This last response is interesting for two reasons. First it is a strong indication that the public trusts Netanyahu's word. Since taking office a year and a half ago, Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he supports making a deal with Fatah. And a majority of the public believes him.
The second conclusion suggested by the result is more discouraging. With the public convinced that the Palestinians are not to be trusted and that Israel should stop making concessions, the majority of the public believes that Netanyahu is moving in the opposite direction. Netanyahu's statements in Washington give us ample reason for concern.
ON WEDNESDAY evening, ahead of a dinner at the White House with US President Barack Obama, Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, Netanyahu made a startling statement.
He said, "I have been making the case for Israel all my life. But I did not come here to win an argument. I came here to forge a peace. I did not come here to play a blame game where even the winners lose. I came here to achieve a peace that will bring benefits to all."
This statement is worth considering carefully. Does Netanyahu truly believe that by "making the case for Israel" he and others who speak out in defense of Israel have merely been argumentative?
Does he think that defending Israel's rights diminishes the prospects for peace and so those that defend Israel are actually harming it?
Does he believe that in calling the Palestinians out for their brutality, barbarism and hatred of Jews and Israel he and his fellow advocates for Israel have merely been playing a blame game?
Does he think that a peace forged on the basis of ignoring Israel's case will be a viable peace?
If Netanyahu does believe all of these things - and his statement on Wednesday evening indicates he does, then the public should be very worried. Indeed, if this is what the premier believes, then it is just a matter of time before he begins echoing his predecessor Ariel Sharon and tells us that we are too dimwitted to understand him because the world looks different from where he is sitting than from our lowly perches on the ground, in Israel.
AND THIS brings us back to Tuesday evening's highway massacre. Predictably, the Obama administration led the way in framing the terrorist violence as a bid by Hamas to derail the newest round of negotiations. For example, after meeting with Netanyahu Wednesday Obama said, "The tragedy that we saw yesterday where people were gunned down on the street by terrorists who are purposely trying to undermine these talks is an example of what we're up against."
The only party that rejected the administration's rationalization of the attack was Hamas, whose operatives reportedly carried it out. In an interview Thursday with the London-based Asharq al Awsat, Hamas leader Mahmoud A-Zahar said that the talks have nothing to do with the attack. As he put it, "The bid to link this operation to the negotiations is completely wrong. When people have the opportunity, the capability and the targets, they act."
The truth is probably found neither in A-Zahar's claim nor in Obama's assertion. In all likelihood, Hamas was testing the waters. Iran's Palestinian proxy wanted to know whether the regular rules for peace processes have kicked into gear yet. Those rules -- as the families of the hundreds of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the peak years of peace processes will attest -- involve Israel giving free rein to terrorists to murder Jews during "peace talks."
Since Yitzhak Rabin first shook Yassir Arafat's hand on the White House lawn 17 years ago, successive prime ministers have opted to not to retaliate for murderous attacks when peace talks are in session. They have justified their willingness to give the likes of Hamas a free hand to murder by claiming that fighting back would be tantamount to allowing terrorists to hold the peace process hostage. Conducting counter-terror campaigns in the midst of negotiations, they have uniformly argued, would endanger the talks and so, Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad must all be given a carte blanche to murder.
Echoing these sentiments precisely, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin all reportedly objected to launching any response to Tuesday's attack. According to the media, the three closed ranks against Netanyahu who reportedly wished to attack Hamas targets in Gaza following the massacre.
Wednesday's roadside shooting attack, in which a man and his wife were wounded, was a clear indication that Hamas and its ilk received the message. Just as A-Zahar said, they are always looking for an opportunity. And in not responding to Tuesday's attack, Israel told them that for the duration of these negotiations, Hamas can again kill with impunity.
Whether Hamas renewed its terror attacks this week because it likes to murder Jews, because it was trying to derail negotiations or because it was testing Israel, the fact of the matter is that from Hamas's perspective, it stood only to gain from attacking. Terror is always popular with the Palestinian public. As the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday, when news broke of Tuesday's attack, mobs of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria took to the streets to celebrate.
Part of the reason that Palestinians love terrorism is because they have never had to pay a real price for killing Jews. To the contrary, they have been richly rewarded. The Palestinians believe that it was terror, not negotiations that convinced Israel to withdraw from Gaza. So too, as they glance at the international response to their acts of wanton murder, they see terror has only benefitted them. International monetary assistance and political support for the Palestinians have always risen as terror levels peaked.
Obama's insistence that the talks go on after Tuesday's attack showed the Palestinians that the game is still theirs to win. The US will continue to side with the Palestinian demands against Israel regardless of their behavior.
IN NETANYAHU'S defense, his speech on Wednesday evening was not simply a repudiation of his life's work on behalf of Israel. Netanyahu seemed to hedge his bets when he said, "We left Lebanon, we got terror. We left Gaza, we got terror. We want to ensure that territory we concede will not be turned into a third Iranian sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel. That is why a defensible peace requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and the many challenges that are sure to confront us."
The problem with this statement is that in light of the free pass he gave Hamas for Tuesday's attack, Netanyahu already conceded this crucial principle. If he believes that the only way for the talks to advance is to stand down in the face of attack rather than aggressively strike back, then Netanyahu has already committed himself to a peace that will create "a new Iranian sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel."
Likewise, if he believes that only by ceasing to make Israel's case can he make progress with his "partner" Abbas, then Netanyahu has already conceded his demand that a peace agreement contain security arrangements that will defend Israel's national rights and other vital interests.
The most distressing aspect of Netanyahu's enthusiastic participation in a process the Israeli public rationally opposes is that it is him doing it. With Netanyahu now joining the ranks of those that attack Israel's defenders as enemies of peace and claim that defending the country is antithetical to peace, who is left to defend us?
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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