It was the late Abba Eban who famously said that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” In his time that was for the most part true, and it arguably worked for Israel’s benefit, particularly when Israel found itself in a tight diplomatic squeeze.
More recently, however, Israel’s enemies have learned a few things, most especially how David-and-Goliath warfare plays out in the contemporary world. Without tanks and aircraft to challenge Israel’s dominance in traditional military terms, the quasi-military tactics of intifada, “nuisance” rockets and cease-fires have served the Palestinian and jihadist causes far better than the Egyptian and Syrian armies had in previous decades.
Moreover, of even greater significance for the longer term has been the repeated shellacking taken by Israel through diplomatic means, beginning with Sadat, flourishing with Arafat, and continuing to the present.
For decades there has hardly been a forum, military confrontation or terrorist catastrophe that hasn’t called into question Israeli culpability, no matter the facts. To the so-called international community, the Israeli voice has essentially become inconsequential.
The success of anti-Israel diplomacy and public relations is not due to Israeli ignorance of modern technology. After all, Israel is responsible for a vastly disproportionate percentage of telecommunications and Internet technology. But their effective use in making Israel’s case is something else entirely.
With the important exception of the remarkable achievement(s) of AIPAC in championing Israeli policy to the U.S. Congress, Israeli efforts on the diplomatic and public-relations fronts – for years the ones that truly count – have floundered or failed.
Since the world’s admiration for Israel peaked in 1967, the anti-Israel phenomenon, if that’s what it is, has moved from a consensus for mild condemnation to a growing clamor for delegitimization.
Some may ascribe this to anti-Semitism, but that too easily would explain a lot and yet nothing, with no prospect for improving much of anything.
Simply put, Israel has been outplayed. Only Israel can bloody an enemy whose defeat is then declared a victory. Hasn’t this happened too often – with the PLO, Hizbullah and Hamas – to be dismissed as merely false boasting on the part of Israel’s adversaries? It certainly has, and it’s not trivial.
With Arab recognition that conventional warfare with Israel is a non-starter, terrorist jabs and international pressure now define the war being waged against Israel. The former element, of course, is dealt with daily by Israeli leaders as well as probably any government could – with active intelligence, the security wall, missile shields, etc.
On the battleground of international pressure, however, Israel has been less than smart and repeatedly beaten.
Its most recent loss, that of the UN General Assembly’s vote to grant non-member status to Palestine, may actually prove helpful in finding a way out of the loser’s box. In the face of the inevitable adoption of the Palestine resolution, could Israel have done something to help itself? Yes – it could have voted for the resolution. Not because it favored it but because it could have avoided defeat while shaping the vote.
Briefly, the reality was that the resolution would pass but presumably have no effect “on the ground.” Its immediate consequence would be the perceived defeat of Israeli policy, along with the more significant possibility that non-member status could lead Palestine to initiate legal and other proceedings (such as war crime trials) against Israel. Worse still, down those roads lie the threats of economic and other sanctions from hostile forums.
The UN resolution could not create a state with borders, government, armed forces, controllable resources, etc. Everything it could do, though, was clearly unstoppable by Israel. Yet there was one thing Israel could do to snatch a tie from defeat. In the process, Israel would not have needed to waste diplomatic capital with the U.S., Canada and the few others who also voted against the resolution or abstained. Indeed, a unanimous vote favoring the resolution would have diminished its meaning and serve to spit in the UN’s eye (a not unworthy thing in itself).
Think about it: a vote in favor of the resolution, based on Israeli policy, would have been wise. Before casting its vote, the Israeli ambassador could have explained as follows: that Israel, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, favors two states living side by side in peace; that it hopes to negotiate such a long-term arrangement with a Palestinian state capable of entering into and honoring agreements defining borders, control of resources, and non-military police powers, etc; and that while it may dispute certain aspects of the proposed resolution, it seeks to further peace by ignoring the resolution’s flaws and voting for the prospect of a responsible Palestinian state. (Others, no doubt, would have added their voices in like manner, joining Israel.)