My billion-dollar budget: If I were PM (cont.)
By MARTIN SHERMAN
Perhaps the most important lesson the pro-Zionist advocates of today should learn from the Palestinians is this: “If you will it, it is no fantasy.”
I met with one of the Israeli UN representative ambassadors some time back. The condescending, sleepy replies he gave when – in plenum with leading professors present – I asked him: “Why so slow from Israeli state and diplomacy when it comes to counter the war on info?” shows the lack of interest in the war of information. They just don’t get the point and don’t see the urgency. – Norwegian author, Hanne Nabintu Herland, a concerned Facebook friend.
[Israel’s] enemies are so ridiculous, corrupt, unreasonable, perverse that it would be an ad man’s delight to make them into figures of worldwide opprobrium, and sarcastic humor. The world reprobation at corrupt behavior, at child abuse, and sexual perversion can be easily used against Arab [adversaries]. Israel is just so incompetent. The mind boggles. – Jonathan Engel, a perplexed Facebook friend, Paris
One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. – Plato
Readers will recall that I have criticized the abysmal performance of Israeli public diplomacy (PD) and its failure to present its case assertively and articulately to the world.
To recap briefly
I likened the effects of this failure to those of the HIV virus that destroys the nation’s immune system, leaving it unable to resist any outside pressures no matter how outlandish or outrageous. Given the gravity of the threat, I prescribed that, as prime minister, my first order of business would be to assign adequate resources to address the dangers precipitated by this failure.
To this end I stipulated that up to $1 billion should be allotted for the war on the PD front, and demonstrated that this sum was eminently within Israel’s ability to raise, comprising less than 0.5 percent of GDP and under 1 percent of the state budget.
Given the crucial importance of this issue it would be ludicrous to suggest that the required resources could not be procured – especially in light of the diplomatic devastation left by the display of impotence and incompetence, reflected – among other things – by the hopelessly inadequate amounts assigned to the PD endeavor in the past.
I argued that, much like the air force and missile defense, diplomacy is a strategic imperative whose function is to facilitate decision-making space for national leadership to pursue national interests.
Personally painful illustration
This week provided dramatic validation of my HIV-analogy that demonstrated just how pervasive the breakdown of Israeli resistance to outside pressures has become.
Somewhat unexpectedly it occurred at the ceremony to mark the departure of National Security Adviser Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror. Amidror warned: “It is clear to everyone that handling international pressure depends on the progress of the negotiations [with the PLO], and if the talks fail, it will give everyone interested in boycotting us every reason to do so.”
This is an appalling statement for a high-ranking government official to make, and is antithetical to how Israeli positions should be presented.
It causes me personal pain to find myself in a position where I feel compelled to reproach someone like Amidror, with whom I have had an very amicable, and largely like-minded relationship, over more than a decade, in the course of which I learned to respect him greatly, personally and professionally.
However, despite my private esteem for him, public figures must be judged publicly for their public statements. He must be taken to task, in the hope he will not begrudge me discharging my journalistic duty.
Even under the – one hopes dubious – assumption that Amidror is right, it is difficult to imagine a declaration that could be more counterproductive. For it almost guarantees the outcome it warns of – the failure of the talks.
After all, in the wake of Amidror’s statement, Palestinian intransigence is virtually assured. In effect, it is an invitation to them to insist on perilous demands of Israel that undermine its vital security interests. Should Israel resist, all they need to do is wait for the talks to fail, and push for the imposition of sanctions – with the implicit endorsement of the former national security adviser.
Thus, Israel will be left with one of two options: It can capitulate to save the talks, and jeopardize its vital security interests; or resist, and risk the imposition of sanctions for refusing to undermine those interests. Even countries that might have been loath to initiate sanctions, will find it more difficult not to. The justification/ legitimization for them would have been provided by none other than Israel’s national security adviser.
His statement can only increase the chances of such punitive action against the country. Or induce it to adopt policies he has long warned against.
Helpless and hopeless?
The Amidror episode underscores how Israel’s PD debacle has created a pervasive sense of defeatism among the nation’s senior policy-makers, which seems to convey that the country’s future, or at least, as The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick recently observed, the “viability of our economy is dependent on the PLO’s willingness to sit at a table with us.”
This expression of hopelessness and helplessness is particularly distressing when it comes from someone like Amidror, who has long been considered one of the country’s leading hawks on the Palestinian issue. Indeed, when he was appointed to the position, he was described by one well-known left-wing website as “an ultra-hawk,” whose “views seem to reflect the most extreme wing in Netanyahu’s coalition.”
Amidror author numerous articles and studies advocating the retention of secure, defensible borders that entail Israel maintaining control over the highlands of Judea-Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the air space over the “West Bank.”
He concluded one of his policy papers, titled “Israel’s Requirement for Defensible Borders,” with an enthusiastic endorsement of a citation from Yitzhak Rabin: “Our evacuation of the West Bank would create the greatest threat we can possibly face.”
