If I Was Ambassador Shapiro’s Advisor. Here’s what I would have advised him to say.
Some call it the West Bank.
Some call it Judea and Samaria.
Some call it Israel.
Some call it occupied territory.
Some call it disputed territory.
I call it home.
Last week, Ambassador Shapiro was highly critical of my choice to live in Mitzpe Yericho. He stated that my choice to reside here (because I’m Jewish – after all, he’d have no problem if I was Muslim) made him question my commitment to peace. I’ve met the Ambassador, he’s a nice fellow, and I don’t think he could’ve meant those horrible things he said about me. I think he received bad advice.
Last week at The Institute for National Security Studies’ 9th International Conference Ambassador Shapiro said, “Settler outposts are being legalized—despite earlier pledges to the United States not to do so—while routine, administrative demolition of Palestinian structures continues. Again, the question we ask is a simple one: what is Israel’s strategy?”
Ambassador Shapiro went on stating, “Continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. At times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians. Hovering over all of these questions is the larger one about Israel’s political strategy vis-à-vis its conflict with the Palestinians. What is Israel’s plan for resolving the conflict?”
It is no secret that American policy has been that Israeli settlements in the disputed territories are an obstacle to peace. Contrary to previous Presidents’ positions that Israeli settlements weren’t illegal, Ambassador Shapiro’s boss, President Obama, has changed American policy and stated that, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” The State Department spokesman, Admiral John Kirby, explained that Ambassador Shapiro was “Simply reiterating long standing U.S. policy regarding Israel’s settlement construction.”
Yet, I must take a stand. I take this stand not only as a settler, but as a loyal American and an advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Even if American policy has been critical of Israeli settlements, I don’t think it is smart policy to criticize Israel’s policy publicly. This where I think Ambassador Shapiro is getting poor advice (or orders).
When America criticizes Israel publicly it reflects a dysfunction in the healthy relationship that allies are supposed to enjoy. America and Israel are allies. We share interests, we share values, and we share strategy. When allies disagree, especially when one feels the other’s actions are wrong, illegal or immoral; they should relay that information through diplomatic channels and not by public statement. America’s continued public criticism of Israeli settlement policy hasn’t hampered Israeli settlement growth. In fact, Israeli settlements have grown all the while that America has publicly criticized Israel. I’m not suggesting that America’s public criticism has encouraged settlement growth, but it clearly isn’t an effective tool at stopping it. If a strategy isn’t working, why continue it?
If America’s goal as it pertains to settlements is to change Israeli behavior, I don’t think you need a State Department veteran to tell you that only diplomatic channels should work. If America feels that diplomatic channels won’t affect Israel’s policy, then there’s a dysfunction in the relationship.
If America knows that its public criticism isn’t going to be effective at changing Israeli policy, why would America voice its criticism publicly? Public criticism is meant to embarrass and pressure. Allies shouldn’t do this to each other except in the few following situations.
(1) The dysfunction is so unbearable that the desired result can only be brought about through pressure. Although America has gotten nowhere through diplomatic channels, it is also clear that public criticism is also completely ineffective. This can’t be a reason to continue public criticism of Israeli settlements.
(2) An external cause requires it. In the case of Israeli settlements, a case can be made that by publicly criticizing Israel, America is appeasing the Arabs in their quest for Palestinian statehood. Ambassador Dennis Ross recently published a book that demonstrates that American public criticism of Israel doesn’t appease Arab nations and in fact has had the counter effect. American criticism has shown the Arabs that we don’t stand by our allies, causing them to question America’s commitment to their own countries.
(3) To Declare a Position: At times, America needs to state its position so that there are no doubts as to what America’s position is. In the case of Israeli settlements, American policy has been clearly established. The only reason to repeat it is to appease the Palestinians’ worry. We’re serious about Palestinian concerns so that they don’t abandon the 25 year old peace process and act violently. In 2016, two arguments can be made. Either, the Palestinians are just as committed to a peace process as they were then, or they’ve never been committed and this latest violent uprising is proof. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be a need to repeatedly and publically declare America’s position on settlements.
In Jeffery Goldberg’s well known article about the crisis in the U.S.-Israel relationship, a senior Obama administration official spoke about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s approach to the Palestinians. “The bad thing about [Netanyahu] is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”
An Obama administration official told me that Netanyahu was too scared to take the necessary risks for peace. In my discussions with members of the administration, I never heard the question asked, “Why won’t Netanyahu and Israel take risks for peace?” It was assumed that Israel should take risks and it was inconceivable that they wouldn’t. In the days preceding the last Israeli election, Netanyahu seemed to say that he didn’t see a chance for a Palestinian state in his next term. Even after clarifying his comments, the Obama administration refused to believe him, painting him as against the two state solution. That Netanyahu kept getting reelected when he was such a coward and taking steps in the wrong directions for Israel’s advancement was beyond their understanding. Lately things have gotten even more confusing for Obama officials. Isaac Herzog of the left leaning Zionist Union party, and the head of Israel’s opposition, agreed with Netanyahu that there doesn’t seem to be a chance for a two state solution now. With just about all of Israel’s democratically elected officials doubting the chance for peace, the Obama administration must be beside themselves in trying to understand how a populace could work against what is best for it. Someone in the Obama administration needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves why Israel hasn’t changed its settlement position?
Prime Minister Netanyahu isn’t continuously reelected without reason. Whether he is following the will of the people or thinks the same as most of us, his top priority is the Israeli people’s security. Although Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, the most immediate threat to Israelis’ lives is Palestinian terror. The last months of shootings, stabbings and car rammings has been a nightmare for Israelis. With seemingly no way to protect ourselves, we demand a strong response and have no interest in listening to talk of creating a state of the Palestinians. Memories of the pullout from Lebanon and withdrawal from Gaza, with the ensuing tens of thousands of rockets landing in Israel keep anyone from a hope that a withdrawal from the disputed territories will bring anything other than a Hamas takeover or ISIS infiltration. Both of these nightmare scenarios stem from a weakened Palestinian Authority and will result in rocket fire on Israel.
What’s my advice for Ambassador Shapiro? Switch the tone from public criticism of Israel to serious and vocal criticism of the Palestinian Authority and the terrorism that is occurring. Speak more of Palestinian incitement, whether on public television, official schools or in the Mosques of the territories. Talk about the U.S. aid dollars, ($75 million!) used to support families of terrorists by the PA, and schools and streets being named after suicide bombers. The list of possible areas of legitimate criticism is endless.
The Obama administration has taken great strides in security and intelligence cooperation with Israel. These efforts have saved thousands of Israeli lives. Life without the Iron Dome batteries would be horrific, with hundreds of dead and thousands of injured Israelis. Yet, as God described us, we are a stubborn people and we need constant encouragement. If you aren’t constantly holding Israel’s hand, Israel – legitimately or not – will feel that you’re not on its side. If the Israeli public saw and constantly heard that America’s attention was drawn to its security concerns it would be bolstered and confident that they aren’t alone in this struggle.
Ironically, American current statements and policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are halting the exact results America aims to accomplish – the Israeli public electing a Prime Minister willing to take risks and the establishment of a Palestinian State. Through refocusing America’s messaging, whether it comes from the President himself, the State Department or the Ambassador, from Israel’s settlement activity to Palestinian terror and Israel’s legitimate cause for concern, Israelis would be willing to take risks. As long as all they hear is criticism, Israelis will bunker down and lose all dreams of a peace process and a Palestinian State.