The Israeli penchant for dismissing official authority and embarking on freelance diplomatic endeavors could presumably be dismissed as an almost endearing eccentricity. The problem is that it’s anything but endearing. It triggers real disasters.
The hubris to flout the authority of any government – no matter who heads it – exclusively emboldens leftwing players. They range from relatively unknown individuals (though they’re always well-connected to the real clout-bearers) all the way to top-ranking ministers who, fired up by their own chutzpah, set out to hijack history-making prerogatives.
Soon-to-retire President Shimon Peres still does it in his ostensibly ceremonial role of president. But he already behaved badly as foreign minister to both prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin.
The latest to dabble in unauthorized diplomacy is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. She recently conferred with Ramallah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas in London, despite the government’s decision (which she supported) to freeze contact with him for his kiss-and-make-up with Jihadist Hamas.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was reported to be displeased with this rendezvous (by way of significant understatement).
It cannot be easy for him (again, by way of significant understatement). His hold on the reins of Israeli diplomacy is continuously challenged by cliques of conceited self-appointed competitors. Livni’s controversial initiative came only days after Peres informed the nation straight-faced that he had singlehanded all but achieved a comprehensive peace agreement (no less) with Abbas in 2011 and that said salvation from all of our existential woes was summarily scuttled by none other than Netanyahu.
More precisely, Peres claimed that Netanyahu asked him to wait “three or four days,” then “the days went by,” and the deal disappeared with them. Of course, one would assume that had there been any substance to whatever it was that Peres claims to have cleverly concocted – and had it been bolstered by any authentic Palestinian commitment – it would have survived for a few additional days.
However, Peres’s aim isn’t to make peace or to make a sense. It is, as per many a precedent on his part, to impart innuendo and garner glory for himself.
Both of these should be fundamental no-noes for anyone who accepts that it is the right of an elected government to determine its own diplomatic strategy. It’s one thing for the opposition or for overly ambitious coalition members to carp and take potshots domestically but quite another to launch their own foreign policy projects. So, anyway, it ought to be wherever the basics of the voters’ democratic verdict are minimally respected.
Back in 1947, in what was dubbed “the speech heard around the world,” Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg urged that Democratic President Harry Truman be allowed to pursue his foreign policy unhindered because “politics should stop at the water’s edge.” In other words, honorable politicians present a united front to other countries and to external entities, regardless of home-turf disagreements.
Conducting a separate foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis inimical forces, is illegitimate in any democracy. The proactive sabotage of an elected government’s policy overturns electoral results by means other than the ballot box.
Wherever and whenever foreign policy doesn’t remain free of tinkering inspired by partisan rivalries and aspirations, the consequences may prove calamitous. Remember: the entire Oslo fiasco began as private diplomatic enterprise behind the back of Israel’s elected government.
The prelude occurred in 1987, when Shimon Peres, then serving as Shamir’s foreign minister, cooked up the London Agreement with Jordan. Peres kept Shamir in the dark, while leading King Hussein to believe Peres had Shamir’s blessing. Only the Americans eventually let Shamir in on the scheme. Peres even refused to show Shamir a copy of the agreement, something the Americans in due course provided for Israel’s head of government.
Shamir sacked Peres. Rabin didn’t, although Peres pulled the same stunt on him. Instead, Rabin fell for the fait accompli, which came to be known as the Oslo Accord.
In an Oct.31, 2008 Yediot Aharonot interview, Yossi Beilin unabashedly admitted that during the Oslo process, he “had to do things behind peoples’ backs. I was deputy foreign minister. The foreign minister and prime minister [Peres and Rabin respectively] didn’t know that I was conducting talks with the PLO until I decided to inform them.”
It all began in November 1992, when Beilin’s buddies, Ya’ir Hirschfeld and the late Ron Pundak hobnobbed with Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the PLO delegation to the moribund Madrid Conference. Hirschfeld and Pundak disapproved on the way both the Shamir and Rabin governments handled the talks and undertook unilaterally to overrule them – as they saw fit.
They began holding stealthy get-togethers with a host of PLO hotshots, despite this being explicitly illegal under Israeli law at the time. But laws were obviously intended for other people, not for those considered too exalted in their own eyes to abide by what binds ordinary mortals.
Ashrawi introduced them to Ahmed Qurei (Abu-Ala) one of the more senior PLO honchos. Soon pseudo-negotiations ensued despite Hirschfeld’s and Pundak’s lack of standing. After Beilin was briefed, he prevailed on Peres, whose fondness for going behind any government’s back was already well-established by then. This was after Rabin had already publicly scorned Peres for being “a relentless underminer.”