Clearly, Israeli insistence on anything remotely resembling its minimal security requirements, as stipulated by Amidror in the past, would result in the failure of the current talks – and hence, according to Amidror of today, must be forgone to forestall the imposition of highly detrimental sanctions.
This then has been the cumulative impact of years of dereliction and neglect of Israeli PD: The total inability to resist external pressures however pernicious – and the capitulation of some of the most stalwart advocates of resistance.
Back to the budget
The depth of the malaise clearly demonstrates the imperative of committing large-scale resources to remedy it.
But of course the mere availability of resources cannot ensure their efficacy. This requires thought and effort as to the “hardware” and the “software” of the endeavor: Designing a suitable organizational structure, identifying appropriate strategic objectives, formulating the substantive content to be conveyed, enlisting suitable personnel.
In approaching the construction of my $1b. “battle formation” for the PD war, several principles would apply, including:
• It would be organizationally separate from the Foreign Ministry and under my direct control as PM – similar to the National Security Council – in the form of a national authority for the conduct of strategic diplomacy.
• It would interface with Zionist NGOs and help finance their pro-Israel activities, enhance their impact and expand their reach – as a counterweight to the massive funding that post- and anti-Zionist NGOs receive from foreign governments.
• Its activities would be assertively offensive, geared to uncompromisingly attacking and exposing the mendacious and malicious nature of Israel’s adversaries – a necessary condition for international understanding of Israel’s policy imperatives.
• Its staff would not be professional diplomats but articulate and committed intellectual ideologues, neither bound by the constraints of diplomatic protocol nor versed in the niceties of diplomatic etiquette but rather adept in the mechanism of mass media, cyberspace and social networks (see my “Intellectual warriors, not slicker diplomats”).
• Their task would not be to interact with foreign counterparts but to wage diplomatic warfare, at home and abroad, with a $1b. budget at their disposal to saturate the Web with polished, professional Zionist content – on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and by means of fullpage “infomercials” in the leading printed media.
Delegitimizing the source of delegitimization
There can be little doubt that the origins of the assault on Israel’s legitimacy are rooted in the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the Palestinian narrative and the acceptance of the Palestinians as an authentic national entity. However counter-intuitive this might appear, the chain of reasoning is clear and compelling – almost algorithmic:
• If the Palestinian narrative which portrays the Palestinians as an authentic national entity is acknowledged as legitimate, then all the aspirations, including Palestinian statehood, that arise from that narrative are legitimate. Accordingly, any policy that precludes the achievement of those aspirations must be considered illegitimate.
• Thus, if the legitimacy of a Palestinian state is accepted, then any measures incompatible with its viability are illegitimate. However – in the absence of wildly optimistic, and hence irresponsibly unrealistic, best-case assumptions – any policy that is designed to secure Israel’s minimal security requirements will preclude the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
• Consequently, as Amidror’s latest declaration underscores, any endeavor to realistically provide Israel with minimal security will be perceived as illegitimate. By accepting the admissibility of a Palestinian state, one necessarily admits the inadmissibility of measures required to ensure Israeli security.
• Conversely, measures required to ensure minimal Israeli security necessarily negate the viability of a Palestinian state.
The conclusion must therefore be that for Israel to secure conditions that adequately address its minimal security requirements, the Palestinian narrative, and the aspirations that flow from it, must be delegitimized.
This then, will be the principal focus of the new authority for strategic diplomacy and the formidable resources at its disposal: The delegitimization of the Palestinian narrative and the re-legitimization of the mutually exclusive Zionist narrative.
No amount of PR will help
Many will consider this an impossible challenge. Some because they feel that the Palestinian narrative has become too deeply imbedded in the international psyche to be uprooted; some because they feel that anti-Israeli sentiment is rooted in perennially endemic hostility across the world and is merely a reflection of visceral anti-Semitism that is impossible to eradicate.
These are serious objections and I do not want to dismiss them with a perfunctory rebuttal in the final section of this column, which I once again I am compelled to end without addressing all the issues I had hoped to.
I will, however, leave you with some food for thought until I take them up again.
1. Don’t underestimate the impact that an annual $1b. PD offensive could have over the four years of my incumbency on editors, opinion-makers and other politically engaged publics.
2. There are huge sources of support for Israel across the world (e.g. 4:1 advantage in support over the Palestinians among the US public) that have gone untapped and unmobilized due to diplomatic indolence and incompetence.
3. Imagine how the Palestinians must have felt in the late 1960s after the crushing IDF victory, and the global adulation Israel enjoyed in its wake.
How remote their goals must have seemed then. Yet they did not despair. Their political achievements of today seemed inconceivable then.
So perhaps the most important lesson the pro-Zionist advocates of today should learn from the Palestinians is this: “If you will it, it is no fantasy.”
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategicisrael.org)