Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yes, Israel is a Banana Republic

by Moshe Arens

There were times when Israel asserted its independence, even though it was considerably weaker economically than it is today.

In December 1981, in response to Washington's criticism of Israeli policies, Prime Minister Menachem Begin summoned the U.S. ambassador and told him that Israel was not a "banana republic." As for the American demand that Israel repeal the Golan Heights Law, Begin said to the American ambassador that "there is no force on earth that can bring about its rescission."

Surprisingly enough, U.S.-Israeli ties improved following Begin's determined stand in defense of Israel's interests. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of State, Alexander Hague, learned to respect Begin for his steadfastness and honesty. Yitzhak Shamir, as well, who was not prepared to give an inch when it came to Israel's interests, earned the respect and even admirations of U.S. Secretary or State George Shultz.

Those were times when Israel asserted its independence and was really not a banana republic, even though it was considerably weaker economically than it is today.

But now, every time our prime minister visits Washington or receives a message from there, he backtracks on principles he has sworn to defend. His promises that brought him victory in the last elections are gone with the wind.

When under American pressure, he agreed to a 10-month freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria, he announced that this was a one-time move and that construction would resume after 10-months. It took no more than another trip to the U.S., American pressure and some financial inducements for him to change his mind. Israel really does not need the F-35's that have been offered, and wouldn't even get them for another five years.

It seems that everything is for sale; principles and promises have no real value anymore. We have, indeed, become a banana republic. If the prime minister believes that this unprincipled behavior will earn him the respect and friendship of the administration in Washington, he is gravely mistaken. He should learn from his predecessors, Begin and Shamir.

What is all this backtracking for? To bring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table. Abbas does not believe in negotiating without preconditions. He has preconditions, and it is not clear that even if they are met he will come to the table. He prefers Washington to squeeze concessions out of Israel over facing Netanyahu across the table.

And after being provided with sufficient inducements, can negotiation with him bring an end to the long drawn-out Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The irony of it all is that these negotiations, that Abbas is so hesitant to begin, are nothing but a sham.

They cannot possibly bring about an end to the conflict, for the simple reason that Abbas does not represent the Palestinians. Not only does he not speak for the Palestinians in Gaza, but his standing in Judea and Samaria is worse than precarious.

A Palestinian journalist recently stated that he is corrupt, discredited, weak and does not have much power. If Israel were to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, his administration would probably collapse and Hamas would take over.

The only thing that keeps him in his present position is the massive infusion of American money. The administration in Washington believes that they can engage in Palestinian "nation building" by using American money and having an American general build an army for Abbas.

It won't be the first time that the Americans will have misunderstood Middle Eastern realities. Those who claim that Israel can bring about an end to the conflict by negotiations with Abbas are living in a fantasy.

Whereas in the past, negotiations with Egypt and Jordan were truly direct, now the U.S. administration is not serving as the honest broker but rather as Abbas' sponsor and supporter.

The American plans are transparent. In the additional three-month moratorium on construction in Judea and Samaria that they insist that Israel agree to, they want negotiations to lead to an Israeli agreement to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines.

We can expect further American pressure and payoffs to get Israel to agree to that. And once that is settled, additional construction in Judea and Samaria will depend on Arab agreement. Don't hold your breath waiting for Abbas' approval of such construction.

What is it they say about the slippery slope? Netanyahu has stepped on it and he is sliding down very fast.

Moshe Arens

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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