Israel not tough enough with U.S., former diplomat says at Begin Conference

At the 2nd annual Menachem Begin Memorial Conference organized by Likud Anglos, speakers address issues facing Israel; former diplomat Yoram Ettinger calls on Israeli leadership to be more self confident when dealing with U.S.; Professor Moshe Sharon discusses Israel and the West’s failures in negotiating in the Middle East; Likud Anglos director Daniel Tauber  calls for electoral reform and to keep the Likud democratic. 

JERUSALEM, Sunday April 1st, 2012—Yoram Ettinger, a former Consul-General to the U.S. and long-time diplomatic official, called on Israel to be “tough” with the United States, at a conference named for the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, organized by Likud Anglos and several groups, held at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

According to Ettinger, who also served as the Minister for Congressional Affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington D.C., Israeli defiance of American pressure actually strengthens the U.S.-Israel relationship, as counterintuitive as that may seem.

“[W]hile Israeli Prime Ministers said no and no and no and were rebuked and rebuked and rebuked,” Ettinger said, “the relationship, the scope of strategic and commercial cooperation between the U.S. and Israel, surged dramatically. And I suggest, because of defiance of pressure and not in spite of defiance of pressure.”

Ettinger cited anecdotes from his time in Washington in which prominent members of the U.S. Senate told Israeli leaders that they need not kowtow to the demands of the president of the U.S. in order to receive U.S. support.

In one instance, Ettinger said that a high-level Israeli official had actually offended then-Senate majority leader George Mitchell by stating that Israel would not resist American pressure against settlement construction.

In another example Ettinger provided, at a meeting between Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir and Senatorial leaders, Senator Minority Leader Bob Dole told Shamir that while he did not agree with Shamir’s policies, he nevertheless respected him, “because you are tough.”

Ettinger reiterated repeatedly his belief that Israeli prime ministers since Shamir have not been sufficiently tough with the United States

“The U.S. is not seeking a punching bag as an ally in the Middle East.  The US is seeking, in the words of some Texans, from my time in Texas . . . an Israel which is led by the meanest SOB in the valley,” Ettinger said.

“When you have the meanest SOB in the valley, you know on a rainy day you can count on that person. I’m not sure that the caliber of leaders since 1992 justifies such expectations.”

Also speaking at the conference was Professor Moshe Sharon, an expert on Arab society who served as an adviser to Menachem Begin during the peace negotiations with Egypt. Sharon currently lectures at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the Jewish Statesmanship Center.

Sharon set forth rules of negotiation in negotiating with Arabs. His main contention was that Arab negotiators take advantage of Western naïveté and openness in negotiations.

“The merchandise in the Middle East which Israel wants to buy all the time is peace,” Sharon said, but “the Arabs see that Israel wants peace very much, so the price rises all the time.”

More than that, Sharon said that the “peace” Israel seeks, “doesn’t exist in the Arab shops,” yet “Israel is ready to pay with the territory, which is a very important thing.”

Sharon also pointed out that even to this today, Arab leaders do not accept, let alone desire, the principle of “two states for two peoples.”

“Nobody is interested in two states for two peoples,” Sharon said. They “are interested in doing everything possible in order to destroy the State of Israel, and if possible even to kill every Jew in this country.”

Likud Anglos Executive Director Daniel Tauber, the first speaker of the evening, discussed Begin’s contributions to Israeli democracy, specifically Begin’s promotion of the concept of the “loyal opposition” and breaking the domination of the Labor movement over Israeli politics.

Tauber said that the current challenge to Israeli democracy was Israel’s party-based system, calling it a “miphlogatia,” which encourages sectarianism and “minoritarianism” and places undue influence in the hands of party insiders and unprincipled vote contractors.

In order to overcome these problems, Tauber called for electoral reform: specifically, for district-based elections for a majority of Knesset seats and for greater public participation in political parties.

Tauber, who was recently elected to the Likud Central Committee, also heavily criticized recently aired proposals to cancel Likud primaries and transfer the power to elect Knesset members from the party’s 120,000 members to the 3,500-member Central Committee or to a new body of several thousands members.

“Instead of empowering the individual, [the proposal] aims to turn him into a freier [Hebrew slang for sucker],” Tauber said. “The party has told you that you have a vote, takes your money, makes you wait almost a year-and-a-half to use your membership rights, and at the moment you’ve been waiting for—the one chance in Israel’s system where you can vote for an actual person—it takes it away from you.”

He said that the proposal was embarrassing for the party and that it should not have been necessary for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is the chairman of the Likud, to declare his opposition to the scheme.

In addition to speeches, the audience was treated to various film shorts, including subtitled footage of Begin’s famous “Tchachtchachim” speech in which he criticized the Labor movement for its anti-Sephardic behavior. Begin gave the speech at the site where a Labor rally had been held a day before, during which comedian Dudu Topaz referred to Sephardic Likud members as “tchachtchachim” a pejorative word for wild or uncivilized people. Begin said that in the Irgun, European and Eastern Jews fought side by side admirably. The speech is considered one of the milestones in Begin’s ultimately successful campaign to lead the government.

Another video shown was a series of man-on-the-street interviews of Jerusalemites speaking about the late Prime Minister and his influence on the country and themselves. The video was produced by Likud Anglos Deputy Director Ariel Pulver. 

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