No matter the outcome of the statehood bid for the Palestinian Authority, the only sure loser in this scenario is an Israeli government which has once again allowed itself to react to events, rather than dictating them. The price for defeating the statehood bid is almost certain to be more concessions. Whether Abbas gets his UN vote or gets blocked at the gate by Obama, he can still count on more Israeli territory extracted under pressure.
Sharon, for all his many flaws, was the only Israeli Prime Minister who actually took the initiative and deployed his own offensive strategy that did not depend on proving anything to the world. It was a bad strategy, but it's a measure of the ineptitude of the other four Prime Ministers since Oslo who couldn't come up with anything besides gamely trotting to the negotiating table, making a reasonable offer and hoping for the best.
Netanyahu's second outing has been marked by a grand economic vision and no security or foreign policy vision to speak of. Instead Israel has gone into reactive mode with disastrous results, allowing itself to be panicked by the flotilla and now by the statehood bid into putting all its energies into campaigns that play directly into the hands of its enemies.
The man who had the historical background and the foreign policy experience to come up with something more than playing whack a mole with every crisis has been surprisingly inept in the big picture. And the other side has seized the initiative.
Netanyahu's failure to address Hamas in Gaza has led to the Free Gilad Shalit movement at home and the international flotilla movement abroad-- two contrasting movements, both led by the left, both taking advantage of Israel's passivity. The blockade of Gaza and the Separation Barrier have become symbols of Israeli inaction portrayed as vicious cruelty by anti-Israel movements that understand how to exploit the moment. Add Iron Dome to the tally, a hyper-expensive brilliantly conceived defense system which fails to solve the problem, but ties a complex Gordian knot around it, that the vicious Islamist thugs will cut through with another low tech solution.
Israel is full of engineers and generals all pointed at the wrong goal, and easily undermined by a shift of terrain that once again forces them to make concessions to enemies that are dumber, but who do take the initiative.
The difference between the magnificent triumph of the Six Day War and the near apocalypse of the Yom Kippur War was the difference between taking the initiative and waiting behind passive defenses for the approval of the international community before taking action. The lesson of both wars is that Israel does not have enough territory, population or resources to be passive. But its current hyper-passive alertness is nearly as awful as pure passivity would be.
Over and over again, the enemy counts on provoking an Israeli reaction and leading it into another lose-lose scenario in which whatever it does, it loses. Passivity allows the enemy to claim victory and a last minute overreaction results in condemnation and forces Israel to write more checks in the form of concessions.
The statehood bid isn't a suicide bombing, but it's equally senseless and equally effective at sending Israeli diplomats desperately scrambling for a solution to a problem they should have headed off long ago. Instead like the flotilla, Israel has been caught flatfooted by its own inaction and its reaction is once again putting it deep in debt to the likes of Obama, who will be sure to call in that debt with interest.
This defective strategy predates Oslo and goes back to the Intifada, where fairly low level but photogenic outbursts of violence became the basis for a terrorist state inside Israel thanks to governments who mishandled the situation. And the mishandling keeps going on and on.
The goal of the pro-Palestinian cause is attention. That attention is the oxygen of its movement. When its activists barge into Jewish events and disrupt them, they measure their success in the attention that they garner for it, both negative and positive. Attention is the measure of their power. Their ability to disrupt is their power.
The same is true back in the Middle East where the terrorists have gained power from their disruptive abilities-- the more they sabotage, kill, maim, hijack, or otherwise command attention, the more they create a process where their disruption becomes a form of blackmail. Give us what we want or we'll do it again.
The statehood bid is more of the same-- a political disruption which has already succeeded because of the disruption it already caused. The Palestinian Authority has nothing to lose and everything to gain from disruption. Abbas, an unelected leader supported by Western money has more in common with the fallen regimes of the Arab Spring than with the revolutionary movements he is trying to pose as. Too fearful to negotiate and all too aware that his time is running out, statehood is a feint that will either buy him another six months or destroy him. But it's better than doing nothing. That is something which Abbas has finally understood, but Netanyahu still hasn't.
