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Livni’s Hypocrisy and Israel’s PR Problem

Israel was a sideshow in the latest WikiLeaks document dump, but the leaked cables did include one noteworthy nugget from Jerusalem: in January 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who today is leader of the opposition, told two U.S. senators that following some exploratory talks with the Palestinians, she didn’t believe a final-status agreement could be reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This is significant because publicly, Livni always says a peace deal is achievable and lambastes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to produce one. Even yesterday, confronted with the WikiLeaks cable, she continued this line, insisting that a deal wasn’t achievable in 2007, but in 2010 “a peace agreement is possible and it needs to done.”

She didn’t explain this about-face, for the very good reason that no convincing explanation exists: Abbas is no more willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, agree to defensible borders, or cede the “right of return” than he ever was. But this mantra has paid off for her politically, making her the West’s favorite Israeli.

A politician being hypocritical for political gain is nothing new. But in this case, Livni’s personal gain has come at the price of grave damage to her country. If a leading Israeli politician — the woman whose party won the most seats in the last election — claims that Abbas is ready to make a deal, that obviously carries weight overseas. But if Abbas is indeed ready to deal, then it’s clearly Israel’s fault that no deal has ever been signed. And so Israel is painted worldwide as the obstacle to peace, with all the opprobrium that entails.

Livni’s hypocrisy, however, is merely one facet of a much larger problem: virtually the entire Israeli governing class adopts the same tactic. Despite privately believing that Abbas isn’t ready for peace, it publicly insists that he is — and thereby implicitly paints Israel as the party responsible for the ongoing lack of peace. And it does so not only for political gain but also at its own political cost.

Netanyahu, for instance, repeatedly claims that Abbas is his “partner for peace,” with whom he could reach a deal in a year (if only Abbas would agree to negotiate with him). But having insisted that Abbas isn’t the obstacle, the obvious conclusion is that Netanyahu himself must be the problem. After all, some obstacle must exist, since peace clearly hasn’t broken out.

The Palestinians suffer no such pathology: Palestinian leaders blame Israel nonstop for the lack of peace. And since Israel never offers a competing narrative — namely, that Palestinian rejectionism is the real reason for the absence of peace — the Palestinian narrative has inevitably gained worldwide currency.

Thus if Israel is ever to extricate itself from the global dock, its leaders must start telling the truth: that Palestinians aren’t ready to make the compromises peace requires, that they still don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, and that this is why they have rejected every single Israeli offer to date. You can’t win a public relations war by refusing to fight it.