An interesting thing is happening to Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy: The people currently or formerly in charge of presenting and dealing with it are throwing spanners in the works.
Last month Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad, told the world that Israel could wait at least three years before it might need to attack Iran (and that doing so any earlier would be “devastating”). On Tuesday, we learned that Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., had asked pointed questions about the government’s plan for settlement construction in the E1 section of the West Bank. In the weekend edition of Yediot Aharonot, former head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin tells us that “if we look at the situation over the years, one of the key people who contributed to the rise in Hamas’s strength is Bibi Netanyahu, back from his first term as prime minister”—adding, for good measure, that neither the Prime Minister nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak is fit to lead. And in Thursday’s Ma’ariv, we learned that current Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen believes not only that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is interested in achieving a peace accord with Israel—but that Israel should make concessions that will allow Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, a measure of dignity:
According to Cohen, [Abbas] is interested in renewing negotiations from the point at which his contacts with Ehud Olmert were suspended. The head of the Shin Bet added that [Abbas] is in control of the Palestinian security forces, which do good work and cooperate with Israel.
Cohen added that Abu Mazen is worried about being perceived by Palestinians as an Israeli “collaborator,” and it’s therefore especially important to him that he receive “something in return” from Israel in the course of negotiations.
Cohen made his comments to the diplomatic corps at its annual meeting this week and, later in the day, reporters picked up a nearly audible sigh of relief:
The ambassadors were pleased to hear Cohen’s comments, which stood in stark contrast to what they’d heard during the tenure of [former Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman, who treated [Abbas] with derision, frequently attacked him, and even suggested that he was an obstacle to peace. “It’s the end of those warped and nonsensical deliberations that Lieberman would hold about Abu Mazen.”
Diskin, being retired, is free to be even more pointed in his public assessments:
It’s not that there was no attempt [by Netanyahu’s government] to open all sorts of channels for some sort of negotiations with the Palestinians, or to create the impression that we are trying, but this was not done seriously, persistently, and I would say, with actual intent. And now we are seeing how slowly and gradually this business is eroding and dissolving.
…So you can call Abu Mazen a peace rejectionist. I say that he is not a peace rejectionist. He is not an easy partner for peace, but let’s admit the truth—are we easy partners?
…We are simply creating a situation that will be insoluble, because it will be impossible to reach a decisive outcome. Impossible. This illusion that the State of Israel will be able to control so many people and suppress their aspirations and their freedom over time, is frightening.
Like any fan of democracy, I tend to get worried when a government starts to listen too closely to anyone who wasn’t elected, and in particular, representatives of the security class. There’s a reason that elections are held, and there’s a reason that one cannot run for office in Israel while still in uniform. It’s impossible to separate the two entirely in a nation where nearly everyone at the top has worn that uniform at one time or another, but there’s a very good reason to draw the line and to try to hold it.
And having said that, isn’t it striking that it’s the military people calling for concessions and peace talks? That the folks who have to actually deal with the outside world want not more bellicosity, but less?
So far, the government isn’t handling the criticism with much grace. Diskin, in particular, is getting it in the neck, with the Prime Minister’s office attempting to write him off as professionally frustrated, while “a senior minister who has a close relationship with Netanyahu” lumped him in with his predecessors in what, for Israel, is a truly shocking turn of phrase: Diskin, the senior minister said, “perpetuates a grand legacy of moronic Shin Bet chiefs." Take that, people we have entrusted with our security for decades!
On the one hand, there’s not allowing the military and the unelected stage to a coup; on the other, there’s not paying them any heed. These are people who are now, or who have recently been, on the front lines, literal and metaphorical, and Israel’s government is doing the equivalent of stuffing its fingers in its collective ears and yelling “LA LA LA” very loudly. And as Diskin said, “even the Americans are not wielding their influence to get both sides to make progress and we have arrived at where we’ve arrived.” All of which is, to borrow Diskin’s word, frightening. Very frightening indeed.