The Israeli general elections are just around the corner, due to take place next Tuesday, 22nd January. Campaigning is in high gear and party political broadcasts are dominating the media in all its forms. All this is perfectly acceptable in a democracy such as Israel’s.
However there has been much unseemly meddling in Israel’s elections too, some of it from unexpected quarters.
The first meddler is no lesser a personage than the President of Israel himself, Shimon Peres. As President, he is not supposed to get involved in politics and is meant to stay above the fray, although this has obviously not prevented him from getting down and dirty with Israeli politics and doing what he loves doing best – bad-mouthing Israel’s government to the foreign press. The Daily Telegraph reports on an interview given by Peres to the New York Times magazine, where he makes the outrageous and ridiculous assertion that “Israel’s government does not want to make peace with the Muslim world“:
Intervening in the country’s general election campaign, Israel’s elder statesman warned of the perils of his country isolating itself from America.
President Barack Obama was “not convinced” that Israel’s current leaders truly wanted peace, he said.
“If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror. Knives, mines, suicide attacks,” Mr Peres said in an extensive interview with the New York Times Magazine.
Asked if Mr Obama believed that Israel shared his ambitions for peace in the Middle East, Mr Peres replied: “Of course he’s not convinced. He demanded an end to settlements and got a negative response, and they [members of Mr Netanyahu’s government] are to blame for the ongoing activity in the settlements. President Obama thinks that peace should be made with the Muslim world. We, the State of Israel, do not appear to be thinking along those lines.
“We must not lose the support of the United States. What gives Israel bargaining power in the international arena is the support of the United States.”
In his series of interviews with the New York Times Mr Peres told the Israeli journalist, Ronen Bergman, that Mr Netanyahu was not providing positive leadership.
“I think that if the people of Israel heard from the leadership that there is a chance for peace, they would take up the gauntlet and believe it,” he said. “There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes – love and peace.”
Peres is forgetting a third necessity for peace – a negotiating partner on the other side who is not committed to your destruction. Peres does not mention the many acquiescences and capitulations that Israel has carried out towards the Palestinians in exchange for nothing. He does not explain – or even understand – the reason for Israelis’ apathy towards the peace process – that every appeasing act that Israel has ever taken towards the Palestinians has only ever been met with more violence, terrorism and lawfare. Peres’s delusional Oslo accords led to the worst terror war, and one with the greatest loss of civilian lives, in Israel’s history. He should apologize to the Israeli public and learn to keep his mouth shut before he covers himself in more dishonour.
Yisrael Hayom has a great and nasty take-down of Peres’ words:
I was especially touched by Peres’ wistful tone when speaking about Yasser Arafat, his Nobel Peace Prize partner. In Peres’ view, it would have been easier to advance the peace process with Arafat. Even if I am inclined to believe Peres, I am confident that no one else does, including himself.
In the short history of the State of Israel, the degree to which this president has interfered in the election process is unprecedented. Openly and discreetly, in public meetings and behind closed doors, Peres has tried assisting Left-wing and centrist parties – he was once a member of some of them – to topple the Likud government. The Israeli media, and now the foreign press, provide him ample opportunity to express views that fundamentally counter the Israeli government’s positions.
It’s easy to understand why the president is in a funk. For decades he optimistically fed Israelis a false vision of longed-for peace, simply waiting at the gate for us to let it in and change our lives. This peace cost us more lives than several of Israel’s wars. In the past there were many who bought his vision of a new Middle East. His dreams of peace won him a Nobel Peace Prize.
Now that Israeli citizens have already gotten the message and distanced themselves from foolish visions of imminent peace, the president is trying to rehabilitate its honor as well as his own.
Two more Israeli meddlers are former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin. Strictly speaking they are permitted to interfere to his heart’s content, but they should not be allowed to get away with smearing the present government and making ridiculous assertions intended to influence the Israeli voter, especially considering their own record while in office:
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert accused Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday of spending billions of shekels on unnecessary defense projects related to Iran. In an interview with Channel 2 News, Olmert said that the current prime minister “wasted” NIS 11 billion on “harebrained adventures that haven’t, and won’t, come to fruition.”
