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Home Netanyahu Plays the Caliph's Game

Netanyahu Plays the Caliph's Game

Once upon a time a mad Caliph demanded of an old servant of his that he teach a donkey to talk for his amusement. If he refused, he would be put to death. If he failed he would be put to death as well. The old servant shrugged and assented, asking for a year's time. When other servants asked him why he had accepted, he answered. "A year is a long time. Either the Caliph will die or the donkey will learn to speak."

Now in Jerusalem, Netanyahu is busy playing Caliph Obama's game. He knows that the donkeys of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are not about to learn to talk like human beings and engage in actual diplomacy, instead of using diplomacy as a subterfuge for terrorism. But at the same time he knows that the American Caliph is not about to cease making irrational demands for talking donkeys. So once again Netanyahu is playing for time.

It is hard to tell whether Netanyahu is trying to finesse the Caliph, or repeating the mistakes of his first term, when he gave in to the Clinton Administration's pressure, only to be forced from office by Clinton's hired goons anyway. And there may be no practical difference.

The 10 month freeze on construction beyond the Green Line that Netanyahu agreed to has already resulted in a revolt within the Likud and the settlement community. Inspectors have been met with protests and acts of civil disobedience. Netanyahu in turn has canceled his trip to Germany and is trying to settle the bubbling political crisis.

While everyone in the government is assuring the public that the freeze is only temporary, there's no sign that this belief is shared on the Caliph's side of the fence. America and the EU view the freeze as a sign of things to come. And while construction has frozen, Obama and the EU are busy creating new facts on the ground. Obama has already broken ground by calling Jewish housing in Jerusalem a Settlement. A leaked classified EU report meanwhile calls for the European Union to strengthen the PA's hold on Israel's capital city and pushes for sanctions against Jewish residents of East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu's show of "good faith" has not averted Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks, nor a drive by the US and the EU to disenfranchise Israel in its own capital. All it has done is frozen Israel's ability to respond by countering the facts on the ground created by Fatah terrorists and their EU and US government backers, with facts on the ground of its own. Countering efforts to ethnically cleanse Jews from their own country with the most potent antidote, Jewish settlement.

Once again Netanyahu has not made diplomatic concessions to the Palestinian Authority, which in any case lacks a legal government and no longer even controls its own territory. He made a political concession to Caliph Obama. But he would be extremely foolish to expect any gratitude for it.

The 10 month freeze is viewed as inadequate in Washington D.C., a minimal concession that Obama had to settle for because he couldn't get anything more out of Netanyahu this time around. Like a mugger who escapes with a few quarters, only because he couldn't grab the whole wallet, an embittered Obama will be back because his administration is governed by the belief that the only way to bring stability to the Middle East is by taking that wallet away from Israel and giving it to the Muslim terrorists of Hamas (Gaza) and Fatah (Palestinian Authority).

Obama settled for 10 months only to avoid leaving the impression that he had failed to accomplish anything, but he certainly won't be settling for 10 months. But Israelis have a grabbing onto the faintest statements from America for a thin shred of hope. Rabin insisted that the Palestinian Authority would be easily revocable if violence ensued. Sharon took American assurances about retaining some of Judea and Samaria as ironclad guarantees, when a few years later Obama demonstrated that they weren't a clod of dirt, let alone the misery and horror inflicted by the Gaza Disengagement on the people of Israel. This lack of memory, this perpetual political amnesia is the same reason why conservative Israelis are baffled that Netanyahu 2.0 is a lot like Netanyahu 1.0, only a little better at playing politics.

Meanwhile Netanyahu has found that cutting a deal with Obama may actually destroy him at home. Parliamentary critics point out that the Knesset never voted on the freeze. And with the scope of the freeze touching on even sizable Israeli cities such as Beitar Ilit, with a prominently Haredi population, the outrage extends well beyond the usual settlement activists, as Israelis who are not usually caught up in politics are discovering that the freeze will hit them hard in the wallet and prevent them from building and expanding homes, or moving into partially constructed housing.

With everyone in his government looking to score points, Netanyahu is more on the defensive than he has ever been. Barak has seen his chance to boost his otherwise terrible standing within the left wing camp with a round of settler bashing, both metaphorical and physical via the dreaded Yasam units. Shas played its usual cynical game by opposing the freeze in word, and sitting out the vote to score brownie points, while not actually voting against the freeze. Lieberman is busy touting his foreign affairs credentials, despite the fact that much of the world thinks of him as little more than a shaved ape in a suit. Which is not altogether far from the truth. The Likud meanwhile is full of pretenders to the throne who are willing to talk tough, right up until the point that they sit down in the big chair themselves.

The UTJ, which as usual cares about only money, is putting a bill forward to have the government compensate everyone who now be losing money on existing construction projects. While the UTJ move is another cynical example of a corrupt Haredi politics that cares only for its own finances, it is clear that no one in the government went so far as to consider the economic fallout from the freeze. And that fallout extends beyond Israel and to the Palestinian Arabs as well, who depend heavily on Israeli construction in the Settlements and Jerusalem for their income. This means that a construction freeze is paradoxically likely to inspire further violence.

