“Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy,” former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said. He cynically believed that Israeli leaders based their foreign policy solely on narrow political considerations, namely on whether it helped or hindered their prospects in the upcoming election.
Kissinger, whose opinions continue to be eagerly sought out nearly 40 years after leaving office, has proven to be only partially right. Israeli statesmen do indeed have a world view that doesn’t see beyond the next election, but that’s also true of leaders around the world.
The latest example of Israeli foreign policy being shaped by local politics has been the response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to link the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Specifically, he said that regional leaders approached him last week over the need to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table “because it [the conflict] was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation … People need to understand the connection … And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity.”
To be sure, the statement was misguided and self-serving. The Islamic State, in a 5,000-word English translation of its manifesto that maps out in great detail its political, economic, social, educational and penal agendas, doesn’t make a single reference to the Palestinians.
Islamic publications are quite clear on what motivates IS: “They [Islamic State mujahideen] have a statement to make that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature”(Dabiq, Issue 1, “Return of the Khalifah”).
But the West would prefer to blame the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict” in order to escape having to take politically incorrect measures. As Prof. Angelo Codevilla explained last month in The Federalist, to truly dry up the swamp-feeding IS, it is necessary to take the war to its state sponsors — first and foremost Turkey and Qatar.
“The first strike against the IS must be aimed at its sources of material support,” he writes. “Turkey and Qatar are very much part of the global economy… If…the United States decides to kill the IS, it can simply inform Turkey, Qatar, and the world it will have zero economic dealings with these countries and with any country that has any economic dealing with them, unless these countries cease any and all relations with the IS.”
This is something Washington is not prepared to do.
On the other hand, if the problem is the unresolved Middle East conflict, or building in Maale Adumim, with its concomitant “humiliation and denial and absence of dignity” for the Palestinians, then the solution is to pressure Israel into making more concessions. This is something European leaders would be only too eager to endorse, in keeping with Kissinger’s adage that all Israeli foreign policy is local.
“The Muslim community in Sweden is 25 times the size of the Jewish community, and in France and Britain it is 10 times the size,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted last week, charging that European positions were motivated less by concern for the Palestinians and more by the desire to win the Muslim vote at home.
(Not surprisingly, PLO Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo hailed Kerry’s comments, saying that “linking the fight against terrorism and the end of the Israeli occupation is a strategic position that… [is] the position of all the Arab leaders in the region.”)
But while it is appropriate for Israeli leaders to push back and reject any hint of responsibility for IS, it was unconscionable to engage in personal attacks on Kerry, as did Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, in hinting that the U.S. secretary’s comments were motivated by anti-Semitism. Bennett’s comments may have given him a boost at the polls, but at the unacceptable price of harming Israel’s international interests.
To begin with, Kerry is a long-time friend and doesn’t deserve to be accused of anti-Semitism. Secondly, Israel cannot afford to further strain its relationship with the United States, especially now, when the Palestinians are making headway in gaining international backing for unilateral approval of a Palestinian state.
As Lieberman correctly stated: “The United States is Israel’s closest ally. Friends can have disagreements, yet there is no need to castigate him [Kerry] or see political gain at his expense… When the supply of ammunition ran out during Operation Protective Edge, it was the United States that supplied it. The Americans were the ones who gave the money for Iron Dome. The United States was the one that helped us at the United Nations Human Rights Council and they prevent a lot of trouble in the Security Council with vetoes.”
In the current climate, with Britain’s parliament voting to recognize a Palestinian state and changes in the make-up of the U.N. Security Council that could work in the Palestinians’ favor, it is crucial that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu call his Cabinet to order.
Israel must speak with one voice when it comes to its relations with its important ally the United States, even if it is a voice that is influenced by domestic concerns.