When Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, he poisoned Israeli-U.S. relations. So claims Washington Post columnist and deputy editorial page editor, Jackson Diehl, twice in less than three weeks. And, according to Diehl, Netanyahu did so intentionally.
In “Old Hand for an Old Mission” (January 23) in praise of President Barack Obama’s selection of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) as his special Arab-Israeli envoy, Diehl wrote that “if the polls hold, Israel’s next prime minister will be Binyamin Netanyahu, who devoted a past term in office to slowly poisoning both Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and relations with Washington [emphasis added].”
In “A Promise of War” (February 9), Diehl asserted that “… Netanyahu — with plenty of help from Yasser Arafat — slowly strangled the Oslo accords, the most promising Israeli-Palestinian deal ever struck. He turned every step of the process into an excruciating ordeal, while all the time seeking to mobilize pro-Israel pressure on [U.S President Bill] Clinton by Congress, the American Jewish community and even evangelical Christians. When Israelis voted him out of office, in 1999, they did so in part because he was perceived to have poisoned relations with the country’s indispensable ally [emphases added].”
By the time Netanyahu took office in 1996, nearly three years after the Oslo process started, evidence was plentiful that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority were serial violators. They did not uphold their promises to eradicate anti-Israel terrorism but, in the face of the new Hamas/Islamic Jihad suicide bombing campaign, ran “revolving door” jails. Unlike Israel, they did not conduct “peace education” but rather reinserted previous Jordanian anti-Zionist and antisemitic teachings into the Palestinian curriculum and enlarged upon them. They did not use the PA-controlled news media and mosques to promote coexistence but rather preached Israel’s illegitimacy and called for its destruction.
When Netanyahu demanded “reciprocity” — that Arabs as well as Israelis fulfill their negotiated commitments — his political and news media opponents in Israel and the United States tarred him as “an enemy of peace.” And other factors in addition to friction with the Clinton administration brought Netanyahu’s government to an early end. Perhaps most important was the departure of former Likud Party allies and coalition partners critical of what they said was the prime minister’s inconsistent, insular management.
Diehl describes Netanyahu’s insistence on negotiations based on reciprocity, his reluctance to participate in an Israeli concessions process notwithstanding major Palestinian violations as “devotion to slowly poisoning” Arab-Israeli talks and U.S.-Israeli relations. This even though “Bibi’s” reluctance was not always refusal, as the 1998 Wye River agreements and Israeli withdrawal from most of Hebron indicated.
Diehl concludes “Old Hand for an Old Mission” this way: “Imagine a U.S. administration prepared to demand tangible steps toward peace by both Israelis and Palestinians — and to publicly challenge an Israeli government dodges.” What about publicly challenging Palestinian dodges? Or would that be “poisoning” negotiations and U.S.-Palestinian relations?
In “A Promise of War” the columnist writes, among other things, that Netanyahu “says he will not support Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights — the key to any peace deal with Syria.” Actually, a convincing Syrian demonstration of desire for peace with Israel is the key to talks about the Golan, in view of Syria’s close relations with Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and hosting of Hamas, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other anti-Israeli terrorist leaders.