Jacob Heilbrunn

When A Former Shin Bet Chief Denounces Netanyahu

Bret Stephens is bored. Bored, that is, by the Palestinians. They're tedious, hapless, pathetic. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephens colorfully announces:

for all its presumed importance, the Palestinian saga has gotten awfully boring, hasn't it? The grievances that remain unchanged, a cast of characters that never alters, the same schematics, the clichés that were shopworn decades ago. If it were a TV drama, it would be "The X-Files"—in its 46th season. The truth is out there. Still. We get it. We just don't give a damn anymore.

Well, not everyone shares Stephen's ho-hum attitude. Not everyone, in other words, is tuning out from a saga that continues to hold great peril for Israel's future even if a veneer of placidity exists currently between the Palestinians and Israelis. Europe, for one, is worried about what is, or is not, taking place. So even as the idea of peace talks goes nowhere, Israel is coming under increasing pressure over the West Bank. The European Union has just promulgated new guidelines that interdict any cooperation with Israeli institutions in territory in the West Bank and that will be enacted next year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is livid. He's responded by saying Israel will "not accept external dictates." But this move is consistent with the increasing and inexorably antipathy toward Israeli intransigence on the West Bank among Europeans and a new willingness to act to pressure the Jewish state to alter it. To dismiss such actions as an instance of inveterate European hostility towards Jews may be emotionally satisfying but does not account for the very real fear among European foreign policymakers that Israel has embarked upon a course that is inimical to its own security, with dangerous consequences for Europe as well.

Someone else who isn't lulled into a state of torpor by the relations between Palestinians and Israelis is former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin. In a column in the Jerusalem Post, he says don't be fooled. Israeli is reaching a point of no return that could have catastrophic effects upon its security: "Anyone who wants can see the data of the Research and Information Center Division (based on a study by Prof. Arnon Sofer and Prof. Sergio DellaPergola), suggesting that at the end of the year 2010, the share of Jews – if you add up the total population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River – was only 53%."

Diskin notes that complacency is unwarranted because these demographic trends mean that Israel may well be headed toward a binational state. The current complacency is deceptive:

this subject has a place in our essence, in our identity, in our souls, in our security, and in our perception of morality – as a society or nation that has come to rule another nation. The relative security calm that we have recently enjoyed creates a dangerous illusion that our problems have been solved, and maybe worse – that we have “frozen the situation”: a kind of de facto strategy in the face of the “Arab Spring” that is raging all around us. But it is clear that it is impossible to truly freeze the situation as social, economic, political and other processes are never frozen in time. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a strategy or the technology that can freeze frustration.

What is needed, he says, is long-term straetegic thinking. In a democracy this is always difficult because the incentive is to placate various constituencies to retain power, which is what Netanyahu has been doing. Nor are Diskin's observations new. They have been propounded ad nauseam by a variety of commentators. But coming from the ex-chief of Shin Bet they, of course, carry a certain weight. They also indicate that it is not anti-Israeli to make such observations. On the contrary, they are pro-Israeli. They seek to help prevent the country from jeopardizing its future in a futile quest to satisfy the rapacious demands of settlers on the West Bank who are indifferent to anything but their own comforts or ideological aspirations.

Diskin expresses the hope that Netanyahu will have the fortitude to break with the current impasse. He could do it. But as my colleague Paul Pillar has observed, the dispatching of Ron Dermer, an ardent neocon, as ambassador to America is eyebrow-raising. J Street, the counterpart of AIPAC, expresses its own hope in Haaretz that Dermer will reach out to all sections of the American Jewish community:

In recent years, a pernicious idea has gained currency among some pro-Israel groups, especially on the far right. They seem to believe that anyone who does not agree 100 percent of the time with every action the Israeli government takes is no friend of Israel. Some go further and claim that anyone expressing even mild criticism should be treated as an adversary. This intolerance is divisive, self-defeating and foreign to our Jewish and American traditions. It needs to be squashed and Ambassador Dermer would be doing Israel and American Jews alike a big favor by disassociating himself from such views.

Will he?