Colette Avital is a former consul general of Israel in New York and a former member of Knesset for Labor. On Sunday in New York, she was asked by Bradley Burston at the Haaretz New Israel Fund conference what steps should be taken to move Israel away from its intransigence on the peace process. She said only international pressure would have that effect.
Let me start by saying something personal. For almost 40 years I was a member of the Israeli foreign service and not only my job but my passion was to build support for the state of Israel in every single shape or form, whether by convincing journalists, politicians… trying to influence people how to vote at the United Nations. That was what I did.
Today I am coming here to say that without foreign intervention, without pressure on Israel, nothing will move. It certainly is not easy for me to have made that change. And that change is necessary, it has been necessary to me. I love the country, I am Zionist, but I do not approve of the policies. So there is a difference between supporting Israel as a country and objecting to its policies. And it’s in the spirit that I would like to say what I think should be done.
And what I think should be done is to try to get through the bubble in which the Israelis live. It is not only Netanyahu or [Naftali] Bennett or [Uri] Ariel who are the drivers. For that you need the public. And I would say the public has swayed very much to the right. It is living in a kind of bubble where everything is possible. The prime minister is doing anything he can conceive or think because he thinks that this is being done with impunity. He has managed to convince the Israelis, not only that we do not have a partner but that the Arabs have always hated us, they always hate us… There’s no way in normal civility to ever have any kind of agreement with the Palestinians.
So what I think has to be done is a combination of things to reach the Israeli public. I do not think we can change the mind of Netanyahu. He is immune to criticism, he has brought relations with the United States to the point that we know, the lowest point. He objects from time to time to what the foreign minister of Sweden says, but he is really doing what he wishes because he thinks that nobody is going to punish him, because he thinks for instance that in America at the end of the day any politician will need the support of the Jewish community, so there is no real pressure of America on Israel.
I think that many things can be done on the political level, if for instance the United States and Europe got together, seriously, as they have done on the issue of Iran and tried to see how to move whatever what they want to call it– the peace process is a word we’re not using anymore– but to move to some kind of peace conference in the Middle East. I think we need to reach the public opinion. We need to try to get to the Israelis to understand that this occupation has a price.
Avital opposed labeling of settlement goods by European countries as insufficient to convey that understanding. She also did not endorse Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, saying that Israeli academics oppose the settlements and don’t need to be pressured to do so. But she did call for European countries to demand that Israelis get a visa before visiting Europe. This would create an “outcry.” She emphasized that the pressure could not only be on the Israeli government:
I believe that without an international intervention, without putting some form of pressure, not only on the government, but on the people… that is a necessity.
Avital’s message about Netanyahu’s impunity is one that many critics of US foreign policy have tried to make, from Walt and Mearsheimer to MJ Rosenberg to Stephen Sniegoski, even Tom Friedman, when he said that the Congress is bought and paid for by the Israel lobby; and that analysis has been redlined. It has been called anti-Semitic. She is plainly talking about money, the Adelson primary that is taking place in the Republican theory and the Saban clinch that Hillary Clinton is performing. The Israel lobby is (sadly) a theory of Jewish influence. Netanyahu shares it.