by Dr. Emmanuel Navon
Benjamin Netanyahu did a good job confusing his audience last night by talking almost exclusively about archeology and tourism during his "Herzliya Speech." Not that anyone was expecting to be told the exact date and time of Israel's speculated military operation against Iran. But the trick was well done, and I can picture Uzi Arad enjoying the frustration of his successor.
My conclusion from this year's Herzliya Conference is that Israel must adopt a tri-dimensional strategy with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still a matter of ideological debate. The debate is no longer about territorial integrity versus peace (both sides to that debate have long been defeated by reality), but about 1967 versus 1948. In other words, can the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular be trusted that they will leave Israel alone if and when the results of the 1967 war are settled, or will they always insist on settling the results of the 1948 war?
Dan Meridor hasn't made up his mind on that. At the Herzliya Conference, he told the story (which I've heard from him before) of a meeting he had with Mahmoud Abbas before the 2000 Camp David Summit. Abbas told Meridor he took his son to Nazareth, showed him the house where he was born and said: "We are not coming back to this house." This gave Meridor the impression that the Palestinians had given up on the "right of return."
But then at Camp David Abbas was the one, of all people, who insisted on not budging on the "right of return." Meridor says he's still not sure whether the Palestinians are after us for 1967 or 1948. "If it's 1967, the conflict can be settled" he says. "If it's 1948, it can't." He also says the status-quo is untenable, implying that the conflict must be settled. He did not say what he would recommend doing if and when it becomes clear to him that the conflict is not about 1967 but about 1948.
Dan Schueftan (from Haifa University), for his part, has no doubt that the conflict is about 1948 and therefore that there is no solution to it. Because the conflict with the Palestinians has no solution, Israel must free itself from the Palestinians by getting out of most of the West Bank, "not because the Palestinians deserve it, but because Israel does not deserve to be stuck with them" he says.
Eliot Abrams (from the Council on Foreign Relations) did not clearly state his opinion on the 1948 vs. 1967 debate, though he did say that there would have been no Israeli offer that could have satisfied Arafat, and that Abbas is playing for time because he knows he's a lame duck and doesn't want to be remembered as the first Palestinian leader who gave up on the "right of return." If this doesn't mean that the conflict is about 1948, what does it mean?
The debate at the conference was basically between Dan Schueftan and Eliot Abrams on the one hand, and Danny Rothschild (the Conference's new Chairman) and Daniel Kurtzer (a former US ambassador to Israel) on the other. Rothschild and Kurtzer are of the opinion that the conflict is about 1967 and therefore can it be settled (why, in that case, was the Arab world at war with Israel before 1967 and established the PLO in 1964 is a question for them to answer).
This is why they recommend responding positively to the "Arab Peace Initiative." Kurtzer basically told his audience not to believe any of his co-panelists on that (except for Rothschild) but to only trust him (this reminded my of an op-ed Evelyn Gordon wrote in The Jerusalem Post when Kurtzer was still ambassador to Israel. The title was: "Dan Kurtzer Behaves like an Israeli." Indeed).
Olmert's offer to Abbas in September 2008 basically endorsed the "Arab Peace Initiative." Yet Abbas rejected it. Kurtzer tried to exonerate Abbas by saying that Olmert was a lame duck at the time. But, as Eliot Abrams revealed, the Bush Administration encouraged Abbas to take the offer. As Abrams argued, if Abbas was serious and sincere about ending the conflict with a pre-1967 Israel, he would have pocketed the offer and then could have blamed the new Israeli government for not honoring it (especially since, in September 2008, the prospect was that Tzipi Livni would replace Ehud Olmert, not that new elections in Israel would be held).
There is a major weakness and contradiction in Danny Rothschild's argument. Because the status quo is demographically suicidal, he says, Israel must extricate itself from it. He rejects the idea of doing so unilaterally because he claims the security challenges of a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would be as suicidal as the demographic ticking bomb.
