Analysis from Israel

A newly released WikiLeaks cable quotes Ron Dermer, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling a U.S. diplomat of Israelis’ frustration with the peace process. Surprisingly, however, Dermer didn’t focus primarily on Palestinian behavior. Rather, he charged, “the Israeli public is skeptical regarding the benefits of returning to negotiations” because “all the GOI [government of Israel] has received in return for its efforts [to date] was a ‘slap-down from the international community.'”

Dermer didn’t offer evidence to support his claim about Israeli frustration with the “international community,” but the data are shocking: according to the August Peace Index poll, fully 77 percent of Jewish Israelis think “it makes no difference what Israel does and how far it may go on the Palestinian issue; the world will continue to be very critical of it.” And in fact, Israelis have good reasons for this belief.

For instance, when Hezbollah continued attacking Israel even after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the world, far from condemning Hezbollah, excoriated Israel when it finally responded to these attacks in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Moreover, after having certified the withdrawal as 100 percent complete in 2000, the UN Security Council then rewarded Hezbollah’s aggression in 2006 by voting to remap Lebanon’s borders, “especially in those areas where the border is disputed” by Hezbollah, with an eye toward forcing Israel to quit additional territory.

Then, when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, evacuating 25 settlements in the process, it was rewarded by daily rocket fire on its cities from the evacuated territory. Yet when it finally fought back, in 2008, it was slapped with the Goldstone Report, which accused it of “war crimes” and urged its indictment in the International Criminal Court. And far from coming to Israel’s defense, most Western countries abstained in both UN votes on the report.

Moreover, even though two Israeli offers (in 2000 and 2008) to give the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank have been unmatched by any parallel Palestinian concessions, the West continues to demand ever more concessions from Israel while refusing to publicly demand anything of the Palestinians — even on issues like the “right of return,” where Palestinian concessions are clearly essential for any deal. For instance, a European Union statement earlier this month demanded several explicit Israeli concessions, including withdrawal to the “pre-1967 borders” and Jerusalem as the “capital of two states,” but made no similarly explicit demands of the Palestinians. It merely called for an “agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question,” without specifying that such a solution cannot include resettling the refugees in Israel.

All this has made Israelis believe that no matter what they give, the world will still find new reasons to condemn it. And if the West actually wants a peace deal, that ought to concern it deeply, because Israelis thought a deal was supposed to give them two benefits: peace with the Arabs and support from the West. Instead, Israel discovered that concession after concession has brought neither. And if so, what’s the point of continuing to make them?

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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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