Barry Rubins' JPost editorial today is a brilliantly articulated version of the misled thinking of some in the Israeli leadership. This sarcastic comment in particular is classic:
"Once you admit the fact that the Gaza flotilla and other problems (continuation of the Israel-Palestinian and Israel-Syria conflicts) are caused by actions of the other side, you show that Israel cannot solve them on its own. You might have to blame the Arab or Palestinian or Islamist side."
"...The idea has taken hold in most Western governments that what is most important is image. If we are nice to our enemies, we will win them over. If we are popular, we will avoid trouble. If we apologize, we will be forgiven. If we tell everyone we are weak, we will be pitied. If we sympathize with the underdog, even one that wants to be “overdog” and maul us to death, we will be noble and thus succeed."
Rubin's comments are a perfect encapsulation of the strategic myopia of the Israeli leadership. And unfortunately, "it's not our fault and everyone hates us anyway" is a losing strategy. Time and time again this argument is used to excuse the Israeli government of actually having to do anything useful. Imagine if General Petraeus had said in 2007, "We tried to tell you, al-Qaeda in Iraq is the one attacking us! How can you be made at us for defending our soldiers in Iraq? Sure we may have killed some Reuters journalists and injured some kids that one time, but it's not our fault. The Arab media hates the U.S. and is going to criticize it anyway so why bother being humane?" As General Petraeus is fond of saying, "Hard is not impossible." And it's certainly not an excuse for self-indulgent whining.
Even granting that Israel bears zero responsibility for any of its problems, is that really an excuse for not aggressively seeking solutions which balance Israel's liberal values with its security needs? And is opening diplomatic relations with its neighbors really projecting the kind of "weakness" Mr. Ruben alludes to? Those who dissent from Mr. Ruben's point of view would argue that this self-defeating point of view is contrary to the proactive vision of the original Zionists. He quotes Golda Meir as saying "Better a bad press than a good epitaph." But in 2010 this is a false choice, forcing Israel to either alienate the international community or go down in flames. A strategist would argue that Israel's best security strategy would be to quickly move past the current crisis and bolster its partnerships with the international community. And a historian would point out that for all the bad press, Golda Meir was proactive to the point of flying to the U.S. with nothing but her purse to raise money for Israel in 1948 (she raised 25 million dollars). She didn't think about assigning blame or making moral stances against the international community. She was too busy taking responsibility for the future of the State of Israel.