Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mr. Prime Minister Olmert, Accommodating the Short-Term Goals of Israel’s Enemies, including “Trading Prisoners,” Is Counter-Productive


A new WorldPublicOpinion poll of people in 18 countries reveals that a majority of those people blame both sides in what is referred to as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they don’t want their governments to take sides. This should come as no surprise.

When I was an active lawyer, judges never wanted to hear both sides of the story in a dispute between the lawyers. They were busy and simply assumed that somehow both lawyers were to blame. This allowed for one side, usually the side with deeper pockets, to abuse the other.

And so it was, and so it is.

The rest of the world is too busy to really care what happens in Israel and its environs, as long it doesn’t affect them. They don’t pay close attention and are happy to cast blame on everyone.

In a thousand ways Israeli leadership bends to Arab demands to prove to the world that Israel is “the good guy” in the dispute. Their reason? 1) The hope that one day its neighbors will let Israel exist in an area that is objectively too small for it to be truly self-reliant and independent or 2) That the world will notice Israel’s current good will and therefore not rush to condemn it when the next war breaks out.

With history and polls as a guide, Israel will get no long-term credit for bending to Arab demands. This fact seems lost on current Israeli leadership.

Today, by all accounts the Prime Minister of Israel is working hard to conclude a deal with Hezbollah in which, Samir Kuntar, a prisoner “with blood on his hands,”—that is, a murderer—and other prisoners are exchanged by Israel for information about a long dead Israeli airman and the bodies of two IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2006 and presumed dead.

This is folly.

By sheer brut strength Hezbollah has forced itself into the dominant position of Lebanese politics.

Did the people of world care enough to stop this? No.

Hezbollah will not be disarmed as was agreed to by the terms of UN Resolution 1701, a condition of the ending of the 2006 Lebanon War. (But then, every diplomat around the world, including Israeli diplomats knew Hezbollah wouldn’t be disarmed, and today, Israeli warnings that Hezbollah is rearming and building new military infrastructure in the areas north and south of the Litani River are ignored).

Did the people of world care enough to do anything about it? No.

Yet because of international pressure, Israel felt forced to abandon its goal of eliminating Hezbollah as a serious existential threat to Israel.

Would the people of the world have done anything meaningfully harmful to Israel had it finished the job? No.

Israel should have taken the heat and finished the job. The international anger would have ended when the people of the world moved to the next topic.

Presently, Israel will get little additional long-term credit and little additional long-term debit for doing either what is perceived to be right or wrong.

And that is why Prime Minister Olmert’s bending to negotiate with Hezbollah over prisoners is shortsighted.

It just serves as “proof” that both sides must somehow be to blame for their conflict.

And it gives Hezbollah added legitimacy in international circles. If Israel can negotiate with Hezbollah, every country is more free to do so. Hezbollah’s place, as the inevitable heirs to governing Lebanon, becomes more certain.

Hezbollah could teach current Israeli leadership plenty about how to negotiate.

Years ago when Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon the UN concluded that Israel no longer occupied any Lebanese territory. But Hezbollah simply refused to accept the UN’s conclusion, and continued to use a canard of continued Israel presence on Lebanese territory as a pretext to keep fighting Israel. Now under Hezbollah pressure the UN will reconsider which country, Syria or Lebanon “owns” this “disputed” area called Shebaa Farms.

By being a disrupting pain, the world rushes to appease if appeasement is even remotely possible. Why? Because the people of the world wish to avoid trouble from spreading to them. It’s that simple.

For Israel, negotiating over prisoners with Hezbollah (and Hamas) leads to two short-term things. The first is that Israel might, for a price, win the release of a kidnap victim (or information or remains). The second is that it invites the next kidnapping to occur. How foolish.

In the eyes of the world, current Israeli negotiating strategy treats enemies who demand Israel’s destruction as good-faith equals.

But Israel’s leaders will at most receive from its neighbors more pieces of paper that, for the time being, allow it to live in an area that is objectively too small for it to be truly self-reliant and independent.

Current Israeli leadership does not recognize that the current international handwriting on the wall—a smaller Israel—is not forever true. It is nothing more than today’s graffiti.

In the long-term, if Israel is to thrive, Israel must to be large enough to be self-sufficient and a more important partner in the world community. This goal of self-sufficiency must be perceived by the world to be non-negotiable. Israel must repeat and repeat that it will not become a modern day pre-world war II era Czechoslovakia.

Since the majority of the people of the world will not care how the Israeli-Palestinian/Hamas/Hezbollah/Arab/Muslim problem is solved, it might as well be solved in a way the benefits Israel, Palestinian people, and humanity.

But until the problem is solved, like all semi-distracted judges, the world will find plenty of blame to go around for Israel, Palestinians, the rest of the local Muslim Arabs and, of course, the United States.

For Prime Minister Olmert and Israel, a renewed first negotiating step that must be taken to move the negotiation of a permanent solution forward on favorable terms (a larger, self-sufficient, independently viable Israel) is this: Stop accommodating the short-term goals of Israel’s enemies.

--David Naggar

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