Stay off the slippery slope

We are often warned about the dangers of the “extreme right” in Israel — as Thomas Friedman called them, those who “actually want to annex the West Bank.” I presume that Friedman was referring to people like Naftali Bennett, who has made a proposal to annex Area C — the parts of Judea and Samaria where almost all the Jewish residents and few Arabs live.

Even Daniel Gordis, who — unlike Friedman — actually cares about Israel’s future, has suggested that Israeli voters should beware of, er, excessive Zionism, because it could lead to the isolation and ultimate destruction of the Jewish state. In a recent article, Gordis presents a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ scenario for the Israel of 2063. In the ‘bad’ one,

European hostility to Israel never subsided, and successive Israeli governments turned irritating both the EU and the US into a national sport. In response to repeated European and American demands that building projects cease, the government assured Israelis, “They’ll learn to live with it. We just have to show them we can’t be bullied.”

Germany changed the rules first. Lufthansa stopped flying to Israel, and a year later, Germany refused El Al landing rights. After subsequent dustups, Air France and France followed suit, as did British Airways and the UK. Soon, the only way to get to Europe was by sea. Israelis could still fly to Turkey, though.

Both Friedman and Gordis seem to be saying that Israel must not defy the Europeans and Obama Administration on the issue of Israel’s rights in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. By playing along — despite the fact that an excellent case can be made for the legality of Jewish settlement in these places — Israel can avoid potentially disastrous punishment.

There are two problems with this position, one philosophical and the other practical. The philosophical problem is that it represents an abdication of sovereignty, the sovereignty that Jews have been fighting and dying to preserve since the beginning of the Zionist enterprise. It represents a return to the ghetto mentality by which Jewish survival was dependent on the good will of the local gentile prince. Once we agree to the principle, where does it stop?

The practical problem is that the immediate objective of the EU and the Obama administration is the reduction of Israel to the 1949 armistice lines (the so-called “pre-67 borders” which actually were never considered borders by anyone). It is not for nothing that Abba Eban referred to these boundaries as “Auschwitz borders,” because they would be a strategic disaster. Whether you take Naftali Bennett seriously or not, you should look at the illustrations in his proposal. Here’s one of them:


Both the US and the EU do not accept Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem — the US State Department continues to insist that until there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel’s capital is not Jerusalem (they won’t say what it is). Many European countries (and the EU’s Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton) are prepared to talk with with a Palestinian ‘government’ that includes Hamas. The EU’s oft-stated position is that any Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line are “illegal under international law.” How can Israel play along with a policy that calls for the expulsion of half a million Jews from their homes?

And this is only the immediate objective. What can we expect next, that the EU will require Israel to grant a ‘right of return’ to 4.5 million descendants of Arab refugees before it will welcome what’s left of Israel into the family of nations?

The EU’s positions can only be expected to harden in the future, as its Muslim population grows. Although it’s harder to predict the behavior of the US in the long run, there are worrisome indications today — like Obama’s floating of a possible nomination for the anti-Israel Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

A policy of appeasing the US and EU can only aid the Arabs in their project to weaken Israel and slice away at it, bit by bit. A better plan is to stand firm and insist on Israel’s legitimate rights — to stay off the slippery slope.

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5 Responses to “Stay off the slippery slope”

  1. NormanF says:

    Israel’s core vital interests are preserving Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, maintaining the right of Jews to live in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights and ensuring Israel remains a Jewish State. These three core vital interests are non-negotiable – they constitute the essence of the Zionist project and its all tied to the concept Jews can take care of themselves and they don’t need the approval of others to run their own country. Israel has to uphold those core vital interests or there will be no Jewish State.

    Every country has a unique history, culture and specific requirements and these cannot be subordinated to foreign goodwill or any alliance with others. Israel’s foreign policy objective, in a word, is not to give in on those core vital interests to secure foreign sympathy and alliances – which is what Daniel Gordis thinks Israel should do – rather, its the opposite, Israel should cultivate global support and work to secure alliances to protect and preserve those core vital interests in the first place.

    That is what every other national government after all does and the Jewish State has to understand ‘red lines” are really red lines and conceding on them won’t avert world hostility, they may buy a short-lived respite from it and they may win Israel evanescent popularity but that would last only until the next crisis, when Israel would be in a much weaker position to defend the few interests it has left. And a weak Israel would be under constant pressure to make more concessions to buy Arab goodwill, spare Europe its problems with its own Muslim population and ensure America doesn’t have to defend Israel at every turn in the international arena.

    In short, Israeli concessions would not only not buy Israel the friendship and the understanding of other countries, it would accelerate the twin process of delegitimization and isolation that having been taking place since the beginning of the Oslo Era. The “slippery slope” means Israel would reach the point where it would be a country with no real friends and not remain capable of adequately defending itself much less than being a stabilizing influence in the Middle East the way a strong Israel would be.

    Standing firm on Israel’s core vital interests earns other countries’ grudging respect, it shows Israel is a country that knows where it stands and Israel is able to defend the Jewish people and their ties to the Land Of Israel and Israel is able to be an assertive power of consequence in a dangerous and unstable region. Every one likes a confident and secure country. No one likes a pushover.

    In short, Israel has it within its power to ensure the “slippery slope” does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the future. And Zionism and Jewish sovereignty means Israel can say “no” without fear of foreign repercussions and if they should arise to get through them and to survive, both as a stronger and more vibrant country. Israel’s future is in its own hands.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    You are of course right about the EU , the US, the fact that concessions under these circumstances are really just a prelude to more concessions.
    But you do not spell out the consequences of our simply standing by the principle that the land of Israel is wholly ours.
    And without going on about this at length I simply ask one question. Is adopting this principle going to increase the likelihood of our enemies being able to destroy us?

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I am not proposing a particular course of action, because I don’t pretend to know enough to do so. Naftali Bennett’s plan to annex Area C is one possibility, and it has both supporters and detractors on the Right. But what I am saying is that whatever Israel does must be done from the point of view that Israel has legitimate rights, and that we are talking about Judea and Samaria and not “the Palestinian territories” or “the Arab West Bank.”
    Yes, I think honestly defending Israel’s interests is more likely to lead to survival than accepting the premises of its enemies’ arguments and then trying to avoid their conclusions.

  4. Shalom Freedman says:

    Isi Leibler had in the Dec. 31 issue of the Jerusalem Post an article which it seems to me articulates a sensible position. He explains that Netanyahu cannot simply reject the two- state solution because that means total diplomatic isolation and risk of loss of U.S. support. But this while understanding that it is not going to happen.
    In other words our position cannot be a wholly honest and frank one.
    On the other hand I wholly agree with you about our failure to properly focus on our historical right to the Land, the justice of our case- to instead play defense all the time.
    But of course this often comes because allegedly neutral media people frame the questions in terms which really support the other side.

  5. Vic Rosenthal says:

    If the US and Europe think that Israel should be isolated they will do it regardless of Israel’s official position on a 2-state agreement. Do you think they don’t know that Palestinian intransigence is the reason it’s impossible?