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Israel’s leftist media is happy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And as Israelis have learned repeatedly in recent years, when the media are happy with a political leader, trouble is our doorstep.
Netanyahu owes his current media popularity to his decision to play ball with the Obama White House. Since Netanyahu took office in the spring, President Obama and his advisers have exerted unrelenting pressure on him to ban all Jewish building in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Until last week, the Netanyahu’s government’s official position rejected the administration’s demand.
The Likud’s electoral platform and the government’s guidelines stipulate that any settlement with the Palestinians must guarantee that Israel has secure borders. Netanyahu has argued repeatedly that the only way Israel can have secure borders is by retaining control over a significant amount of land in Judea and Samaria in perpetuity.
Until last week the Netanyahu government also rejected the traditional Arab/European position that Jews have no right to live in any of the lands that Israel took control over during the 1967 Six-Day War. The government viewed this position – which has become the foundation stone of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy – as inherently anti-Semitic.
Apparently, all that has now changed. Ahead of his trip to London to meet with Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu reversed course. He has received the support of four out of six members of his security cabinet (himself, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman) to accept Obama’s demand. Netanyahu is negotiating a compromise with the Obama administration in which Israel will reportedly ban Jews from building in Judea and Samaria but not in Jerusalem.
While Netanyahu insists he is only talking about outlawing Jewish construction for a few months, last week we learned from Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias that the ban was actually enacted four months ago. So without the government or the public being informed, and while Netanyahu was publicly rejecting the administration’s insistent demand as unacceptable and bigoted, he has actually been bowing to administration pressure all along. Now he just wants to make it official policy.
Netanyahu’s associates assure us that the proposed ban will be dropped if the Arab world doesn’t normalize its relations with Israel or if the Palestinians refuse to negotiate in good faith with the government in Jerusalem. But the fact is that this is a concession that is difficult to roll back. By accepting Obama’s demand even temporarily, what Netanyahu is actually accepting is the Arab/European/U.S. position that all land surrendered by Israel to Palestinian control be first emptied of all Jews.
That is, Netanyahu is accepting as reasonable the idea that a Palestinian state will be predicated on anti-Semitism and ethnic cleansing of Jews.
Netanyahu’s associates claimed on Monday that Netanyahu is now conditioning a construction ban against Jews on whether Saudi Arabia takes a step toward normalizing its ties with Israel. Such a step would involve, for instance, allowing Israeli planes to fly over Saudi airspace. While Netanyahu’s position seems reasonable on the surface, the fact is it only serves to entrap Israel.
Even in the unlikely event the Saudis agree to take a step in Israel’s direction, they could cancel it at any point and blame their bad-faith action on whatever fabricated Israeli offense they wish. Moreover, since Netanyahu has already agreed that the U.S. demand that Jews not be allowed to build in certain areas is basically legitimate, a Saudi refusal to take any steps toward normalization will not in any way influence the Obama administration’s willingness or intention to continue pressuring Israel to bar Jews from building.
Netanyahu’s very willingness to conduct negotiations on a construction ban – not to mention his actual ban on Jewish construction for the past four months – has in itself simply paved the way for further U.S. pressure on Israel.
Netanyahu and his advisors have all stated that it is important to conduct negotiations with the Americans on their demand for a Jewish construction freeze because it is important that Israel improve its relations with the Obama administration. Officials argue that Israel’s relationship with the U.S. is so crucial to the country that it makes sense to make enormous concessions in order to maintain close ties to the White House.
It is certainly true that maintaining good relations with Washington is a vital Israeli interest. But it is also clear that the Obama administration is not interested in good relations with Israel. From his first day in office, when Obama gave his first interview as president to Al Arabiya, to his anti-Israel speech in Cairo on June 4, to his latest bid to cozy up to the Muslim world with his Ramadan greetings, Obama has repeatedly demonstrated that he views putting the squeeze on Israel as a means of cultivating close ties with the Arabs rather than achieving peace between Israel and the Arabs. Indeed, his massive and public pressure on Israel has made the Palestinians more unwilling to make peace with Israel than ever before.
It is the supposedly moderate and U.S.-supported Palestinian “prime minister” Salam Fayyad who is now saying the peace process is dead and the Palestinians have no reason to talk to Israel. As several leading Palestinians have stated in recent months, they will only agree to sit down with Netanyahu after the U.S. has forced Israel to accept and implement all Palestinian demands including a ban on Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem and an Israeli release of all convicted terrorists from its prisons.
As Obama sees things, applying pressure on Israel is a tool for improving the Washington’s posture in the Arab world. Consequently, an Israeli concession on Jewish construction will not lead to better U.S.-Israel relations. It will only lead to U.S. pressure on Israel to make further concessions.
Netanyahu’s critics on the Right argue the time has come to make their opposition to his new leftist, media-friendly policies known. But they must tread carefully. Today there is no plausible candidate to replace Netanyahu as prime minister aside from opposition head Tzipi Livni. Livni of course will have no compunction about barring Jewish building in Judea and Samaria as well as in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. So too, she will not hesitate to use the IDF to enact mass expulsions of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria in the name of “peace” with the likes of Fayyad and his boss Mahmoud Abbas.
Rather than seeking to bring down Netanyahu’s government, his critics on the Right should follow the path forged by their coalition colleagues from the Labor Party and use their positions within his government to make him pay a political price for his leftward tilt. Members of Knesset from the Right should introduce bills that would bar discrimination against Jews in Judea and Samaria and throughout the country. They should remarkably all come down with the flu on days when government-sponsored bills come up for votes in the Knesset plenum. And they should wage a public battle against a ban on Jewish building in order to rally the public – and particularly voters from Likud and its coalition partners – to their side.
Netanyahu’s aides spent the days ahead of his meeting with Mitchell on Wednesday attempting to dampen expectations of a deal in the works with the administration. But the fact that these negotiations have even taken place has caused Israel great damage. Coalition members who oppose his leftward swing should make clear their dissatisfaction by showing Netanyahu that there is a price to be paid for deceiving his voters and his government.
Caroline Glick is senior contributing editor at The Jerusalem Post. Her Jewish Press-exclusive column appears the last week of each month. Her book “The Shackled Warrior: Israel and the Global Jihad,” is available at www.Amazon.com.