It is certainly no fun to have the entire world against us. On the other hand, it isn’t as bad as it may seem. As, contrary to appearances, the world is not against us. The international community played this week [the week of Dec. 2] a rather tough diplomatic game against [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, while Netanyahu for his part made his own moves in the game. Europe is calling our [Israel’s] ambassadors for clarification talks so as to let Netanyahu know how annoyed it is with him, whereas Netanyahu pulls out E1 [the East Jerusalem settlement building plan] to show them all in Europe how angry he is with them.
When all's said and done, it appears that Netanyahu is not that bad at playing the international game, as evidenced in both the present and past events. Indeed, more often than not, he is doing even better than his predecessors in the prime minister’s office. True, he does not always emerge the victor. At times he is dealt smashing blows. However, unlike others, he leaves no room for doubt that in this game we [Israelis] are by no means the ball tossed around, but rather one of the players, on a par with any other player on the field.
There are Israelis who shudder with horror at the thought of such audacity. Who are we [Israel] to dare challenge Europe and America, they wonder, warning that we are going to pay dearly for our impudence.
However, the truth is that for the sake of our future relations with Europe it is of the utmost importance that, while maintaining friendly relations with our European allies, we do not become the punching bag of the world. Our buddies in Europe stuck a small knife in our back when voting in the UN General Assembly [on Nov. 29] in favor of the Palestinian bid [for upgraded status as a non-member observer state]. We should thus make it clear to them that we are really enraged and that we are entitled to react in kind and get a bit wild. I have no idea what our [Israel’s] ambassadors told the European Foreign Ministers when summoned to hear the Europeans’ condemnation. I would like to hope that the [Israeli] Foreign Ministry had instructed our ambassadors to tell their hosts in response: Sorry, you may be angry with us, but we are no less angry with you. Next time you better think twice before stabbing us in the back.
And please, don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that we should lightly dismiss the stance taken by the international community. Even [the first prime minister of Israel, David] Ben-Gurion, who contemptuously referred to the United Nations as “Um-Shmum” [that is, worth-nothing UN] and who stated that what mattered was not what the Gentiles were going to say [but rather what the Jews were going to do], did not think for a moment that [Israel’s] relations with the world were of no consequence. What he did mean to say was that it was no more than a game of sorts, and that we should not lose our nerve and panic while playing it. When he appointed [Israeli statesman-diplomat-scholar] Abba Eban as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, although the latter was somewhat of an outsider in the [then-ruling] Mapai party [led by Ben-Gurion] and was not considered one of the gang, Ben-Gurion explained the choice noting that Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations was bound to become in no time the UN ambassador to Israel, and he did not want the UN emissary to be a man with too much influence in his party. In other words, while attaching due importance to Israel’s foreign relations, Ben-Gurion regarded them as secondary in order of importance and sought to deliver that message domestically as well as universally, across the world. According to Ben-Gurion, the foreign relations of a state should be used to clarify and serve the state’s policy and in no case should they be allowed to dictate it.
Europe is here
When it comes to Israel’s foreign policy, Prime Minister Netanyahu is more of a Moshe Sharet [Israel's first minister of foreign affairs and its second prime minister] than a Ben-Gurion. For Netanyahu, foreign policy is of primary importance. However, he knows the difference between a tough game and a deep crisis. No real [political] asset was damaged. Addressing the British Parliament, the foreign office minister hurried to clarify that there was no basis to the rumors (published in Israel's Haaretz) that Britain allegedly intended to recall its ambassador to Israel or that it considered revoking its trade agreements with Israel. I will not be taken by surprise if it emerges that the source leaking the rumors is no other than the one who rushed to deny them and that the British Minister himself instructed some Foreign Office official or diplomat to “sell” to eager Israeli reporters the threats that he was to subsequently reject as false. After all, it’s all in the game. I will not be taken aback either if it transpires that there was in fact no British source behind these absurd rumors and that they were dreamt up by some delirious Israeli journalist. Since, as said, it’s all in the game and our [Israel’s] correspondents and newspaper editors too want to take part in this game.
