Opinions Yedioth Ahronoth

Ashkenazi’s Challenges

Gabi Ashkenazi, the former IDF Chief of Staff, is the first Israeli Foreign Minister in the last 11 years whose views are not shaped by the Israeli right-wing ideology.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Ephraim Sneh | Yedioth Ahronoth

Three main challenges face the new Foreign Minister.

The first is rebuilding the relations with the non-evangelical America. In the Netanyahu years, the strategic US-Israel alliance has been downgraded to a political-tactical alliance of the Evangelical-religious right wing of the Republican party and the circle that surrounds the Israeli PM. The vital US friendship with Israel lost its bipartisan nature. More people in the Democratic party feel that the government of Israel is politically identified with President Trump’s political camp. Today, more Jewish Americans, mainly young and liberal, feel alienated from the Jewish state. In these groups, which make up backbone of democratic America, there is a strong need to relate to a different Israel, one that is not overwhelmed by messianic religious sentiments and the desire for annexation. It is with this part of the North American Jewish community, that which feels alienated and abandoned by Israel, that the new Foreign Minister can establish a new relationship.
The second is the renewal of the strategic dialogue with Europe. I don’t mean with the small group of illiberal states in center and eastern Europe, Netanyahu’s like-minded friends. I mean those countries that have traditionally led the EU with a majority across EU institutions. These countries have a strong desire to conduct a meaningful dialogue with a different Israel, the Israel they have known in the past. But today, no such dialogue exists.

That is the way the official Israel “punishes” the majority of EU countries for their support of the two-state solution and their objection to annexation plans. Ashkenazi’s outstretched hand to Europe will not be ignored.

The third challenge is building new relations with the Arab Quartet (Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia), or as we call it “the moderate Arab states”. Today our relations with Jordan are at the lowest point ever, except the necessary security coordination. Netanyahu’s disrespectful attitude toward Jordan, like his photo-op with the security guard who shot two Jordanian citizens, can be blamed for this. More serious is the prevailing concept among right-wing politicians that the Hashemite Kingdom should disappear, replaced by a Palestinian state in the East Bank. Some influential Jordanians suspect that Netanyahu’s close advisors spread this idea in the White House, saying that Jordan can no longer be considered an asset of the United States in the region. If Israel’s new FM reiterates Israel’s strong commitment to the Jordanian Kingdom, with a flat-out rejection of the “Jordan is Palestine” idea, the bad-blood will quickly disappear. It may be a good start for a renewed friendship.

The relations with the Gulf states are currently maintained through low profile security cooperation with sporadic, rare, events of openness and normalcy. Netanyahu uses it to create a false image of “normalization around the corner”. But this is a false image created with the help of manipulated journalists. The political intention behind it is creating a false reality, as if the occupation of the West Bank can coexist with good, normal relations with Arab states. After many conversations in the region I can say with certainty that this notion is baseless. What Israel can do after the Coronavirus crisis is to offer help, mainly to Jordan and Egypt in practical, economic measures to overcome the economic hardships. Cooperation and support are feasible at least in terms of energy, agriculture and water. Such cooperation also can improve relations with more countries in the region. Ministry of Foreign affairs can lead this activity, as was successfully done in Africa in the sixties.

But one caveat is mandatory. Any act of annexation, even a limited one, would destroy all Israeli efforts of a breakthrough to old and new friends alike. The most critical challenge is at home – to remove the reckless idea of annexation from Israel’s agenda.

Dr. Sneh, a retired IDF General, served as minister and deputy minister in four Israeli cabinets. He is the Chairman of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic dialogue at Netanya academic college and member or Commanders for Israel’s Security.