How about a Jerk of the Week Award?

by Maskil on September 14, 2008

Awarded to whom, and for what?

Sometimes it seems as if hardly a week goes by without Israeli politicians crossing another red line, conceding some position or territory once considered non-negotiable, as if in a race to out-concede one another.

I’d therefore like to suggest a weekly (or monthly) award for the Israeli politician or public figure who makes the largest, most outrageous territorial concession (in principle) on behalf of Israel, in advance of any actual negotiations, and even in advance of any demands from the other side.

(I wasn’t particularly happy with the term “Jerk”, but most of the alternatives I came up with were expletives; suggestions would be welcomed.)

In this case, “Parts of eastern Jerusalem could be the capital of a future Palestinian state, Ehud Barak told Al-Jazeera.” (This is just an example. I’m not picking on Barak, whose record in the IDF I admire greatly; his record as PM less so. Barak may be a “serial donor” when it comes to Israel’s strategic assets, but no more so than many other Israeli politicians. Why is he even talking to Al-Jazeera, BTW?)

Here’s a few reasons why I think this kind of approach is a bad, very bad idea. I’m sure you could add a few of your own:

There should one official government position on an issue such as this, and all politicians associated with the current governing coalition should be required to adhere to it. No country can negotiate (or even conduct normal diplomatic relations) if each member of the government is singing from a different hymn-sheet. Credibility becomes non-existent. This is not the way to hold a debate, if that’s the objective. Some form of coalition discipline is needed.

Four decades ago, when Israel firmly held all the windfall territories from the Six-Day War, this may have looked like Israeli magnanimity, speaking from a position of strength. Forty years down the road, making these huge concessions has become a habit, almost a knee-jerk reaction, and comes across more like the victim saying “here, take my wallet” to the mugger.

Israel’s official position going into any negotiations should be that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal, undivided capital, and that no concessions can be made here. Whether it comes out the other side with that position still intact is another matter.

I’m not one to fight to the last drop of Israeli blood on an issue, but surely no self-respecting nation offers up its capital city (or parts thereof) as part of a negotiating process or package. Being forced to make those concessions is somewhat different, but we should not be sitting down with that concession already made.

If we enter into or resume negotiations with concessions such as this already stipulated, what other cards do we hold? What do we offer if our “peace partners” demand still more, and we honestly believe that one more concession will clinch the deal? The Knesset building?

Many of these offers or concessions are made as “one-time” deals, but who remembers that particular detail when the next round begins? All that is remembered is that Israel has already conceded Place A or B. Too late to cry the diplomatic equivalent of “all bets are off” or “terms and conditions applied”.

What are we receiving in return? In our eagerness for peace, we tend to forget that negotiations should be a two-way street. We’ve already pretty much agreed to give back basically everything in return for something we can convince ourselves is peace. We know it, they know it, and yet we’re no closer. If it’s not working, let’s stop doing it.

It really is way past time to move on from concession-based diplomacy to rights-based diplomacy!

Judy Montagu, in a recent Jerusalem Post column, also highlighted the issue of pride (or the apparent lack thereof) among the current crop of Israeli leaders.

In its prime, Zionism was very much a values-driven movement. Some of these values derived from Judaism, others from the analysis of the Jewish situation vis-à-vis nation-states, anti-Semitism, etc., others from socialism. Perhaps one of the tasks of 21st Century Zionism is to reclaim those values – from across the Zionist ideological spectrum – that are still relevant for Israel and the Jewish world today.

In the case of Israel’s leadership, perhaps the value that we should insist they exemplify is the Betar value of Hadar, for example “Every word of yours must be a “word of honor”, and the latter is mightier than steel.” (Yes, I realize that Betar and what it once stood for is now considered passé, but hopefully values never really go out of fashion.)

So, until this mindset starts to change, “the envelope please…”

Related posts:

Altneuland: Israel needs a new school of negotiating skills

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