Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister of Israel, distinguished himself with his diplomatic skills last on Sunday October 10 at a dinner with the foreign ministers of Spain and France. Bernard Kouchner, international “French Doctor” renowned for co-founding Médecins sans frontières, said that “We want to be able to soon welcome the state of Palestine to the United Nations. This is the hope and the desire of the international community, and the sooner that happen the better”. He even said that “[t]he international community cannot be satisfied with a prolonged deadlock. I therefore believe that one cannot rule out in principle the Security Council option.” Big words, however Kouchner later backtracked somewhat in diplomatese, “But the establishment of a Palestinian state must come as a result of the peace process and be the fruit of bilateral negotiations.”
However, this potential-maybe recourse to a UN body where the American veto is systematic was already too much meddling in Israel’s affairs. Lieberman told Kouchner to “[s]olve your own problems in Europe before you come to us with complaints. Maybe then I will open to your suggestions.” What problems should Europe solve first before having the right to talk about Israel-Palestine? Lieberman cited the Caucasus, Cyprus, Kosovo, Somalia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq (no joke). Lieberman did not say, however, that Europeans had to cure cancer and send a man to Mars before being able to comment on the conflict.
After these words of advice, Lieberman brought out the big guns: “In 1938, the European community decided to appease Hitler instead of supporting Czechoslovakia and sacrificed them without gaining anything.” He added, in case you didn’t get the analogy, “We will not be the Czechoslovakia of 2010. We will ensure the security of Israel.” Oh dear, the “A-word” and the “H-word” all in one sentence. In a follow up meeting, Defence Minister Ehud Bark was reportedly much more diplomatic with the European ministers.
Now, Lieberman’s “1938” was off the cuff. It is no indication of either a coherent communication strategy or a sign of any particular new threat to Israel. Rather, referring to Czechoslovakia in any and all circumstances is a pavlovian reflex among many Israeli officials. Ariel Sharon used the analogy in 2001 when he warned the West “to not try and appease the Arabs.” Lieberman made the comments with reference to the current negotiations with the Palestinians – evidently Nazi Germany-like in their power – during which Israel has refused even the courtesy of extending a 10-month partial freeze on settlement building in the West Bank.
In contrast, back in 2006 current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the same comparison to 1938 in a formal speech in the context of a much-discussed and never-occurred potential Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Netanyahu was more the point though: “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.” Quite. He added that Iran’s nuclear arsenal was being created to destroy Israel, the U.S. and the “moderate Satan” Europe. Continuing with the analogy, he said that “[n]o one cared then and one seems to care now”. But, a ray of hope: “There is still time. All ways must be considered. We can’t let this thing happen.” It was 2006… and time was running out.
Four years later, Iran still has no nukes, Israel did nothing and still exists, and Europe has yet to be punished with swift Muslim atomic vengeance for its supposed “appeasement”. Now, assuming bad analogy years are the same length as real years, we find that Netanyahu and his foreign minister Lieberman are in a serious disagreement. According to the Prime Minister we are not in 1938 but are actually living today in 1942. And, near as I can tell, Poland has yet to be annexed, France has not fallen, Britain has not been blitzed, the Soviet Union has not been invaded and Pearl Harbour has not been bombed.
Presumably this series of non-events is cause to celebrate the effectiveness of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Or perhaps it is a sign of Israeli ministers, in perfectly good faith, would make horrible weather forecasters.