So we simply must have a deal with the Palestinians. What he is saying is that Israel should expect the Palestinians to save Israel from the Palestinians.
That doesn't make sense, however, because Israel's nightmare (i.e. letting time and demography make the two-state solution irrelevant) is the Palestinians' dream. In fact, Saeb Erekat just published a paper recommending the replacement of the two-state solution by the one-state solution. It is precisely because the Palestinians know that Israel is petrified by the idea of becoming a bi-national state that they are playing for time.
If Israel wishes to separate itself from the Palestinians, it should not expect the Palestinians' cooperation in doing so. This is why I've been convinced since 2000 that only Dan Schueftan's idea makes sense.
Shueftan's strategy can only be implemented, however, if Israel completes the (expensive) technology to protect itself from short-range missiles, effectively deters Iran and its proxies, and takes the "soft war" to the enemy's court.
Operation Cast Lead proved that Israel has the military capability of deterring rocket attacks from unilaterally evacuated areas, but also that the Palestinians completely outmaneuver Israel in the diplomatic and media arenas.
It took the Goldstone Report for Israel to finally realize (with a 40 year delay) that the Arab world has been waging a "soft war" against Israel through the media, the UN and NGOs since the 1973 war.
When she was Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni endorsed her Ministry's idiotic stance that the "soft war" is about "branding" and convincing the world that Israel is cool.
The British judge that issued an arrest warrant against her two months ago was obviously not impressed by the fact that Israel has nice beaches and impressive high-tech companies. It is about time that Israel's leadership realizes that the Goldstone Report (which Prime Minister Netanyahu described as a strategic threat to Israel) is the result of the "soft war" and that this war must be fought with a clear and consistent strategy. It is an embarrassment to Israel that the "soft war" has been mostly fought so far by private organizations (such as Palestinian Media Watch, UN Watch, NGO Monitor, and BICOM, to name a few), while our Foreign Ministry only knows how to whine about its puny PR budget.
As for Iran, deterrence is and will continue to be a tricky issue. At the conference yesterday, Switzerland's former ambassador to Iran, Tim Guldiman, basically said that we should continue to negotiate with Ahmanadinejad while not even thinking of toppling his regime. This statement, of course, tells a lot about Switzerland's interests in Iran. In April 2009, Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz warmly hosted Ahmadinejad.
Meanwhile, the Swiss energy company EGL signed in 2008 a deal with Iran to import 5.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually between 2011 and 2035 (a move that undermines US efforts to put economic pressure on Iran). No wonder Guldiman was very vocal about leaving Ahmadinejad alone.
François Heisbourg, Chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and of the Geneva Centre for Security Studies, argued that talks with Iran have become pointless, that even a complete embargo on refined oil would not threaten the mullahs' regime (because it would only affect about 50% of the country's oil consumption), and that if a military strike was able to delay the Iranian nuclear program for as long as the 1981 Israeli strike in Osiraq managed to delay the Iraqi nuclear program, it would definitely be worthwhile considering.
Israel's week points are not only Palestinian demographics, Arab propaganda, and Iran's nuclear program, however. Another weak point is the world's dependence on oil.
Two panels at the Conference were devoted to this topic. James Woosley (a former CIA Director who is a strong advocate of US energy independence) was very vocal about his claim that the West is funding its enemies and digging its own grave by not weaning itself from oil.
Yossi Hollander (an Israeli entrepreneur who now invests most of his time and money in the anti-oil lobby) convincingly showed that oil is a curse to the world economy and a major reason for US "tolerance" vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia.
Gal Luft (an Israeli energy expert based in Washington) argued that it takes political leadership to turn scientific knowledge into energy revolutions.
He took the example of Napoléon Bonaparte who decided he had enough with France's dependency on salt and offered a prize for the discovery of an alternative to food preservation.
This is how vacuum cans were born and made France "salt free." Hence the title of Luft's book Turning Oil into Salt.
