Supporters of Israel do it no favors by insisting there is nothing its leaders can do to improve a bleak security situation, its international standing, or its troubled relations with the Palestinians. Inside Israel and without, there is a chorus of reasonable voices suggesting ways in which Prime Minister Netanyahu can seize the diplomatic initiative and firmly demonstrate — not just state — Israel’s commitment to restarting the stalled peace talks. Earlier this year, Forward columnist J.J. Goldberg reported that 12 of Israel’s 18 top living former security officials — former heads of the IDF, Mossad, and the Shin Bet — have been critical of the Netanyahu government and are pushing for an assertive process toward a two-state agreement. Such public activism from the “ex-chiefs” is unprecedented.
At the same time, critics of Israel do that process no favors when they place unreasonable demands on Israel or misrepresent the challenges it faces. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, on his way to Israel, told reporters that Israel bears the brunt of responsibility for its own diplomatic isolation. “[T]he question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?” said Panetta. “Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength.”
To place the onus of “isolation” on Israel alone is to ignore the tsunami that swept the region in recent months. Like new regimes throughout the Middle East, the Egyptian security forces are playing up their animus toward Israel — not out of any great love for the Palestinians, but as a way to patronize the restless street. Turkey’s prime minister has made Israel his whipping boy not because he is a champion of peace but because he is angling for supremacy in a Muslim world that can’t get enough of anti-Israel rhetoric or actions. It’s not clear what Israel could do at this point to restore its diplomatic “edge” with either country, or with any of its regional neighbors.
Those in Israel who support a two-state solution do not place improving Israel’s international standing at the top of their list of priorities, although it would be a welcome benefit. Instead, they see two states as the best way to ensure Israel’s security and the democratic nature of its society. Those who support this effort and have the power to usher it along need to show they understand Israel before they ask it to take enormous risks. The key to any peace process is credibility — on all sides.