Editorial: Bank Shots

Jewish Light Editorial

On the heels of the Gaza conflict and the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood, we’re wrestling with two axioms as they relate to Israeli leadership’s decision-making.

• Just because you have the ability to do something doesn’t mean you ought to do it.

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• Just because your nemesis’ behavior is wrong doesn’t mean your behavior is right.

Israel has taken a couple quick and substantial moves in response to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas successfully obtaining United Nations recognition of Palestine as a non-member, non-voting observer state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to the statehood initiative as “a gross violation of the agreements signed with the State of Israel.”

First, the Israeli leadership announced approval of settlement construction which could over years result in up to several thousand new residential units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and create a geographic puzzler over how to effectively draw statehood lines for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Second, the government has indicated it is planning to withhold taxes and customs collected from Palestinian companies and workers. The $100 million or so that would have been transferred to the Palestinian Authority will go to repay PA obligations, such as large bills owed to the Israel Electric Corp., operated by the Israeli government.

Certainly Israel has the ability to make these pronouncements and take these actions. Israel also has consistently taken the position it has the legal right to do so, though there are some detractors that challenge that right, as to both the settlement issue and the withholding of payments.

The more important question currently, however, is whether these moves by Netanyahu and his fellow leaders are wise from the perspective of enhancing Israel’s long-term safety and security. That’s where we are not entirely sure.

On one hand, there are plenty of Israel’s enemies who are not to be trusted; who have denied the right of Israel to exist; and who have refused to negotiate in good faith. Israel just concluded a battle with Hamas, an organization regarded internationally as a terrorist group and incapable of getting beyond its hate of the Jewish State. Moreover, the unilateral pursuit of the U.N. vote by Abbas was taken as violative of the Oslo Accords and statement of principles that derived from them.

The fact that there’s widespread, viral hatred toward Israel isn’t enough, however, to guarantee that any responsive action taken by Netanyahu and his colleagues should be accepted at face value as the best ploy to protect and further the interests of his nation. We defend and support Israel under any circumstances, of course, but that doesn’t make us turn off our logic switch in considering the optimum ways to achieve lasting peace.

Netanyahu, as is his wont, met force with force against both Hamas (physical) and Abbas (political). In the first instance, he chose well. The relentless fire of rockets from Hamas and its allies was correctly met with the fierce and fleet Pillar of Defense operation. We supported and appreciated that retaliation by the Israel Defense Forces as a physical response to the repeated terrorist targeting of civilians, both in the south of Israel and near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

On the other hand, meeting the Abbas gambit with the threat of massive settlement construction and the withholding of tens of millions of levied charges seems like a tactic that has little to recommend it other than domestic political advantage and bluster.

Look what Bibi’s gained by the move versus what he’s risked. In advance of parliamentary elections, he solidifies his right-wing bloc by waving his fist at Abbas and asserting that Israeli, not international, law dictates what may happen in the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria.

But at what cost? If he empowers construction throughout the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, then the ability to create an effective two-state solution — the true backbone of the Oslo results he criticized Abbas for violating — diminishes substantially. He loses a window to drive an international wedge between Abbas and Hamas, and set up the former as the “true” negotiating party for peace. And all the while, his international coalition of support fragments, as the foreign offices of major Western European powers chastise the leader for his visceral decision on settlements.

Netanyahu has a tendency to lead with his proverbial fists, which sometimes is the proper call and sometimes not. In Gaza, he had the ability and the right to defend Israel, his enemy was wrong, and he acted correctly. In the West Bank, he had the ability and, at least per Israeli law, had the same right. Was his enemy wrong? Maybe. Was Bibi right? That’s not nearly as evident as it was in Gaza.