By agreeing to the freeze, Netanyahu made another concession that will make it harder for Jews to live in Israel. Because each concession has only served to whet the wolf's appetite for territory in the Arab world, and the drive to stamp out Israel in the EU and the State Department. A 10 month freeze on housing construction in Judea and Samaria doesn't mean 10 months in the chandelier lit halls of Brussels and Washington D.C. It means an indefinite freeze as a precursor to turning the territory over to Fatah and Hamas, while ethnically cleansing its Jewish population. And anyone who thinks any different, is fooling themselves.

But by turn Netanyahu's harshest critics are ignoring the unpleasant reality that weakening him or forcing him out, will only bring the same results it did last time, when it ushered in Barak's election as Clinton's puppet, followed by Sharon ethnically cleansing Jews from Gaza in exchange for worthless promises that Obama has already disavowed.

To survive Israel must stop making concessions, and recognize that it is not negotiating with the PA, which has never taken the negotiations seriously in the first place, and used them only to help extract financial aid from its foreign sponsors. It has been and is negotiating with the US and the EU. And those negotiations must cease.

Feeding into the idea that the process is a dead end and futile, can't help but weaken the foreign policy advocates of creating a stable Middle East by feeding Israel to the terrorist crocodile. And Netanyahu has demonstrated that he is quite capable of wasting everyone's time and frustrating them in the bargain, almost as well as Arafat did. If Israel can't have a leader who can openly dispense with the niceties and the negotiations, then it may have to settle for a leader who borrows the Palestinian Arab negotiating handbook and turn the entire process into a hopeless sinkhole.

In the World Championship chess matches, the Soviet authorities determined that Karpov, their man, should defeat Korchnoi, who had defected from the USSR, successfully terrorized the latter. Karpov won, but wound up facing Bobby Fischer, who was crazy enough to terrorize any opponent without requiring the services of the secret police. If Netanyahu lacks the courage to openly drop the pretense of negotiating with the US and the EU, he can turn the negotiations into a complete farce. That is the third answer to the Caliph's game. Because the Caliph is not all powerful, he only has as much power as your cooperation gives him. Israel's willingness to negotiate has made it into a target. Only by destroying the process one way or another, can Israel survive and be free.


  1. Anonymous3/12/09

    And how would an Israeli military strike against Iran affect this analysis?

  2. Actual statistics on the local Arab employment impact, extracted via 'official' Palestinian Authority organizational statistics, over at Mystical Paths.

  3. Shiloh3/12/09

    Nice article Daniel. Nothing like being boxed into a corner.

  4. Anonymous,

    The same core problem of pressure remains either way. For Israel to carry out a strike, it will have to 'strike' out on its own anyway.

  5. Akiva,

    thank you, I've added the link to the article

  6. Shiloh,

    then again when have we ever not been boxed into a corner

  7. Anonymous3/12/09

    True, true and again true. Every concession we ever made brought 2 more, 2 concessions brought 4 and so on. What is so sad is that we never learn from history, we the most experienced people in history. There is something naive and optimistic in the Jewish people that many are blinded to the reality, oh well, maybe this is why we survived as long.

  8. The more I hear about Obama, the more I want to smack him and everyone who tells him what to do in his face. Of course, now I'm a white racist. Please G-d give me Alan Keyes any day. A voice of reason in a sea of insanity.

  9. Anonymous3/12/09

    Very good article. However, the issue goes much, much deeper. I think you have previously touch on some of these issues.

    Since the first Zionistic conference there has been to opposing parties that worked to prevent Jewish Nationhood. You had the intensely Orthodox on one side and the ultra-secular Jews on the other. Eventually the Orthodox Jews broke up into three parts. Those that are actively pro-Statehood (often in the "modern Orthodox group). Those that bend with the breeze (You know, those that seem to sell their votes to the highest bidder. But, really its simply a way to fund their pet projects. OK, sometimes their own pockets too.) And, then you have the fringe population (that seems to be growing, although I suspect they have a large fall out rate).

    On the anti-Jewish left you have the atheists and worse the self-hating Israelis (for the purpose of this comments I prefer not calling them Jews). Some of these people were opposed to the establishment of the same (many of these people populated the education system, just like the Left has done in other western countries). These people have gained greatly from the children of the earlier secular Zionists. This resulted from the lack of tradition and exposure to the anti- Zionist elite in the Universities. These children were easy pickings to be turned against the State.

    There is a saying, those who can work and those who can't teach.

    The largest group of Jews in Israel are not overly religious, but still have traditional values. Yet, they have few choices when it comes to the parties. They are unlikely to vote for a distinctly religious party. That leaves them with Likud or Kidema vs. many parties on the left. However, Likud and Kadema no longer represent the Right. They are better viewed as in their self-centered middle. They will allow the tail wag the dog until someone throws the dog out. Then the result will be a Leftist government that won primarily because the people got discussed and will not bother to vote.

