Donald Macintyre: Better public relations won't improve Israel's image abroad

'We must delegitimise the delegitimisers' the Prime Minister has been quoted as saying

Share
Related Topics

The international furore over the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai has obscured a political event in Israel that might have otherwise made more headlines.

Last week, the country's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, decided not to meet a group of US Congressmen because their delegation included representatives of the fledgling "pro-Israel, pro-peace group" J Street. The group's respectability was underlined at its first convention last year by the presence as a keynote speaker of James Jones, President Obama's National Security Adviser, but its main misdemeanour appears to be that it does not believe that friendship with Israel entails fulsome agreement with every policy of the Israeli government of the day.

You can argue over whether extrajudicial executions on foreign soil facilitated by the use of European identities stolen from private citizens is – always assuming that Mossad was indeed responsible – the best way for a country facing international criticism to improve its image abroad. But boycotting legislators from your No 1 ally because they might have some questions about your foreign policy seems just self-destructive.

In December, Benjamin Netanyahu identified the need to combat the "Goldstone effect" as a foreign policy priority. In particular he charged that Judge Richard Goldstone's report on war crimes during the 2008-9 military offensive in Gaza was being used to "delegitimise" Israel's right to self defence. "We must delegitimise the delegitimisers," the Prime Minister has been quoted as saying. And in doing so he unleashed a wave of debate, which reached its zenith at the annual Herzliya conference this month, over how Israel could better conduct "hasbara" – literally "explaining" – to make its case abroad.

The familiar belief that the country's image is merely a matter of "hasbara" is all too easy to deride. The problem, it suggests, has nothing to do with what did or didn't happen in Gaza, only how good Israel is at conducting its public diplomacy. But it also misunderstands the larger context of the international criticism now faced by the Netanyahu government – one which may help to explain the unexpectedly rough ride Israel has had in Europe over the Dubai assassination as well as the absence of total support (at least from the British and French governments) over Goldstone.

In relation to Gaza, of course Israel would be in a stronger position to argue that it had nothing against Gaza's civilian population as a whole if it were to lift the commercial blockade on the territory, as most European governments believe, however tacitly, it should. And it's hard, to take just one other example, to see how Israel's security is enhanced by the fact that the UN can't build the scores of new schools it desperately needs and has the funds for, simply because it isn't allowed to import cement, which it is confident it can prevent falling into the hands of Hamas.

But there is another, largely unspoken, dimension to the fears about "delegitimisation" – a measure (and this shouldn't be exaggerated) of international impatience with the occupation and the fact that Israel after more than four decades still has no agreed borders. No less a figure than Dov Weissglass, who was the closest confidant and lieutenant to Ariel Sharon when he was Prime Minister, asserted after the UN human rights meeting last October that the climate was now different "in an extreme degree" from the one in which Israel had seen off complaints about alleged war crimes in the past.

In an article in Yedhiot Ahronot, Weissglass argued that only a few years ago the Palestinian Authority's wish for a state was a subject of "scorn" (and he should know since he was one of those scorning it). But it was now a "level-headed and moderate political entity", seen as a "fit and worthy party to a political arrangement".

He pointed out that the world sees Hamas's control of Gaza not as an obstacle to a diplomatic process but as "an incentive for accelerating it" since a PA-Israel deal might well weaken Hamas. In Weissglass' eyes, "the relationship between [Israel's] position on the conflict and its diplomatic standing around the world is absolute, direct and immediate" and "the [international] confidence in the seriousness of the Israeli government to achieve a political arrangement with the Palestinians is dwindling".

This is suddenly about to become relevant again. Having seen off President Obama's demand for a total settlement freeze, Netanyahu has been able to present himself as the one ready for talks without preconditions and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the one dragging his feet. But Abbas is almost certainly about to agree to "proximity" talks with the President's envoy George Mitchell shuttling between the two sides. Which will put Netanyahu's good faith to the test.

Pessimism about such diplomacy bringing an end to the conflict is now endemic. For a successful outcome Netanyahu would have to experience a near-miraculous conversion to a one to one deal on borders, the surrender of Area C, the vast tract of the West Bank controlled by Israel, the division of Jerusalem, and at least a formula on refugees of the sort discussed at Camp David in 2000 or with Ehud Olmert in the dying days of his premiership. And what will Washington do if he is not so converted?

Here, amid the bleak realities of the occupation's infrastructure and ever increasing Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there appears only one watery ray of hope, the plan of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to have a Palestinian state ready by 2011.

In an interesting interview with yesterday's Journal du Dimanche the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said he could "envision" recognition of such a state even if no agreement had been reached on its borders with Israel. Fayyad's plan would not end the occupation, of course. But were the UN Security Council to recognise a Palestinian state broadly on 1967 borders it would change the tectonic plates of the conflict. Israel would be left occupying a state which had the full panoply of legal and diplomatic rights.

Israel was quick to dismiss the idea yesterday, and is no doubt confident that the US would veto the idea. Past experience suggests that it is right. But what exactly would be the case for a veto? Gaza would be a serious problem but would Hamas risk opposing a Palestinian referendum and take the blame for sabotaging the one hope for a state? Israel itself has had for 43 years all the apparatus of international recognition without internationally agreed borders. Is it so inconceivable that a future Palestine should be afforded a parallel status?

No one can sensibly say this is a likely outcome. Yet the irony is that imposition of a solution, which a Security Council decision would be close to being, would actually be of equal benefit to both sides. The Palestinians would finally be within sight of realising their aspirations for a state. And Israel would finally be within sight of the entrenched and unbreakable legitimacy that only agreed and internationally ratified borders can, in the end, guarantee it.

d.macintyre@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album