But crucially, when push really came to shove, the irresolute Rabin failed to stand up to Peres’s wiles. Having made a ruinous bet, he kept throwing more good money after the bad. Essentially Oslo came to be because Beilin successfully pitched the notion that the Palestinians had undergone a strategic metamorphosis to his boss Shimon Peres, who proceeded to bamboozle his own boss, Rabin.
Then, with fantastic fanfare and self-congratulation, the furtive deal was unveiled to the citizenry as a glorious masterstroke. The intelligence community didn’t raise a ruckus, the intellectual elites celebrated and the obstinate opponents were lumped with Hamas as “enemies of peace.”
Beilin’s 2008 confession should have generated a furious political maelstrom. Our opinion-molders should have been scandalized. Our entire public discourse should have reverberated with outrage. But nobody was appalled. Perhaps it was because Beilin’s conspiracy was right up Peres’s alley and he enticed Rabin into it.
Ultimately, irresponsible dilettante negotiations without government sanction or foreknowledge do more than undercut Israel’s strength. They cause disregard and derision for us internationally. Jewish sovereignty ends up treated with impertinence nobody would ever dare demonstrate even toward any minor third-world potentate. What foreign governments and their local envoys allow themselves here, they wouldn’t begin to countenance in relation to any other government anywhere, even of the less-than-strictly-democratic variety.
The erosion is continuous and the damage is wrought in increments, over so many years, until collective memory of most individual episodes of subterfuge quickly fades.
Here is one seemingly negligible yet very telling instance from January 2004, when astonished members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee were informed that Norway’s embassy hosted a clandestine meeting between then-opposition leader Shimon Peres of Labor and then-Palestinian premier Ahmed Qurei (yes, the very one who back in 1992 got the ball truly rolling with Hirschfeld and Pundak). In 2004, Qurei assiduously resisted all pressure to meet with Israel’s elected premier, Ariel Sharon.
But that was hardly all. Qurei was chauffeured to Tel Aviv, without prior coordination with IDF authorities, by non-other than Norwegian UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen – one of Oslo’s progenitors, with political and personal links aplenty to Peres. Larsen had transported Qurei illicitly across the lines in blatant contravention of the legitimate authorities’ regulations. Larsen thereby thumbed his nose at Israeli self-determination and this was no isolated instance of such contempt by him.
The fact that the Norwegian embassy thought it desirable to go behind its host government’s back attested to a flagrantly disrespectful attitude and inappropriate conduct, hardly conceivable elsewhere.
In this forgotten but seminal case, senior diplomats sought to further agendas in cahoots with Israel’s opposition against the expressed policies of the legal government. In blunter terms this should have been called subversion.
Even in 2004, moreover, it wasn’t an isolated instance. It came hot on the heels of the bizarre financial largesse and tireless efforts of the Swiss to sponsor the Geneva Accords, in impudent defiance of the government which represented the overwhelming majority of Israelis.
Worse yet, this wasn’t solely the oddball undemocratic indecency of misguided Europeans. Then-American ambassador Dan Kurtzer, representing what was hyped as Washington’s friendliest-ever administration, engaged in similar hanky-panky.
He hosted a get-together between senior Palestinians – though they boycotted Israel’s elected leadership – and leading activists in Israel’s leftwing opposition from both Labor and Meretz.
Particularly disconcerting was the fact that at least some of this session was devoted to trashing Israel’s duly elected government. If anything, that signaled to potential Palestinian “peace-partners” that they needn’t respect their Israeli interlocutors and that they can take it for granted that Israel doesn’t enjoy American backing. In itself, that constituted a treacherous message.
Intensifying the insolence was the fact that the surreptitious nature of assignation diplomacy wasn’t what then bothered Labor or Meretz. They were up-in-arms about the fact that officialdom was aware of whom they saw and what was said. They vociferously protested what they asserted smacked of McCarthyism.
Magically, they shifted focus from their underhandedness to the supposed violation of their rights, just as they do in recurrent imbroglios about who funds the Left’s front-organizations, those which spare no effort or tactic to demonize Israel worldwide.
All too many Israeli politicians brazenly seek to star in compulsive remakes of Peres’s original London and Oslo escapades. Indeed, once Peres – his advancing years notwithstanding – is freed of the presidency’s most nominal obligations and restrictions, we can expect his ultra-invigorated attempts to reprise his antics of old.
Such folly is inherently dangerous, because the Pereses, Beilins, Livnis and their numerous think-alike cronies/groupies dominate the media, dictate the national agenda and may inspire/impel a future government as they did the one that gave us Oslo.
Their unconscionable recklessness casts a lingering portentous pall over us. Someone once wisely observed that fools rush in where fools have been before.