In Woody Allen’s film Love and Death, a Russian cavalry sergeant is giving a pep talk to his troops. Allen, playing a soldier named Boris, interrupts with a question: “What do we win?”
Boris’ deflating question comes to mind after Benjamin Netanyahu returned home from his week of news-making diplomacy in the United States. Few could witness his incredibly commanding performance before a joint session of Congress and not conclude it was some sort of victory. That was the Bibi American Jews remember from his ambassador days, when a black-haired Netanyahu appeared on Nightline and schooled Ted Koppel in the finer points of Mideast policy.
Many observers felt Netanyahu offered the same education to President Obama, reminding him that the 1967 borders are “indefensible” and hinting that Israel would not tolerate a recalibration of previous agreements between Washington and Jerusalem. In his congressional talk, a calm and collected Netanyahu bypassed the president altogether, bringing the American lawmakers to their feet with a combination of pointed humor and red-meat lines about Israel and America’s shared values (“Israel is America’s unwavering ally”), Israeli achievement (“You don’t need to do nation-building in Israel. We’re already built”), and seeming concessions (“Some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders”).
But if Netanyahu “won” the week, it is still fair to ask, “What did we win”? There was no progress in restarting the frozen Middle East talks and no pressure put on Mahmoud Abbas. Obama was hobbled in his efforts to convince Europeans to join him in condemning unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood. With the statehood steam engine rumbling down the track, the only “victory” was for a status quo that threatens to deteriorate into something more dangerous.
That sense of a pyrrhic victory was expressed in an essay by Shaul Mofaz, chairman of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee and one of Israel’s most respected defense experts. (He served as IDF chief of staff under Netanyahu, no less.) Writing on the Ynet Hebrew website, Mofaz warned that Netanyahu’s warmly received speeches failed to address the essential and existential choices facing Israel. “The echoes of the stormy applause in Congress will fade within hours, but the problems, challenges, and threats will remain,” wrote Mofaz, according to J.J. Goldberg’s translation. “Fine words are no replacement for leadership. Punchy sentences aren’t a replacement for deeds. September is only four months away and the reality is not going to change — the threats will become reality, the seeming quiet will turn to violent, bloody confrontation.”
Now that the diplomatic storm has passed, we hope two “unwavering allies” find their way back to a plan of action and a vision for achieving peace.