“We are dealing with expenditures that go above and beyond multi-year budgets,” said Olmert, adding that he believes “the projects won’t be carried out because 2012 was the decisive year.”
“They scared the world for a year and in the end didn’t do anything,” charged Olmert, referring to Netanyahu’s ongoing campaign to lead the world into action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program both by toughening sanctions and by using the threat of military strikes to derail the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment drive.
Olmert, who resigned the premiership in 2008 after being embroiled in multiple allegations of corruption — most of which he was later cleared of — also addressed comments made last week by former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin. (Olmert was convicted of breach of trust, is on trial in a real estate scandal and faces the state’s appeal against hid acquittals in two major cases.) Diskin claimed Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held sensitive meetings dealing with the Iranian threat, while smoking cigars and drinking alcohol. Olmert confirmed that he too had heard similar accounts and expressed support for Diskin for airing the issue publicly.
Netanyahu dismissed Olmert’s words as bizarre:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday blasted his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, dismissing as “bizarre and irresponsible” comments made by the former prime minister on Friday.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Netanyahu defended his government’s military spending, and asserted that it “did not waste a single shekel.”
“Investing in the security of Israel’s citizens is not a waste,” said the prime minister, insisting that what he had accomplished with defense spending “serves the State of Israel very well. We have developed both offensive and defensive capabilities, for the short and long term.”
Asked about the NIS 11 billion which Olmert claimed had been spent on the Iranian threat, Netanyahu refused to go into specifics of budgetary allocations. He noted, however, that the statement was “not at all accurate.”
When he took office in 2009, Netanyahu said, he approached the Iranian threat in two ways.
“The first… was to coordinate an international effort to impose an economic blockade on Iran by way of the sanctions,” he said. But what made the sanctions successful, according to the prime minister, was the second approach: to build “independent capabilities” for Israel to act if need be.
Netanyahu said that, after meeting with world leaders, he found that “one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, for their agreeing to impose sanctions [on Iran] was that they understood that we were very serious and determined to act in the event that there were no sanctions.”
The third major meddler in Israel’s electoral process is US President Barack Obama. Jeffrey Goldberg, who appears to be Obama’s mouthpiece towards the American Jewish community, writes in his Bloomberg article that Obama thinks that “Israelis don’t know what their own best interests are“.
When informed about the Israeli decision, [about building in E-1 -Ed.] Obama, who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, didn’t even bother getting angry. He told several people that this sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.
In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.
And if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah — one that alienates even the affections of the U.S., its last steadfast friend — it won’t survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel’s survival; Israel’s own behavior poses a long-term one.
On matters related to the Palestinians, the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise.
The sneering condescension expressed by Obama towards both Netanyahu and Israelis in general is quite breath-taking, even for someone not known for his affinity to Israel.
Nile Gardiner in the Daily Telegraph correctly calls Obama’s words a slap in the face for Israel:
President Obama’s contempt for Netanyahu is already well known, as he amply displayed in a private meeting with then French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the G-20 in November 2011, where he reportedly told his French counterpart in reference to the Israeli PM: “you’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!” Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu when he visited the United States in September last year, while finding the time to appear on the David Letterman show, and has a long track record of snubbing the Israeli PM.
Obama’s latest comments, conveyed by Jeffrey Goldberg, take the US president’s hostility against Netanyahu to new heights, and are a major diplomatic faux pas ahead of next week’s Israeli election, which Netanyahu is widely expected to win. It will undoubtedly set the tone for his entire approach towards Israel, and will further strain relations between Washington and Jerusalem during his second term. They also reveal a remarkable degree of antipathy towards America’s closest friend and ally in the Middle East, and an unhealthy willingness to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation state. There are echoes of the president’s unwelcome intervention in the British debate over membership of the European Union last week, when the senior State Department official for European affairs specifically warned Britain against an EU exit.
