Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Directions In Israeli Foreign Policy

A so-called "secret" document outlining recommendations for a major overhaul of Israeli foreign policy was leaked to the JPost on October 7, 2009. The document, which seems to have been written in the last few weeks, begins with the premise that the entire Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is centered around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It outlines three major areas of change 1) a realignment of Israels relations to include a larger variety of countries and regions so as to decrease dependence on the US. 2) A decrease in expectations for peace with Palestinians and 3) a firm, unapologetic confrontation of all incidents of antisemitism.

On the first point, the document does not suggest that Israel break of or lessen relations with the US which is described as Israel's best friend in the world. Instead, it suggests that Israel has ignored major portions of the world, in particular Latin America and Africa and that diplomatic and economic relations with these regions needed to be (re)established. The paper makes the point that this slight realignment may even have the effect of strengthening the influence of the US in the middle east because it's relationship with Israel could remain warm, but still somewhat more distant, improving the US's appearances of neutrality.

Naturally, this type of strategy is good for any state. Indeed, in many ways, an analogy may be drawn with Canada which has a very unique relationship with the US and has, as a result, seen its influence in other parts of the world wane. The strategy suggested by this report is similar to ones Canada has adopted. Undoubtedly, the more friends a country has in the world, the more influence, security and prosperity it can count on. Israeli efforts to establish economic relationships in these "neglected" parts of the world can see a change in the current situation where nearly one third of all Israeli exports, a middle eastern country, go to the US and not to markets closer to home in Africa, Asia and Europe.

As though to prove a commitment to this type of outreach, in early September Lieberman himself visited 5 African countries. Though one of the purposes of the trip was to encourage African countries to help 'moderate' the attitudes of their Arab friends, it also resulted in the signing of economic agreements with the promise from Africans that more can come if peace does too. Later in September, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister met with his South African counterpart as well.

The second point--reducing expectations for peace--suggests that there should be a shift away from efforts for an immediate peace agreement and rather more focus on calming tension on the ground.

Here the paper has things only half right. Efforts should certainly be made to calm the situation on the ground. Extreme settlers should be reined in, settlement expansion should stop, as many checkpoints as possible should be removed without endangering peace, efforts to share water resources should be increased, and trade and investment should be encouraged through regulatory and practical security measures. In other words, people should feel more at ease, less restricted, safer, happier, more prosperous. This being said, the drive for peace should not be dismissed as overly enthusiastic or optimistic. On the contrary, both ordinary citizens and leaders should be excited about peace, should talk about it non-stop, speak of how good things could be and drive the process forward, deliberately, courageously and steadfastly. Reducing expectations is the wrong move, Israel should of course remain realistic, but enthusiasm for peace is sorely lacking.

Taking this analysis to a colder level, it is to Israel's advantage from a PR point of view to speak of peace with enthusiasm. This way, if talks are not successful, Israel can always point to its enthusiasm for peace. Certainly, a party to a peace agreement that continually says "don't get excited, we're going nowhere fast" will not come out looking good should their self fulfilling prophesy come to be. Of course, such a PR victory can only be achieved if Israel doesn't say one thing and then do quite the opposite.

The third point is an unapologetic confrontation of antisemitism wherever it appears. The paper states that it seeks to not only fight classical antisemitism, but also "...boycotts of Israeli goods and academic institutions, and...political-legal suits against Israeli leaders and military personnel visiting Europe." In other words, what can be considered antisemitic is more than a world leader or group saying 'I hate Jews', it also includes examples of the Swedish Ambassador being the only EU Ambassador to attend the swearing in of Iran's Holocaust denying President.

Here a very fine line is being walked. Yes, Israel calls itself the Jewish State. It is the world's only Jewish nation state, and naturally, the state itself and much of its population and leaders would probably take personal offence to antisemitism. This being said, it's dubious that Israel speaks for all Jews all over the world. In confronting antisemitism, Israel is speaking for more than just itself, it is purporting to speak for all Jews.

It's also going to be difficult to draw the line at what antisemitism is without "watering down" the term or sounding hysterical. No doubt, hate must be confronted wherever it is found. It must be rooted out and cut down. Period. What is this hate though? Certainly it would be legitimate to criticize Israel, it's policies on a number of issues, its government, it's track record on human rights. It would not be legitimate to suggest that Israel should not exist, that it is illegitimate, or that it should not be allowed to defend itself. What of boycotts though? This almost requires a case by case analysis. If the behaviours in Israel which is encouraging people to want to boycott Israel exists in other countries, and those countries are not boycotted, then certainly their is an appearance of a double standard. If Israel is being singled out for doing what all other states do, then it is certainly legitimate for Israel to at least ask the question, "how come you're only picking on me?"

The policy paper walks along a very slippery slope on the antisemitism question and while hate must be confronted, there comes a time when battles must be chosen...

It will be interesting to see, in the coming months if the trend of the Africa visits continues and Israel continues along the path outlined in this paper. Some of it is quite good, but much of it (at least from the way it sounds in the JPost) could use some more work.


Anonymous said...

Its hard to know what is right for them and what is wrong.
They have come this far, I believe that perhaps they are right to make a relationship with africa and south american countries. it seems like a good idea....
the water post you did was very interesting, I didnt' realize how dire the situation was!

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

First, Callie, thank you for your comment. II appreciate it and hope to see more of them!
I think it may help to think of relations with other countries as investments. It's always risky to pour all your money and hopes into one source with the hopes of a big payoff. Sometimes you win, sometimes you get let down.

African and Latin American states are key to help shore up the spread of extremism (in Africa) and extreme anti-western senntiment (in Latin America.) If Israel does not work to earn the good graces of these palces now, it risks losing them. Also recal how these friends can be helpful. After the Entebbe raid, Israeli planes stopped to refuel in Kenya!

As for the water, yes, the situation is very serious indeed. I have a personal interest in water and water conservation issues so I tend to jump on stories like that. I think Israel needs to seriously think about restructuring its economy to ensure that a growing population of 7 millino people living in a very arid climate can survive on their own and not have to import the most basic needs for life.

I am pleased and flattered that you found it interesting though!