In the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s successful trip to Washington, Israel’s critics are in a grouchy mood. President Obama failed in his effort to ambush Netanyahu—they can’t deny that—and the result was a reaffirmation of American support for Israel that effectively ends any further diplomatic freelancing by the White House. But unhappy Israel-bashers claim it doesn’t matter.
They say Israel is still isolated diplomatically and will be forced—whether or not Bibi’s fans like it—to capitulate to international territorial demands without getting anything from the Palestinians in exchange. Either that, or the Jewish state will find itself being treated like the new South Africa after the United Nations recognizes an independent Palestinian state inside the 1967 borders with no swaps.
So does that mean that Netanyahu must take “bold” steps to give in to the Palestinians or face a diplomatic “tsunami” this fall? Despite the hopes of those who think the wrong guy won the fight between the two leaders last week, the answer is no.
First of all, the idea that Israel has the power to head off the confrontation in the UN in September is a fallacy. The spectacle of the world’s lining up to bash Israel at the UN will be daunting, but it will get the Palestinians nowhere. In the end, the United States will veto the resolution in the Security Council and that will be that. Israel won’t be any more or less diplomatically isolated than it is today. All that will have been accomplished will be to have proven (again) that the Palestinians won’t talk. The Arabs will be angry with the United States, but essentially nothing will have changed when the dust settles.
The worst mistake Netanyahu could make would be to budge an inch this summer as pressure again builds on him. He knows that any concessions made now will simply be pocketed by the Palestinians, but would fail to gain Israel any peace or international support. The Palestinians are choosing this route specifically to avoid negotiations. They won’t come back to them until their UN gambit has come a cropper.
Moreover, anyone who bets on rational behavior from the Palestinians hasn’t been paying attention to them the last several decades. In the next few months, Hamas and Fatah could fall out, leading to a collapse of either one of the two forces, reconfiguring the diplomatic map perhaps to Israel’s advantage.
But even more important is the fact that, after the UN initiative fails, the Palestinians will be forced either to launch a new intifada, which would make any talk of concessions or negotiations nugatory, or to come crawling back to peace talks. While the chances that either Fatah or Hamas will ever recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn are nil, there is no point in Israel giving anything up now in advance of real negotiations should they ever restart. A Congressional initiative to cut off funds to the Fatah-Hamas alliance running the PA could also strengthen Netanyahu’s hand.
Israelis want peace, but right now “bold” moves by Netanyahu would make the restart of peace talks even more unlikely. As difficult as the next few months may be for both Bibi and Israel’s friends to endure, the last thing he should do would be to concede territory merely to please Obama and the Europeans.