June 22, 2010, 3:33 AM
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his colleagues are doing their best to put a pretty face on an ugly situation. After nearly three weeks of deliberations, Netanyahu and his government caved in to massive US pressure to ease, if not end, Israel's blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.
On Sunday the government announced that all economic sanctions on Gaza will be immediately lifted. Henceforth, Hamas-controlled Gaza will have an effectively open economic border with Israel. Israel will only prohibit the transfer of military material. Even dual-use items, like cement, will be allowed in if international officials claim that they are to be used in their humanitarian projects.
Netanyahu and his colleagues argue that these new concessions have now given Israel the international legitimacy it needs to maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza coast. But this is untrue. Even as he welcomed Netanyahu's latest capitulation, US President Barack Obama made clear that he expects Israel to continue making unreciprocated concessions to Hamas.
Following the government's announcement, the White House declared, "We will work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet and other international partners to ensure these arrangements are implemented as quickly and effectively as possible and to explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and commerce between Gaza and the West Bank."
In plain English that means that the administration doesn't trust Israel. It will escalate its pressure on Israel by among other things, pressuring it to provide members of the illegal Hamas regime in Gaza greater access to Judea and Samaria.
AS IF anticipating its next capitulation, government spokesmen told the media that in addition to ending economic sanctions on Gaza, Israel is now considering permitting the EU to station inspectors at its land crossings into Gaza. That is, Israel is considering a move that will constitute a first step towards surrendering its sovereign control over its borders.
The economic sanctions the government is now cancelling were not simply legal, they were required by international law. Binding UN Security Council resolution 1373 requires states and non-state actors to deny support of any kind to terrorist organizations. And here, in a bid to win international "legitimacy" for its lawful blockade of Gaza, Israel has bowed to US pressure to unlawfully facilitate the economic prosperity of an area controlled by an illegal terrorist organization.
There is something pathetic about the Prime Minister's office's protestations that by bowing to White House pressure the nations of the world will now accept our right to defend ourselves from an Iranian-controlled terrorist organization committed to the genocide of the Jewish people. After all, we have heard these hollow words many times before.
This notion that unilateral Israeli capitulation to terrorists would bring Israel international "legitimacy" is of course how former prime minister Ariel Sharon justified his strategically indefensible decision to cede Gaza - and the international border between Gaza and Egypt - to Palestinian terrorists.
If they attack us after we leave, he claimed, we'll have all the international support in the world to really destroy them.
Today, the government argues, all we have to do is sell them spaghetti and cilantro and the international community will suddenly rally to our side.
According to sources close to the cabinet, the main advocate for the latest capitulation was Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak is the serial bungler. Ten years ago, he argued that his decision to relinquish Israel's security zone in south Lebanon to Hizbullah guaranteed that Israel would have international legitimacy to really take it to the Iranian proxy army if it dared to attack us after we left.
Barak is also the deep strategic thinker who brought us the Palestinian terror war.
Barak promised that if Yasser Arafat rejected his offer at Camp David and so demonstrated that his commitment to destroy the Jewish state trumped his interest in establishing a Palestinian state, that the international community would rally around Israel and we'd have all the international legitimacy we needed to defeat the PA.
And in the lead-up to the Mavi Marmara fiasco, it was reportedly Barak who decided it would be a terrific idea to outfit the naval commandos with paintball guns. Doing so, he promised would convince the Obama administration to support Israel against Hamas.
A key question that needs to be considered is what makes policymakers like Barak advance such colossally stupid and dangerous policies time after time. Israel's history since 1993, when then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then foreign minister Shimon Peres opted to embrace Arafat and the PLO, bring thousands of PLO terrorists to the outskirts of Israel's major cities and give them weapons and international legitimacy indicates that three factors come into play.
First there is the fact that many of Israel's leading politicians are simply not that smart.
They are happy to be led by an ideologically radical media that have insisted since the 1980s that Israel must withdraw to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines.
Not only are they happy to be led by the media, they are loath to dispute its misrepresentation of reality. And so the second cause of serial bungling on the part of politicians like Barak is that they are, in the end, sheep, not leaders.
THE FINAL major cause of Israel's strategic idiocy is corruption. On Monday morning, the police announced that they recommend indicting Sharon's sons Omri and Gilad Sharon for soliciting bribes on behalf of their father.
