By MK Dr. Arieh Eldad, Jerusalem Post
These lines were written on the day the U.S. envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel to open indirect “proximity” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These talks have been much delayed, in part as a result of PA chairman Abu Mazen’s having noticed that the U.S. president has taken his side, thus enabling him to make any demands he wishes preconditions for the talks, including a building freeze in Jerusalem. Abu Mazen and Obama intend to force Israel to surrender to Arab demands to establish a Palestinian state that will reduce Israel to its 1967 borders; this state is to have its capital in Jerusalem; and it is not to be forced to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or give up demands for the return to Israel of Arab refugees. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to avoid this trap, but by having agreed to the talks, he has already corralled himself.
Arguably, Israel need not be overly worried. That which evaded Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in direct negotiations overseen by Bill Clinton at Camp David – will not be accomplished by Mitchell shuttling between Ramallah and Jerusalem. That which evaded Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen in dozens of hours of intimate private conversations, when Olmert was willing to give up everything, will not be accomplished now when the Arabs are not even willing to sit next to Netanyahu at a negotiating table and even the U.S. envoy is suspected by Israel of siding with the Arabs.
Nonetheless Israel has reason to worry, because the talks are not direct and the Americans are mediating. President Obama is more antagonistic towards Israel than any president in generations. With him and his envoy mediating, the Arabs know they do not have to make any concessions, and should the talks reach a dead end, Israel will be blamed.
The U.S. faces a weak Israeli prime minister, perhaps the weakest in memory. I saw Netanyahu when he spoke to the Knesset Security Affairs Committee a year ago, after his first meeting with Obama. Having served in the Israeli army’s Medical Corps for decades, I am certainly able to diagnose shell shock when I see it. Netanyahu looked like a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Americans who participated in the talks with him knew they had achieved all they wanted. They also know that further shock exacerbates the disorder, and so Obama and Hillary Clinton bared their teeth when a zoning committee in Israel’s capital Jerusalem announced plans for 1,600 housing units in a Jewish neighborhood, Ramat Shlomo, during a visit by Vice President Biden to Israel. Clinton yelled at Netanyahu by phone, Obama degraded him when they met, and the path was cleared: Netanyahu collapsed, and they could promise Jerusalem to Abu Mazen.
Obama’s error is that of a proud novice in foreign policy: he has stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem.
The Israeli slanderers of the extremist left, who run to report to the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv every time a house is built in Judea and Samaria, misled him. J Street misled him. Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod misled him. Obama figured, if there are Jews who support giving half of Jerusalem to the Arabs, it shouldn’t be a problem to force Netanyahu to go along.
But Netanyahu can be beaten down only when there is no counter pressure. In this case, Netanyahu is not operating in a vacuum; there is pressure.
Some may have thought this pressure would come from inside his Likud Party, on the part of Moshe Feiglin and his followers, but the recent party vote in which Netanyahu trounced Feiglin proved the party’s institutions to be powerless. Feiglin’s theory that the Likud could be conquered from within in order to prevent political disasters was once again proven wrong. Previously he and followers failed to prevent the withdrawal from Gaza, they failed to prevent Netanyahu from committing himself to a Palestinian state in violation of the Likud’s platform, and they failed to prevent a building freeze in Judea and Samaria. All they can do is promise once more that next time things will turn out better for them.
But there is pressure, and it will grow stronger, Feiglin’s failure notwithstanding. A few months ago, a “Lobby for the Land of Israel” was established in the Knesset. It is led by a Likud Knesset member, in fact the chairman of the governing coalition, Zev Elkin, and by me, who am chairman of the Hatikvah Party, which is part of the National Union and sits with the opposition in the Knesset. Forty-one members of Knesset, government ministers and deputy ministers joined this lobby whose goals are to stem the leftward tide, to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, to prevent the dilution of Jewish settlements and to strengthen such settlement. Within this lobby are represented the National Union, Jewish Home, Shas, Israel Beitenu, Likud and even Kadima parties. As a graduate of MIT Netanyahu understands the numbers: Obama’s suggestion that he dump the “extremists” from his government and replace them with Kadima doesn’t work mathematically. Forty-one is more than twenty-eight. If Netanyahu gives in to Obama’s demand – he will no longer have a government.
The lobby began with a baby-step, just a symbolic one. Netanyahu wanted to announce with great fanfare plans to invest millions in national heritage sites. Because he was afraid of incurring Obama’s wrath, he left out one of the Jewish people’s most important heritage sites – the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, the burial site of the Patriarchs. At the last minute, the lobby forced him to include it. Then the lobby set a major goal: to ensure that the prime minister and the ministers to his right in his Cabinet stand by their commitment to renew building in Judea and Samaria as soon as the freeze ends in September. We can expect this to be a difficult struggle. It will be a litmus test for anyone proclaiming fidelity to the Land of Israel and to Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. But the Israeli public is divided on this issue, and many Israelis are tired; if someone promises them true peace they may concede.
And then – Jerusalem was put on the table. Jerusalem – this is something else. The vast majority of Israelis are not prepared to give up Jerusalem even for promises of peace. Whoever prodded Obama to put Jerusalem on the table did a great service to Israel.
At this point, unfortunately, many good-hearted Jews, such as Elie Wiesel, tried to convince Obama to defer on this issue and to push Jerusalem off till the end of the negotiations. Effectively this means: to poison Israel more slowly. But because Obama and Abu Mazen know that Netanyahu has indeed frozen construction in Jerusalem, even though he cannot say so publicly because his government coalition would evaporate, and because they know the Netanyahu government has not built a single house in East Jerusalem, and has instead put insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles in the way of construction in the eastern Jewish neighborhoods despite bombastic statements to the contrary – they were mollified and agreed to allow Netanyahu into the trap without an official statement of surrender before the talks opened.
Mitchell will come and go, back and forth, from Jerusalem to Ramallah to Washington, and in another month or two he will put on the table an American-Arab plan with a loaded gun next to it.
There is only one way out: Jerusalem first. We need to put all our efforts into building in Jerusalem. We need to demand that the issue of Jerusalem be brought up as soon as the talks open. If anyone thinks the state of Israel needs to save Jerusalem they are mistaken; they will discover that Jerusalem will save the state of Israel.
By MK Dr. Arieh Eldad, Jerusalem Post