Last week’s UN Security Council vote targeting Israel on which the US abstained has caused probably the largest diplomatic row between our two countries in many years. The question is did our government here in Israel react wisely to that vote? I think not.
Our reaction was swift and, in my opinion, simply lacking in good sense. The first thing our government did was recall our ambassadors from the countries who sponsored the resolution and with whom we have diplomatic relations. That was followed by our summoning the ambassadors of some of the countries who voted in favor of the resolution to a Christmas day meeting at our foreign ministry here in Israel. Not very smart. We would be incensed if any foreign government summoned our ambassador to a meeting on Yom Kippur or even on the Sabbath.
Then the Prime Minister turned his attention to the US and President Obama, calling the US abstention a “shameful” act and calling in US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro for a dressing down as well. Giving up on the relationship with President Obama, Netanyahu then turned to President-Elect Trump Twittering: “President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel.” The hope, of course, being that Trump will never treat Israel the way Obama is perceived to have treated Israel (i.e. badly).
All of this culminated in yesterday’s hour long speech by outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry who repeated for the umpteenth time the six pillars of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace that we have heard so many times before…..absolutely nothing new at all.
But what should we have done? And why did we not handle it better?
What we should have done is understood what is going on in the world today as well as what is happening in the US specifically, and been more diplomatic.
We should have made a public statement about our disappointment in the UN vote which, once again, has chosen to single out Israel for building homes for its citizens when 10 miles east of our border with Syria on the Golan Heights almost half a million people have been killed in a bloody civil war to which the US has turned a blind eye in exchange for the Iranians agreeing to a worthless nuclear disarmament treaty and about which the UN has done nothing at all.
After the Kerry speech we should have said that while we appreciate the efforts and intentions of the US, there is nothing new here and our Prime Minister has offered repeatedly (and as recently as last month) to meet with Palestinian President Abbas with no willingness to do so from the other side.
Instead of recalling our ambassador from New Zealand and telling them that their vote for the resolution is an act of war, to use the Prime Minister’s words, perhaps we should have reminded them that it is odd for a country to accuse us of taking someone else’s land when New Zealand itself was developed on lands stolen from the native Maori people.
Why didn’t we handle it better? Well, for one thing, we have neither a Foreign Minister nor a Director General of the ministry. The Prime Minister has acted as Foreign Minister ever since the last election and the last Director General resigned months ago. So absent proper leadership at the top diplomacy is in the hands of the Prime Minister who can manipulate our reactions so as to placate his coalition, rather than what might be best for our country. And if the thought is that things will be different after the US inauguration on January 20th, to be sure they will be. But there are no guarantees as to what anyone will do after that date and Israel still needs the support of the largest and most powerful free nation on earth. President-elect Trump can say whatever he wants now, but once he gets into office he will need to deal with the system of checks and balances that operate in the US along with the personalities who pull the strings of that system and not all of them are our friends.
Finally, we may be a tech superpower, we may also be the strongest military power in this region and I certainly believe we are here because God wants us to be here. But we do not have a history of successful self-government when we occupied this land in the past so we also need to be smart and understand that, disappointing as it may be for some to hear, we cannot go around thumbing our nose at the world as if we were a superpower. The proof of all of this is that, after the smoke clears, we will have gained nothing from all of the bluster except to annoy some of our best friends. Time will tell whether it was worth it but most of us who think already know the answer…we rarely benefit from bluster and we won’t benefit this time either
So sometimes being smart is significantly more important than being right.