Barack Obama’s sneering reference to Israel as “a small state” that is already “a pariah,” and one that may not even survive unless it changes its “behaviour,” smacks of staggering condescension, and will be music to the ears of every enemy of Israel on the face of the earth. This is not a message the president of the United States should be sending to a brave ally that faces a huge range of threats, from Iran’s nuclear programme to a host of terrorist organisations, including Hamas and Hezbollah. President Obama claims to be a friend of Israel, but his words and actions strongly suggest otherwise.
Well said Mr. Gardiner.
An excellent reply to these accusations of war-mongering and acting against our own best interests has been produced by Daniel Gordis in Friday’s Jerusalem Post. In “A dose of nuance – We gave peace a chance” he writes:
What’s been hardest has been watching the worldview on which I was raised crash and break like a ship washed violently against a forbidding shore. I was raised in one of those (then-) classic American Jewish suburban families. Democratic voting, opposed to the Vietnam War, passionate advocates for civil rights, my parents taught their kids that most people were reasonable and that all conflicts were solvable. When it came to the Middle East, the prescription for resolution of the conflict was clear – we would give land, and we would get peace. The only question was when.
We were not the only ones who believed that, of course. A significant portion of Israeli society believed the same thing – until the Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada) – that is. Those four years destroyed the Israeli political Left because they washed away any illusions Israelis might have had that the Palestinian leadership was interested in a deal. And, to be fair, why should the Palestinians be interested in a deal? Their position gets stronger with each passing year. No longer pariahs, they are now the darlings of the international community. They have seen the world shift from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to giving them observer status at the UN. If you were the leader of the Palestinian Authority, would you make a deal now? Of course not. With the terms bound to get sweeter in years to come, only a fool would sign now.
Our enemies are not fools. But they are consistent.
ISRAELIS LIVE in a world of utter cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, our region is becoming ever more dangerous and our foes ever more honest about their desire to destroy the Jewish state. And on the other hand, much of the world insists that “land for peace” simply must work; some American Jewish leaders actually urged Israel, even in the midst of the Gaza conflict, to return to the negotiating table. It would be funny were it not so sad and so dangerous.
That is why the upcoming election, sobering though it is, may actually prove important. Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying.
To give up hope for peace is not to choose war. Egypt’s present and Jordan’s future indicate how little is guaranteed by a treaty; the Palestinian present shows that we can have quiet even in the face of stalemate. What Israelis now want is quiet, and a future. Nothing more, nothing less. And most importantly, no more illusions.
The demise of the peace addiction is no cause for celebration; it is merely cause for relief. There is something exhausting about living a life of pretense; with the death of illusion comes the possibility of shaping a future. After a new government is formed, a genuine leader could actually lead Israelis into a “what next” conversation. Deciding what comes next, now that we sadly know that the idea of “land for peace” is dead, will not be easy. Israel could make wise decisions or terrible mistakes.
But if, as a result of this election, we begin to have a conversation about a future that we can actually have, the Jewish state will be much better off.
Israel, though, is likely to make much better choices if it is joined in its hardearned realism by forces outside the country too. Now that Israelis are getting honest, the question is whether the international community – and then American Jews – will follow suit. On the former front, there are occasional causes for optimism. The Washington Post, for example, recently acknowledged that the international community’s rhetoric has become an obstacle rather than a help. “Mr. Netanyahu’s zoning approval is hardly the ‘almost fatal blow’ to a twostate solution that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described… If Security Council members are really interested in progress toward Palestinian statehood, they will press Mr. Abbas to stop using settlements as an excuse for intransigence – and cool their own overheated rhetoric.”
Amen to that. But what about American Jewish leaders? They will likely find admitting that “land for peace” is dying no less difficult than anyone else. Will they listen carefully to what the Israeli electorate, across the spectrum, is saying? I hope so. Because loving someone means helping them to fashion a future that is possible, not harboring an exhausted illusion that can only yield pain and disappointment. The same is true with loving Israel.
This article ought to be compulsory reading for all of Israel’s “well-wishers”, for all those who speak more in sadness than in anger in patronising condescension against a nation who has done more to withstand terrorism and constant war and yet keep hold of its humanity than any other nation on earth.