After an eight-year investigation, the police said they believe that Sharon received $3 million in bribes from former Stasi-aligned Austrian banker Martin Schlaff.
Schlaff, whose former attorney Dov Weisglass served as Sharon's chief of staff, was the majority share owner in the Jericho casino. He also reportedly intended to build another casino on the ruins of the destroyed Israeli community Elei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip if and when Israel expelled its residents.
There can be no doubt that Sharon's alleged corruption and his fear of the far-left legal fraternity that investigated his alleged corruption played a significant role in his decision to abandon his campaign pledge to voters, toss strategic sanity to the seven winds, expel ten thousand Israelis from their homes and transfer the Gaza Strip lock, stock and barrel to Hamas and Fatah terrorists.
Like Sharon, Barak has been the subject of several corruption probes. Barak is also known to have had strong indirect connections to Schlaff. For instance, during his tenure as prime minister, Barak sent shock waves through the country when, with no prior warning, he announced that he was ceding Israel's rights to the natural gas deposits discovered off the Gaza shore. Barak's move precipitated a deal between the PA and British Gas to develop the gas deposits.
Media reports exposed that Schlaff and Arafat's economic bag man Muhammed Rashid were major shareholders in British Gas.
During his stint as a private citizen, in 2006 Barak sought to lobby Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin to permit Orascom, the Egyptian telecom provider, to expand its ten percent ownership share in Partner, Israel's second-largest cellular telephone company.
Israeli law prohibits foreign entities from owning more than a ten percent share in Israeli telecommunications firms. Diskin refused to meet with him and banned the deal. Rashid and other Schlaff associates are reportedly major shareholders in Orascom.
Barak and Sharon are only the tip of the iceberg.
Schlaff's connections to Israeli politicians run far and wide. Most of the leading founders of Kadima, including Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon have personal ties to Schlaff. So too does former Shas leader Aryeh Deri. The ongoing criminal probes against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman include, among other things, investigations into his allegedly prolific business ties to Schlaff.
REGARDLESS OF whether these ties to agents of corruption are criminal or not, it is obvious that they have influenced the policy preferences of more than one major politician in Israel. And regardless of what stands behind his poor judgment, the fact is that it is this judgment that is driving Israel's strategic direction.
It is also apparent, that Barak is being handsomely rewarded by the Obama administration for his actions.
Barak is currently on yet another junket to Washington where he is being given the red carpet treatment. While the premier is forced to conduct international diplomacy with Quartet chairman Tony Blair, Barak is feted by the White House, State Department and Pentagon on a regular basis. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama administration agreed to end its public campaign to overthrow the Netanyahu government in exchange for Netanyahu's effective concession of control over national policy to Barak.
Barak has used this control to force the government to accede to every American demand. So far, he has convinced Netanyahu to take a back seat to Obama on Iran; to end Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria at least until September; to effectively ban Jewish construction in northern, southern and eastern Jerusalem; to embrace the cause of Palestinian statehood; to accept US mediated indirect negotiations with Fatah; and to pretend that the Obama administration is a credible ally to Israel.
Before heading to Washington, Barak reportedly gave Netanyahu an ultimatum: Either make massive concessions to Fatah that will allow Obama to claim victory in the peace process, or Labor will bolt the coalition.
So too, Barak is reportedly behind Netanyahu's latest bid to bring Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni into his government.
Netanyahu and his spokesmen defend both Barak's primacy in the government, and their interest in bringing Kadima into the coalition by noting that the Left's partnership ensures political stability. If Labor were to bolt from the coalition, the government would be less likely to survive until the next scheduled election in 2013.
There is certainly truth to this assertion. With Labor inside the coalition, Kadima has no relevance.
So too, rightist parties are unable to bring down the coalition.
This would be a decisive argument if coalition stability enabled Netanyahu to govern more effectively. But the opposite is true.
Netanyahu knows the folly of his decisions.
He recognizes Obama's hostility to Israel. He also knows that the US president is not going to do a thing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Stability should be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Netanyahu did not seek the premiership to achieve the goal of overseeing a stable government. He sought to lead the country to secure and strengthen it. As his latest concession to Barak makes clear, the price of governing stability is the abandonment of his leadership goals.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.