October 21, 2019

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The Day Before the Election

http://abuyehuda.com/2019/09/the-day-before-the-election/

It’s the day before the election and I awoke with a strong feeling of disquiet.

PM Netanyahu has said that he approves of the idea of a “mutual defense pact” with the US. While I don’t precisely know what that would be, I can’t see any way it could be a good thing.

Keep in mind the most fundamental principle of international relations: nations act in accordance with their interests. If the US decides that it is in its interest to take military (or any other) action against Iran, it will do so; if not, then not. If the US chooses to support Israel if she is attacked, it will do so – if and only if that support is seen to be in the American interest. A treaty can serve as a useful excuse for actions that one side wants to take anyway, or reasons can be found to bypass it if not – and when  there is a great power imbalance between the sides, how can the weaker party enforce its rights under the treaty?

The Hebrew term for “negotiations” can be translated literally as “give and take.” What would Israel be required to give in this situation? Why should we pay – probably in the form of concessions to the Palestinians – for help that we would either get for free, or would not get in any case?

Israel doesn’t want or need other nations to fight for us, nor do we want to do errands for others. We would like to be able to buy military equipment – better with our own money, not with military aid – and would prefer that the 800-pound gorillas of the world do not intervene in our conflicts. We don’t want to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the International Criminal Court, or countless other structures that would work against our self-defense. We would like support in the Security Council and other international forums. That would be a lot less expensive for the US than the military aid, and wouldn’t require a treaty.

Any treaty would come with some constraints on our actions. If we had had a mutual defense treaty with the US in 1967, would we have acted preemptively? Or would we have held long discussions with our ally while Egyptian tanks were on their way to Tel Aviv?

A treaty is made with one administration, but it remains in effect after a change in government. The Trump Administration has (so far) been the friendliest American administration to Israel since her founding, but some of Trump’s opposition candidates make Obama and Kerry look like Zionists. Would a treaty be honored by such an administration? What would we have already given up – that we could not get back – to get it?

One of the most important lessons of the Holocaust was that the Jewish people – and by extension, the Jewish state – cannot depend on others to protect them. By adhering to this principle, the State of Israel has managed to achieve victory in several regional wars and to develop a deterrent force that has kept her safe despite the oft-expressed desire of her enemies to destroy her. A mutual defense treaty would weaken our commitment to this principle, and practically would erode our own deterrent forces.

Caroline Glick makes an argument for an “upgraded defense relationship” with the US. She wants to see Israel’s military connection to the US be via Central Command, along with the Arab states, as well as increased cooperation in the development of advanced weapons systems. She sees various advantages to such a realignment, and if that’s all that Bibi wants, then that would be fine. However, in plain English, a “mutual defense treaty” is something else – and very undesirable.

Back to my disquiet.

In his recent statement to the country, Bibi mentioned his “close friendship” with President Trump, and indeed mentioned him numerous times in his talk. He noted that he had cleared his plan to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria with Trump. He discussed the “historic” deal that Trump will announce immediately after the election. According to leaks, it will leave most of Area C outside of isolated Jewish communities in Palestinian hands. Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Yamina bloc displayed a map  showing a big fat corridor between Judea and Gaza, cutting the country in half. When Bibi and the Americans both said the map was “inaccurate,” Ayelet Shaked, leader of Yamina, demanded that Bibi produce the real map before the election – which of course he won’t do.

On the one hand, it’s only reasonable that Bibi would want to associate himself with the American President, especially one that has done so much for Israel. On the other, the degree of closeness makes me uncomfortable. Is Israel an independent nation which has a cooperative relationship with the US (and other great powers, like India, China, and Russia)? Or is it a satellite that takes dictation from its more powerful partner – or far worse, from one person, Mr. Trump?

It was highly problematic in 2015, when the Obama Administration intervened (against Netanyahu) in our national election. Is this not another kind of intervention? How close do we really want to be to the controversial – and mercurial – American President?

I’ve argued before that we are much too dependent on the US, and that we should start reducing that dependence, by making a plan to phase out American military aid. But Bibi is moving in the opposite direction.

Tomorrow I will cast my ballot, and no matter how uncomfortable I feel, it isn’t enough to make me vote for Benny Gantz, whose “party” consists of a few generals and one journalist stuck together with anti-Bibi chewing gum. I will vote for Yamina, knowing that they will recommend Netanyahu to form the government, and I will hope that he succeeds in forming a workable coalition.

But enough is enough. Bibi cannot and – it’s lately becoming more and more evident – should not be Prime Minister for life. It’s time for Israel to develop some reasonable alternatives.

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