A report such as this should not have been published and certainly not allowed to make the headlines without raising suspicion and without being carefully checked first, as it sounds no more logical than some outlandish tale about aliens from Mars coming down to Earth to have a dip in a “Mikveh” [a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism] in [the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of] Me’a She’arim. Britain is doing us [Israel] no favors and giving us no alms when it maintains trade agreements with us. It needs the trade agreements with Israel no less than Israel itself. We are no longer a small and poor country. The present-day Israel is a [developed] country on the scale of the Scandinavian countries or Switzerland. Israel is a major market to reckon with and its bilateral trade with Britain currently amounts to 10 billion shekels [more $2.6 billion]. So, are the British going to dump it all just because Netanyahu irritated them with [the expansion plans of] Ma'ale Adumim? Does that sound reasonable? Would it be a realistic move on their part?
No. definitely not. It would only satisfy the hidden wishes of some of the Israelis, those who cannot wait to see Netanyahu done away with and who expect the world to do the job for them. It may also explain what and where things went wrong in the [short] time span between Operation Pillar of Defense that took place only a couple of weeks ago [Nov. 14-21] and the crises of this week [the week of Dec. 2]. When we [Israel] shelled Gaza and crushed its infrastructures in [more than] 1,000 sorties of the Israel Air Force (IAF), the world stood by our side and unwaveringly supported us. And now, all of a sudden, it is frowning at us, breaking up its promises to us, siding with Abu Mazen and condemning Israel.
So what has really happened here? It isn’t only that Europe has its reservations about Hamas and customarily sympathizes with Abu Mazen. The main reason for the sudden change of attitude is that the recent political crisis has its origins here, in Israel, rather than in Europe. In the military campaign against Gaza, the Israeli left and right joined forces in support of the government, presenting a unified front to the world. However, in the political campaign of this week the Israeli left took the other side and actually pleaded with the world to trample Israel. And the world complied with the request, partially at least.
Which brings us back to square one. The world is not really against us [Israel]. As a matter of fact, the world is in favor of us. But the world cannot be asked to be more pro-Israeli than [former Kadima leader Tzipi] Livni or [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert nor can it be expected to show more sympathy for Israel than the columnists and editors of a certain respected Israeli newspaper. Come to think about it, the world is more pro-Israeli than the latter.
A story of love and darkness
Amid the turmoil over the Israeli government decision [of Dec. 2] to go ahead with construction in Judea and Samaria and to revive its shelved plans for the E1 area, a far more significant text included in the government decision has gone unnoticed. It reads as follows:
“The Cabinet discussed the rejection of the UN General Assembly resolution of 29 November, 2012, and decided as follows:
"The Jewish People has a natural, historical and legal right to his homeland and to its eternal capital, Jerusalem; the State of Israel, as the state of the Jewish People, has a right and claim to areas, the status of which is under dispute, in the Land of Israel. Therefore, it has been decided:
“To reject UN General Assembly Resolution 67/191 [of 29 November, 2012].
“To determine that there is nothing in the aforesaid resolution that changes the status of the areas under dispute, that grants any right or that detracts from the State of Israel's, or the Jewish People's, rights whatsoever in the Land of Israel.”
I asked Minister of Public Affairs and the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein whether the terminology used in the Cabinet communiqué was acceptable to those in charge of presenting the Israeli policy to the world and whether they were instructed, along with Israel’s official spokespersons, to refer to Judea and Samaria as “areas, the status of which is under dispute” rather than as the “territories” or the “occupied territories.” I further wondered whether Israel was talking of the right of the Jewish people to these areas. I for one can testify that I have never heard statements to this effect made or presented to the international community as the official Israeli stance.
Edelstein said that as far as he was concerned, that was indeed the spirit, although there was no sweeping clear cut instruction from above [to use such terminology], which was at times rather confusing. “I routinely address hundreds of foreign journalists and I tell them of Judea and Samaria and the history of the Jewish people and his rights [in the Land of Israel]. They are then briefed by an IDF general who reports about the activities taken by us in the West Bank. So, what should a Japanese journalist understand from the information he receives? That when it comes to Judea and Samaria, he can understand the Israeli position; as to the West Bank, however, we have to evacuate it.”
I asked another senior official of the Likud why was it that no government spokesman was raising the argument of the [Jewish people’s] natural and legal right [to his homeland] and whether it was not actually adopting the Levy Commission report [according to which Israel's presence in the West Bank was not to be regarded as occupation under the international law].
No, replied my interlocutor. There is no change here. It has always been our position. I then told him the story of the marriage counselor who asked the husband: “Why don’t you ever tell her that you love her?” “And why should I,” was the husband’s response. "I told her as much 15 years ago and there has been no change since.”