The knowledge to dethrone oil is there; we just need leadership, and Israel should lead the way not least because it is the main geopolitical victim of oil supremacy. It is encouraging that Netanyahu has adopted the idea and set-up a team (headed by Prof. Eugene Kandel from the Hebrew University) to make Israel a world leader in alternative energies. It is, after all, thanks to Shimon Peres' personal involvement that Shai Agassi started Better Place.
So Israel's strategy must be threefold: 1. Prepare the ground for a de facto separation from the Palestinians; 2. Proactively and professionally wage the "soft war" it has been loosing for nearly four decades; 3. Lead the way in the energy revolution. If Israel manages to extricate itself from the Palestinians, to neutralize Arab propaganda, and to help the world wean itself from oil, its geopolitical situation would improve dramatically.
As for Iran, don't count on Switzerland. But if a nuclear winter eventually embraces our region, at least we Israelis will be able to enjoy, in the meantime, the new archeological and tourist sites promised last night by Netanyahu.
Dr. Emmanuel Navon (formerly: Mréjen) is a consultant, an academic and a public speaker specialized in International Relations. He was born in 1971 in Paris, where he went to an English-speaking school and graduated from Sciences-Po (MA in Public Administration), one of Europe's most distinguished universities. While at Sciences-Po he interned at the French Foreign Ministry, specializing in International Organizations, and at the French Finance Ministry, specializing in International Political Economy.
In 1993, he moved to Israel, pursuing graduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he earned a Ph.D. in International Relations. During his graduate studies he consulted to the Israeli Foreign Ministry on UN Reform and was selected to join the Shalem Center as a research fellow.
He was awarded the Yehoshafat Harkabi Prize for his MA Thesis and the Yaacov Herzog Prize for his Doctoral Dissertation.
Upon the completion of his academic studies, he worked as a consultant for Arttic, the leading group in Europe and Israel specialized in the preparation and management of technology-related partnerships.
There, he built European-Israeli consortia and consulted to large Israeli companies such as the Israel Aircraft Industries, Israel Electric, and Teva. After Arttic, he served as Vice-President of GoldNames, an investment company focusing on serving the Internet domain name asset class. He was instrumental in building the company's presence in the French-speaking market, and became well acquainted with Israel's high-tech industry.
With the sudden deterioration of Israel's international image and economic activity at the turn of the new millennium, Dr. Navon engaged in writing and public speaking, making the case for Israel in the foreign media and on university campuses. He was appointed CEO of the Business Network for International Cooperation (BNIC), an organization founded by Israeli high-tech legends Yehuda Zisapel and Eli Ayalon, to train Israeli business leaders for pro-Israel advocacy overseas.
In 2005, Emmanuel Navon left BNIC and founded his own company, The Navon Group Ltd. (which became The Navon-Levy Group in 2007), an international business consultancy dedicated to the strengthening of Israel's economic and strategic ties with emerging markets, especially in Africa.
In addition, he teaches at Tel-Aviv University 's Abba Eban Graduate Program for Diplomacy Studies, where he organized and chaired, between 2004 and 2008, the "Ambassadors' Forum," a regular encounter where foreign diplomats and leading Israel public figures jointly discussed current international affairs.
Dr. Navon is the author of A Plight among the Nations -Israel's Foreign Policy Between Nationalism and Realism (VDM Verlag, 2009) and of numerous articles. His blog is read by thousands of people around the world.
He is a proud reservist in the IDF, and a no less proud member of Likud (Israel's largest conservative party), and of the Movement for Quality of Government in Israel (an Israeli NGO committed to clean politics).
He sits on the boards of TrackBull Mutual Funds, an Israeli investment firm specialized in EFTs, and of EMET (Endowment for Middle East Truth), a brave and politically incorrect Washington think tank.
Dr. Navon is a regular political commentator for television channels, radio stations and newspapers in Israel, in the United States, in Europe, and in Canada. He is fluent in English, Hebrew and French, and is conversant in German.
He lives in Efrat, Israel, with his wife and their four children.