving it away from a stationary defence along the canal (the "Bar-Lev" line) in favour of mobile defences throughout the peninsula.
President Nixon dispatched assistant secretary of state Joseph Sisco to Israel to convince the Israelis that Sadat's offer was worth pursuing. Dayan agreed, but Prime Minister Golda Meir rebuffed him. The status quo was just fine.
It was at that point that Sadat decided his only option was to go to war; if Israel would not reopen the canal, he would. And that is what happened. Sadat ordered his men to cross the canal, the Bar-Lev line was overrun and its Israeli defenders killed, and following three weeks of war and five years of negotiations, the canal along with the entire Sinai was returned to Egypt.
The "concept" had cost some 3,000 Israel lives.
Had the Israeli government heeded the US recommendation, the worst episode in Israel's history would, most likely, have been avoided. (Along those lines, it is worth noting that those in both Israel and the American Jewish community who called on the Meir government to listen to the Americans and not rebuff Sadat were dismissed as either naive or unfriendly to Israel. They were neither; they were simply right).
TODAY THERE is a different "concept." Just as Golda Meir believed every Egyptian offer was a Trojan horse, so do many in the Israeli government believe every Palestinian offer is just a tactic.
And not just in Israel. Here in the US there are those who deconstruct every statement from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to show that negotiations with him are pointless. Abbas is not Yasser Arafat, and they know it. But for those who would have Israel choose West Bank settlements over peace, Arafat's replacement by Abbas is a setback. They do not want a Palestinian leader ready to sign an agreement with Israel that will guarantee its security; they want one who will not. And they know that if they do enough to help weaken Abbas, they will get one.
It is a deadly game they are playing. And it is one that Israel - and especially the best of its youth - has lost before.
* M J Rosenberg is the director of Policy Analysis for the Washington-based Israel Policy Forum.
Source: The Jerusalem Post, September 12, 2005.
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