Barak Is Wrong, Israel Can't Appease U.S.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, head of the Labor Party, wants Israel to agree to "an assertive diplomatic policy," that is to agree in principle to implement the Clinton plan, which he accepted when he was prime minister, even though no Palestinian party can be found to accept it.
The Clinton plan includes the evacuation of settlements in Judea and Samaria, the return of some Palestinian refugees to Israel, the surrender of the Temple Mount and the division of Jerusalem.
Barak is willing to carry out large parts of this policy unilaterally.
In a recent academic conference on Barak's precipitous retreat from Lebanon 10 years ago, he asserted that Israel would have to repeat unilateral retreats like the ones from Lebanon and Gaza.
This represents a new departure on his part. Fifteen months ago, when he led his party into the Netanyahu government, he accepted the national consensus, which was that unilateral retreats merely whet Arab appetites and turn out badly.
The reason for Barak's change in attitude is the need to preserve the relationship with the US. The Obama administration wants Israel to implement something like Barak's plan. Barak believes that the vital need to remain close to the US is more important than settlements, Jerusalem or even peace. His argument is cogent, tempting and wrong.
SINCE 1993 - not to mention before then - there has never been a moment when the Palestinians were genuinely interested in peace. They have only been interested in forcing Israel to surrender and retreat. Their ultimate goal is its dissolution. Since the defeat of Yasser Arafat's last terror campaign in 2002-3, the Palestinians have emphasized the tactic of delegitimizing Israel. They have been quite successful, in large part because Israel has never taken the measure of their strategy and devised appropriate means to counter it.
President Barack Obama's view of the conflict has been shaped by the current version of the Palestinian narrative, which demonizes Israel because of "the occupation." He wants the occupation, as the Palestinians define it, to end, unilaterally if necessary. He is not very interested in how this would affect prospects for peace or Israel's security. Conforming to his desires may reduce current frictions with the US. It will not, however, end the Palestinians' - and the Arabs' - ongoing effort to delegitimize Israel and undermine its security.
The same thing will happen if Israel tries to accommodate itself to the Palestinians' current demands in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, filtered through the Obama administration. The Palestinians will merely recast their narrative and work on undermining Israel in a different way, in hopes of one day happening upon an American president who buys the latest version. For the complete Palestinian narrative maintains that Jewish people's attempt to create and maintain a Jewish state is fundamentally illegitimate, and that Nazareth, Lod and Tel Aviv are also occupied territory. Every Palestinian schoolbook says so, and so do most Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Many Europeans agree, and there are signs that the Obama administration accepts at least parts of this Palestinian narrative.
Ending the occupation in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem is simply what the Palestinians - and the Americans - choose to emphasize today.
Obama and his advisers don't much care for Israel and want it to just do what it's told. Their desires and vision, however, have been shaped by the Palestinians and the wider Arab world.
Nothing could be more destructive of Israel's vital interests than to accede to a dynamic whereby the Arab world turns the US government into an agent for enforcing its demands upon Israel. That can end only one way. Barak may use words like "assertive" and "decisive" to describe his policy, but at the end of the day the appropriate word for it is "appeasement."
ISRAEL'S CURRENT policy does need to change. A year ago, trying to accommodate American policy seemed to be the path of wisdom. That's no longer true. Israel needs to make clear to the Obama administration, and more importantly to other, broader constituencies in the US, that it simply cannot afford to allow any American government to become the agent whereby Palestinian and Arab demands are forced upon it.
Israel needs an aggressive new policy to combat the Palestinians' efforts to delegitimize it. Simply adopting its policies to conform to Palestinian demands will not accomplish anything. It needs to assert its rights and the justice of Zionism, and attack the legitimacy of the Palestinians, their policies and their positions. This requires a significant new investment of thought, funds and manpower in a form of warfare that has hitherto largely been neglected.
Israel's activities in the legitimacy wars need to be backed up by a new policy toward the Palestinians. It should invest significant funds and effort in achieving separation from the Palestinians as soon as possible. The "occupation" should be ended. Israel should build roads and fences to join together Palestinian inhabited areas in Judea and Samaria and isolate them from Israeli areas, including settlements and other territories whose retention is regarded as vital. Palestinians and Israelis should never have to meet, and while Israeli forces will have to continue to carry out missions in the residual Palestinian areas, none should be stationed there.
Finally, Israel should do something soon to puncture the current Palestinian narrative of the conflict. One thing it could do is to hold a referendum in some of the Arab-inhabited neighborhoods of Jerusalem: Do the residents wish to be transferred immediately to the control of the Palestinian authority - losing their Israeli identity cards and the right to work in Israel, visit Israel or enjoy its social services - or to continue as they now are? The result will almost certainly be gratifying, and put an end to the mantra of "a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders whose capital is Jerusalem."