Jeff Barak
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
September 18, 2011 - 12:00am

When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes his speech to the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the week in New York, he will be facing a much tougher audience than he experienced when addressing the Houses of Congress in Washington on his last trip to the United States.

At the United Nations, there will be no standing ovations for hoary clichés concerning a united Jerusalem or Israel’s determined desire for peace (once, of course, certain conditions impossible for the Palestinians to accept, such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, are met). On Friday, the glib phrases and patriotic pathos that normally bring the audience around to Netanyahu’s side will most likely fall on skeptical, if not hostile ears.

After two-and-a-half years of inactivity in office, the damage to Israel’s international standing due to Netanyahu’s do-nothing diplomatic policy is finally becoming apparent to all. With over 120 of the 193 UN member nations ready to accept the Palestinians as the 194th member state, Israel is as isolated as it has ever been in the world community.

The problem is not just isolation in the corridors of the UN, however. Ties with Turkey have deteriorated to an alarming degree; an Egyptian mob ransacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo earlier this month while Israel’s diplomatic staff in Jordan fled Amman at the end of last week out of fear that a street demonstration in the Jordanian capital would turn into a repeat of the Cairo drama.

Now Netanyahu is not responsible for the recent tectonic shifts shaking the Arab world, or for Turkey’s desire to become the region’s hegemonic power. But Israel is paying the price for both the prime minister’s refusal to make any attempt to initiate a serious peace process in his term of office and his faulty handling of relations with Ankara.

Netanyahu’s paranoiac fear of being outflanked on the right by Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman has led to the prime minister sacrificing Israel’s interests with Turkey, one of the few Muslim nations with which Jerusalem enjoyed friendly and vitally important strategic ties.

Netanyahu’s failure last year to dress down Lieberman’s party sidekick Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon after his childish humiliation of the Turkish ambassador was compounded recently by his refusal to agree to a negotiated end to the Mavi Marmara affair.

Ignoring the advice of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor to agree to a limited apology to Turkey so as to put the affair behind us, as well as protect Israeli soldiers from potential legal problems, Netanyahu pulled out of the talks, providing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan the perfect platform to continue his downgrading of ties with Jerusalem.

If the collapse of Israel-Turkish relations was an isolated incident, then perhaps Netanyahu could be excused his diplomatic inactivity. But when relations with the two Arab countries with whom we have a peace treaty are also beginning to look shaky due to internal events in those countries, then Israel’s passivity on the diplomatic front begins to assume different proportions.

Israel simply cannot afford to be caught in a struggle with the Palestinians at a time when the rest of the Arab world is in a period of flux. Hosni Mubarak is no longer around to keep a lid on the Arab street and ensure the stability that Israel has enjoyed since signing the peace treaty with Egypt over thirty years ago.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict sticks like a bone in the throat of the Arab world and while the behavior of Jerusalem regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip did not spark off the revolts of the Arab Spring, it could very easily become a rallying cry for those disappointed by the revolution’s failure so far to usher in a new world for the Arab masses.

Putting aside the obvious: that it is in Israel’s own national interest to reach an agreement with the Palestinians concerning the establishment of a Palestinian state so that Israel will be able to secure its own future as a democratic and Jewish state, it is also clear that at a time like today, Israel should be holding out its hand to the Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, genuinely seeking an agreement so as to cement Israel’s place among its neighbors.

The region has already seen one Black September.

This government, sadly, has so far done nothing to prevent a second one from taking place. If Netanyahu is gambling that he can see out Barack Obama’s term of office without making any territorial concessions to the Palestinians, in the hope that a right-wing Republican will win next year’s US presidential elections and remove the international pressure on Israel, then he is playing a very dangerous game indeed with the country’s future.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.


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