Thursday, July 2, 2009

Israel, the Doormat

Anyone who acts like a doormat when he visits one foreign ruler should not be surprised when other rulers come along and act as arrogantly as the first. From day one we have let the world understand that we are a country with no self-respect, that we can be insulted and punched and will respond, if at all, with restraint and meekness. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was able to say what he said about Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman because for years Israel has been getting across the message: You can treat us arrogantly.

It isn't the Americans who formulated the belittling and trivializing formula "natural growth" at which the Obama administration is now chipping away in an arrogant and bullying manner. An Israeli government, headed by Ariel Sharon, was responsible for the trivializing. And instead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring, here at home, that no independent nation can agree to have "natural growth" dictate its rate of construction, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has gone off to the United States to plead for this poor little lamb.

And to whom has he gone? To the president? To the vice president? To the secretary of state? No. To an envoy, who holds the mere rank of ambassador. The State of Israel's defense minister has tried to extract an agreement to build kindergartens in Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. And since George Mitchell has apparently sent the defense minister away empty-handed, the prime minister himself is about to go to him hat in hand. Maybe he'll change his mind.

The British government is on the brink of collapse. And with what is the British foreign minister busy? He "completely deplores" an Israeli decision to build 50 housing units in the settlement Adam in Judea and Samaria. Foreign diplomats in Israel are speaking in a lordly way to Israeli statesmen, and foreign journalists are asking them questions that are often biased, intrusive and insolent. These correspondents would never allow themselves to behave so crudely in their own countries. And why shouldn't they? Here, after all, everyone including prime ministers feels obligated to justify himself to them and gratify them. Only rarely does someone put them in their place.

The scorn for Israeli sovereignty and dignity runs from the lowest to the highest. Israelis, in contact with foreigners, tend to be self-abasing and massively critical of their country and its leaders. Those who excel at this in particular are people from Israeli organizations who get their funding from foreign governments and foreign NGOs, and in return, wittingly or not, serve their interests.

Azerbaijan, a Muslim country, has a dangerous border with Iran. Many of its interests, especially economic interests, inevitably intersect with Iran's. About three weeks ago Iran's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hasan Firuzabadi, paid a surprise visit to Baku. The aim: to prevent a visit to the republic by Israeli President Shimon Peres. Although it was made clear to them that Iran would take a dim view should they refuse (and indeed while Peres was there, Iran recalled its ambassador), the Azerbaijanis rejected the demand outright. Azerbaijan is a country with self-respect. They made it clear to the bullying Iranians that no one was going to tell them which guests to receive, or to whom to export goods, or especially from whom to import. Only Israel fired the director general of its Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, because that's what the Americans dictated.

When the norm is to submit to pressure, the pressures only increase. If right at the start of the pressure campaign Netanyahu has bowed down to the Americans and given up his most basic principle - opposition to a Palestinian state - what is left for him to give when the next wave of pressure comes along? This is weakness and this is its wage. Haaretz

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