    Of course, the answer is creating a new party that is fiercely pro-Zionist without the agenda of the religious groups.

    Now how likely is that to happen? Plus, the Left and even the Center will use the media and courts to block such an effort, since both would be threatened. Even the various religious parties would fight it. And, international interests will be opposed to such an effort.

    In summary, the one serious way of changing things will have an uphill battle to succeed.

  10. Anonymous,

    I have to differ in one area regarding Orthodox Jews. There were always Orthodox Jews who were Zionist and those who were Anti-Zionist. And this split really only existed on the Ashkenazi side. The Sefardim have been far more unambiguously pro-Israel.

    Today the Israeli nationalist side leans heavily Orthodox by way of the whole settlement movement, which tends to be more right than most of the Knesset benchwarmers in the Likud.

    Regarding creating a non-religious Zionist party, the efforts have been made in the past. Indeed arguably the problem is that there are too many parties chasing too few votes. Israelis tend to vote in narrow demographic categories and without a lot of money or the complete collapse of the Likud, there doesn't seem to be room or the available leadership for such a party

  11. Great article, and I really liked the introduction to the piece.

    Ten months seems like such an arbitrary time frame Bibi has set. Why not the standard six months to a year?

    Call me suspicious but the ten month cut-off time to lift the freeze gives me the impression that there are concrete plans that will take ten months to implement.

    Exactly ten months.

    I don't know. Why ten months?

  12. Anonymous4/12/09

    Mr. Greenfield offers some good points.

    Zionism means different things to different people.

    I would assume that ALL Orthodox Jews believe in Zion. The question is "how?" Some like Nitura Karta believes that only with HaShems intervention can a State be declared. They might have been willing to accept a State if the government followed the laws of the Torah. The other extreme would be people supportive of NRP. They could be called Religious Zionists. Everyone else falls somewhere in between.

    If the Sefardim are more unambiguously pro-Israel it is just where they happen to fall out on the spectrum. However, Shas that seems to represent them, doesn't seem much better then the other religious parties when voting and taking funds for their causes.

    The lack of a secular right-wing party is due to many causes. First, good people are generally hard to find. It is so easy to get turned when sitting in the government. Second, the system will work against any honest party. Someone will investigate the people and seek ways to blacken their names. Also, the courts will try to find something to tie them up in legal issues. Look what the press did to Palin.

    It still is possible to form a party but it has to been done with a good deal of secrecy. And, it has to be traditional in platform without making secular Jews afraid.

  13. The Neturei Karta (the real ones in Israel, as opposed to the splinter group traveling to Iran and partying with Nazis in Vienna or protesting at the UN) are basically a community that got pissed off because they felt displaced by the new Jewish settlement in Israel.

    On top of that their beliefs tended to be weird and reactionary in the first place.

    The more representative Haredi world tends to be community based, and their approach to Israel is often much the same as to any other country. Let us do what we want and give us aid and social services.

    They've never adapted to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state and have no real idea what to do with it. Shas functions like the Haredi parties regarding financial issues, but they lack the same knee jerk opposition, particularly as their voters tend to be very right wing.

    By contrast Religious Zionists are extensively involved in the life of the state, but they're getting split down as well post-Oslo, between those who reflexively follow the government line and those who are striking out to fight for Jewish settlement in Israel, and engaging in open protests.

    That is why the NRP no longer represents a lot of that community.

    The problem with a secular right wing party is that's easy enough to create, but hard to pass the threshold.

    All these parties fumble it the same way, they bring on a slate of people meant to appeal to various demographics, which usually means hangers on from various political factions and communities, Knesset whores who have bounced from one party to another, they wind up fighting with each other. And if there are any Shabak people undermining the whole thing from within, which there usually are, that's just a bonus.

    But the basic problem is demographics. Outside of Labor and Likud, and now Kadima, most parties are oriented around particular communities, even when they're anti-religious parties such as Shinui.

    To create a new party, you either need to get rid of an existing one, as Yisrael Beiteinu did to Shinui, or create a new community.

  14. Anonymous5/12/09

    Its bad policy to sign interim peace agrreements or memos of understanding with the enemy, or its agents, while the war is still underway.

  15. Anonymous5/12/09

    I mostly agree with Greenfield. But, I don't see why you need to get rid of a community to create a new party. Is there a set number of parties. However, if it is needed to get rid of something, then so be it. Just lets get going already.

    His approach sounds a lot like Feiglin who wanted to support Likud even after he was stabbed in the as. oops I mean back. Using that approach we need to get better people into leadership positions of Likud to take it over and get it back to where it came from.

    So, would someone tell us how to dislodge Bibi and put someone strong into his place?

  16. The problem is demographics. Most of the smaller to mid-size israeli parties are based around particular communities and demographics.

    Feiglin was playing out of his league, by trying to take over the Likud, but really it was a more promising approach than creating another right wing party that won't even meet the threshold.


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