It’s easy to say Netanyahu attempted to appease the Palestinians against the specter of a third intifada. When the next terror attack does happen, wherever it is—and it surely will happen—it will be far too easy to once again point the finger at Netanyahu’s so-called capitulation. Just as it is easy to blame every Israeli casualty during Operation Protective Edge on what people have been too quick to describe as his apparent gross mishandling of the incursion.
But while the reputation he has carved out for himself, rightly or wrongly, may be that of an appeaser who tends to collapse under pressure in other cases, in this case, it was a bold fold. While taking a domestic loss, he scored a key diplomatic victory.
To be sure, those metal detectors should have remained in place, at least for the foreseeable future. The old proverb of “give an inch, they take a mile” most certainly applies here when it comes to the Arab hyperbole emanating from Israel’s retreat. Removing them was undoubtedly interpreted by the Muslim world as a victory against “the Zionists.”
But do we really believe a veteran politician like Netanyahu had no idea that they would react the way they did?
Netanyahu is fully aware that metal detectors are required outside the compound, but there are short term goals and long term goals. It is his role to turn this abominable situation to Israel’s long-term advantage.
The Americans were in close contact with him in a bid to quell the rising tide of violence and may very well have nudged him into climbing down from the tree which—once again it is easy to forget—he did not voluntarily ascend.
While the Arab street may celebrate the removal of the metal detectors and ridicule Israel for its seemingly ignominious capitulation in the face of a few rock-throwers, to pay too much attention to this is to lose sight of the bigger picture.
Every war with Gaza or with other enemies these days inevitably ends with Hamas or some other opponent declaring victory as its subjects pour onto the streets to parade in a giant display of defiance against the Zionist invaders. Real strategists however, are unconcerned with such facades.
Real strategists are concerned with positioning the pieces to the best of their ability, even if it requires minor sacrifices, in order to checkmate the opponent. In this case, Netanyahu understands that the key piece is President Donald Trump.
Understanding Trump’s simply articulated worldview and open disgust for Islamic violence, Netanyahu eventually acquiesced in all demands made, much to the dismay of many of his supporters and justifiably concerned Israelis.
This may have been irrelevant under Obama, but as Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley once said, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”
Possibly at the quiet insistence of the Americans, the metal detectors were removed, along with security camera equipment despite the fact that two Israeli policemen were shot dead precisely because no such measures had previously been implemented.
Regardless of whether or not the Americans did pressure Netanyahu, Trump and his Middle East advisors witnessed an Israel prepared to “fold,” or compromise, on an issue in respect of which they absolutely should not have had to “fold”, against an insatiable, enraged, rock-throwing, blood-thirsty, suicidal mob screaming “Allahu akbar”, expressing their willingness, even eagerness, to die on their quest to see the dismantlement of metal detectors rather than on their quest for peace.
They see an abhorrent obsession with, and glorification of, death, a determination to become a martyr for reasons no reasonable, or sane person can begin to fathom.
They see a propensity to jump to religious violence the moment something occurs which is inconsistent, not with their religious beliefs, but with their desires. They see an Israel releasing bodies of three terrorists who earlier this month pulled the trigger on two Druze police officers, killing them both, and essentially setting the entire area ablaze.
Then they see thousands of supposedly peaceful Palestinians parading those same terrorists through the street, screaming and lionizing them as martyrs in the most undignified and abject funeral procession one can possibly imagine.
And who is the man openly encouraging this barbaric and backward behavior at worst, remaining silent about it at best? It’s none other than Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu knows that unlike Trump’s predecessor, his sight is crystal clear when it comes to such issues, and his ear is more finely tuned to notes of war being blasted out by the Arab street.
The metal detectors are but a small piece to sacrifice in Netanyahu’s overall strategy, as he constructs before Trump a board clearly pointing to one convincing outcome for any prospective peace talks: they are doomed to fail, and when they do, you have already seen with whom we are expected to do business.
Neither the Palestinians, nor their leaders, are partners for peace in any future negotiations. It doesn’t take construction of a home in Judea and Samaria to demonstrate it. It simply takes the installation of a few flimsy, temporary metal detectors in a location where three of their men carried out a murder.
Abbas may be hard-pressed to convince an individual like Trump that he seeks peace. With his rhetoric twice calling for a “day of rage” over the metal detectors and severing security ties with Israel, convincing Trump that he is truly a dove will be no small challenge.
On the other hand, Netanyahu will already have demonstrated flexibility on what can be considered a non-issue in the grand scheme of things. He will have shown that despite the sheer madness involved in removing the metal detectors, the Palestinians yet again demonstrated no flexibility, and that only he and he alone was ultimately willing to budge.
The Palestinians may rejoice at their self-proclaimed victory and Israelis and Jews may vent their anger at the “fold” but there is a time to flow with public opinion or anger, and a time to act against it.
One can surmise that this is all a ploy to deliberately derail the possibility of peace talks based on a two-state solution, but whether it is or isn’t, whether his approach is right or wrong, the process will not have been wrecked because Israel’s people were willing to die over a few metal detectors. It won’t be because Israel’s people were ready to die and murder over the slightest change with the encouragement of their leaders.
Once again, installing the metal detectors was the correct decision. As a political move however, removing them had nothing at all to do with attempting to pacify the Arab masses. Netanyahu knows that is impossible. The rationale behind the final decision had nothing to do with folding, but rather with showing the Americans who really sits on the other side of the table as Trump prepares to launch his peace initiative.