Anyone who has done an MBA or has spent some time in corporate strategy sessions is probably familiar with a tool called SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. By mapping out a company’s position, clearly and honestly, on these key parameters, executives gain insight into what strategic moves are needed to move forward. As an MBA grad and former business analyst, Prime Minister Netanyahu is surely familiar with this tool. However, it seems that as PM, he has forgotten the opportunity quadrant of the analysis.
There is no question in anybody’s mind that Israel faces many threats, external and internal. A potentially nuclear Iran is the nightmare of all Israelis, left or right. Hamas’ determination to destroy us, and to send rockets and terrorists our way in their vain attempt to do so, need to be dealt with. At every opportunity, our government tells us how dangerous the world is, and they are not wrong.
However, when we only see threats, we fall into a defensive crouch that does not serve to promote our interests. There are also opportunities out there. While Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, there has been a moderate, non-violent, cooperative government in the West Bank for at least 5 years, but somehow we have been unable to even get to the negotiation table with them. When Abbas recently went on Israeli television to say that he sees the Palestinian state being established only in the 1967 borders, and had given up any expectation of ever returning to his birth town of Safed, I heard no one from the government trying to use that as an opening. Spokesman after spokesman on the radio was just dismissive of the statement.
Even Hamas leaves open opportunities that may be small, but significant. There is no making peace with an organization whose stated purpose is our destruction, but while their goal is irrational, they have and will respond to rational incentives. We negotiated Gilad Shalit’s release with them last year, and we could have tried to used that channel to reach a cease-fire, avoiding the recent escalation in which everyone lost.
The biggest missed opportunity was the Palestinian bid for recognition at the UN this past week. The UN recognition has little formal power at this point, but a lot of symbolic power. There is, indeed, an increased threat of “lawfare” based on their new status. However, it has been clear for awhile now that they were going to win at the UN General Assembly, with the support of some of our key allies. Israel, including this government, has already recognized the need for a two state solution. Rather than fighting them every step of the way, as we did, alienating friends and inflaming enemies, Israel could have supported their bid, and used it as an opening to open discussions with the newly recognized government on final status issues. By supporting the Palestinians desire for international recognition, we could have shown our seriousness about the peace process and the two state solution. Our support would have taken the wind out of the anti-Israel factions, and helped solidify our support with Western governments (so important now as we need their help to continue to squeeze Iran into giving up their nuclear ambitions). In a best case scenario, it may have convinced the Palestinians that it was time to come back to the negotiating table.
Instead, we frittered away another opportunity, reflexively crouching down in our defensive stance. If polls, and the recent Likud primary are any indication, Israelis are preparing to stay in that crouch for the foreseeable future. As I see it, Israel has more opportunities now to make peace than any time since its creation, but if all we see are threats, we will miss them all.