Ten paradoxes in Israeli foreign policy

Op-eds / Strengthening Israel's Foreign Policy

The composition of a broad coalition government presents opportunities to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in several directions, including the possibility of renewed dialogue with the Palestinians. The problem, however, is that this government will have first to address 10 basic paradoxes that lie at the heart of Israel’s foreign policy, which thwart the possible achievement of Israel’s desired goals. Let me briefly enumerate these paradoxes: 1. Israeli leaders often declare – even shout out – their willingness and readiness to invest every effort to advance peace. In reality, however, the Zionist movement and the State of Israel have formally offered only one peace plan to the Arabs in more than 100 years of conflict (the 1989 Shamir plan).

All other plans originated with third parties (mainly the US) or the Arab side. In addition, Israel missed several opportunities for peace (or at least for some serious negotiations). One such missed opportunity was the Arab Peace Initiative (API), presented in March 2002 by the Arab League. Israel has never officially responded to that initiative. The API is still on the table, as indicated by the most recent Arab summit, held in Baghdad in March 2012.

2. Most of the parties in the political system (Likud, Labor, Kadima and more) support the notion of a two-state solution. This was also declared by Netanyahu at his Bar-Ilan speech in 2009. Yet, Israel continues to build and expand the settlements which undermine the very essence and logic of the two-state solution. The expansion of current settlements and new ones stand in contrast to several agreements signed by Israel (the Oslo accords; the Sharm e-Sheikh Memorandum in 1999), which stipulate that nothing should be done to change the status quo.

3. The continuation of the settlement activity undermines another target of Israeli foreign policy: the desire to be a Jewish state – and be recognized as such. This settlement activity – if continued without abatement – will eventually lead to a de facto one-state solution, which is considered a by many Israelis as the end of the Jewish state, taking into account the demographic trend among Jews and Arabs.

4. Israel supports the idea of a unified Jerusalem, which in reality means controlling and absorbing some 300,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem – a policy that also contradicts the very essence of the desire to establish a Jewish state. In addition, it contradicts the Israeli refusal to admit more than a few thousand Palestinians refugees within a future agreement.

5. Israel recognized the international boundary as a mandatory border with Egypt and Jordan (and negotiated with Syria on its basis), yet it is unwilling to recognize the 1967 Green Line as a mandatory border with the Palestinians.

6. Israel advocates and supports the principle of democracy, but in reality it is against the Arab Spring and the possibility that Arab regimes will become democratic because it fears the rise of Islamic regimes.

7. Israel fears the rise of Islamic fundamentalist regimes, but in reality Saudi Arabia – which twice in the past proffered peace plans (the Fahd Plan, 1981- 82; the API, or “Abdallah initiative,” as noted, in February 2002) – is “a fundamentalist Islamic state.”

Therefore, an Islamic state is not necessarily an immediate threat to Israel.

8. Israel claims that there is no Palestinian partner, but in reality PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are perhaps the most moderate Palestinian leaders to date and he is in favor of a solution based on the 1967 borders.

9. Israel is the strongest state in the Middle East militarily, with the possession of nuclear capability (according to foreign reports), yet it views the Palestinians, and certainly Iran, as existential threats.

10. The Jews came to Palestine to establish an independent Jewish state and in such a way to disengage themselves from the ghetto mentality they were subjected to in Europe and the Arab countries.

Yet, several generations later, they have managed – with the help of their neighbors – to establish a new ghetto in the Middle East surrounded by walls and fences.

Obviously, the question is what to do next. Well, the first step is to recognize these paradoxes in Israeli policy. Second, there must be an attempt to address them by initiating a major change in the thinking which guides the policy. The continuation of the more-or-less same policy will lead to the perpetuation of these paradoxes in the Israeli foreign policy. The entrance of the more moderate Kadima Party to the coalition creates an opportunity for addressing these paradoxes.

(originally published in the Jerusalem Post)

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