Of course Netanyahu and Israel have much more to lose, but Israel has been steadily losing since Oslo-- if it doesn't come up with a decisive plan then it is likely to lose everything. The mantra of defensible borders and defensible demographics that has seduced to many politicians and generals is another excuse for doing anything, except drawing up more plans to expel two-hundred thousand Israelis from their homes in the hopes that somehow that will fix everything.
But what's there to fix?
Israel made the mistake of paying too much attention to its image problems and not enough to its military ones. It hasn't won the image war and it's rapidly losing the military one. No Muslim army ever succeeded in cutting Israel in half, even during the Yom Kippur War, but it is on the verge of allowing itself to be pressured into creating a contiguous Palestinian state that will cut it in half.
No Muslim army has managed to seize half of Jerusalem since 1967, but that too is now a mandate on the table. The negotiations and concessions have already cost Israel more territory than any war since 1948 when it was low on weapons, had militias instead of an army, was under an arms embargo and was also on the edge of civil war.
Yet when you talk to Israeli generals, the one thing they have on their mind is the image problem. Gone is the Oom Shmoom attitude, in is the need to fight political wars in which no one gets hurt too badly, but enough force is displayed to let the terrorists know who is stronger. This idiocy has ended in massacres of Israeli civilians and the flotilla disaster. It has cost the lives of countless soldiers and unsurprisingly Israel's PR is still terrible, as can be expected from a country where everyone tells you exactly what they think within 5 seconds of meeting you.
Israel's problem isn't its image, it has an image problem because it has a terrorist problem. If Israel were Sri Lanka or Turkey, then the world might shrug and the story would be reported on Page 5B, but Israel's enemies are an alliance of Islamist petrodollars and the red brigades of the left who have more people, access and resources. The longer the situation drags on, the more material they have to work with, and the more they can make this seem like a raw bloody wound that has to be solved for the sake of regional and world peace. And the more Israel debates, the more it inflates.
Israel has lost its own left, it isn't going to win over the international left, or the Jewish left, the majority of whom with a few exceptions think the world would be a better place if it were to be destroyed.
Muslim immigration is swiftly dividing Europe into three sides, the side that favors Islam, the side that is against Islam, and the apathetic side that will stand aside and listen to whoever is in charge. The first side will never be for Israel. The second side will not always be for Israel, but it will rarely be for the terrorists. The third side will think whatever the first side tells it to, so long as it controls the government and the media.
In a West divided between internationalists and nativists, there will be a dwindling number of people who want to hear how Israel helps Bedouin women get an education, and most of those people will be liberal Jews. The internationalists have made it painfully clear that Israel does not belong, in terms that even Peres is slowly beginning to understand, that it is a racist extremist nativist state that must be destroyed to make way for a tolerant democratic multicultural Arab-Muslim klepto-tyranny.
The American and European foreign policy establishments can't let go of Israel, but they can't stop torturing it either. It's a powerful piece in a game that they don't dare commit to, and in the game of half-measures that they play, it's a piece that does more harm than good. And the Israeli government is playing that same game of half-measures, which also do more harm than good. Everyone wants to keep their options open, to take the high road and kiss the olive branch-- but that road leads down to the abyss.
The peace is not winnable, the war is, and only war can bring about some kind of manageable peace. As long as Israel holds on to the belief that passive defenses, barriers and blockades and bar lev lines will maintain some sort of liable status quo, its position will keep on degrading until it is at risk of being unsalvageable.
Israel has trapped itself in a lose-lose scenario, it needs a strategy that doesn't depend on illusions, on the failures of the other side finally becoming apparent or on tinkering with the status quo so it doesn't hurt so much. It needs to plan for victory, rather than looking for ways to manage defeat. And it may have to get much more desperate before it is ready to commit to the kinds of risky strategies that it has become famous and infamous for.
Bad leadership and international pressure has trapped Israel in a downward strategic spiral of reactive policies leading to image problems, leading to more reactive policies, leading to more disruptive assaults, and more image problems. Breaking out of that spiral will take hard work and risks, but it isn't impossible. What it requires is serious thinking of how to secure a future for Israel that does not depend on the goodwill of its enemies. That is the fundamental error and question that it faces today. And it will likely not find its way to that new independence until its back is once again up against the wall.