Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was quite right to observe this week that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Mideast. What’s unnerving, though, is to suggest, as he did, that Jerusalem is at fault for this situation.
“Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength,” Panetta said en route to the region for the umpteenth U.S. effort to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
We appreciate and support Washington’s attempts to get the negotiations on track. The current urgency is driven by the Palestinian Authority’s end-around diplomacy at the United Nations in its quest for statehood by avoiding rather than dealing with Israel. But a reality check is in order, and it indicates that Jerusalem is not the culprit here. Far from it.
In truth, Israel has accepted the Quartet’s invitation to come back to the table, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he is ready to sit down and negotiate with PA President Mahmoud Abbas immediately.
It is Abbas who is holding back, as usual, insisting that Israel first must agree to a moratorium on settlement building. Netanyahu’s response is, in effect, “been there, done that.” He points out that at some internal political risk, the Jerusalem government declared a 10-month halt to building in the West Bank, but the Palestinians dragged their feet for nine months and the talks ended after two weeks.
We would prefer that Netanyahu issue another short-term moratorium on West Bank building — if for no other reason than tactical. Such a move might score a few diplomatic points with Washington and a few other countries. More importantly, though, it would reveal that the sticking point for the Palestinians is not the settlements. After all, the PA negotiated off and on with Jerusalem for many years without raising the issue, and only made it a deal-breaker after President Barack Obama did.
Rather, the critical considerations for the leaders of the PA, as Abbas noted in his UN speech last month, are that they believe the “occupation” goes back to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, not 1967, and their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or compromise on the “right of return.”
In all the calls for a Palestinian state, how many have noted that it would have racist, apartheid laws — no Jews allowed — and follow Islamic dictates? Not to mention that the PA is financially broke, has deep divisions with Hamas in Gaza and can’t control militants without the help of the Israeli army.
Yes, Israel finds itself isolated in the region. That’s because Turkey has cast its fate with Iran rather than the West and has been looking for fights to pick with Jerusalem to bolster its status in Tehran. It’s because Egypt, without Mubarak, has made it clear that it wants to pull back the relationship. Israel displayed great restraint in the face of border attacks and having its embassy in Cairo attacked by a lynch mob.
Yet Jerusalem is somehow perceived as causing rather than enduring increasing hostility and snubs from its neighbors.
Are the West Bank settlements really to blame here rather than decades of virulent Arab anti-Semitism and refusal to accept the reality of a Jewish presence in the region?
The U.S. knows better.