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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Israel needs a Logan Act

I have discussed the United States' Logan Act several times on this blog, most recently here and here.

Many of you outside of Israel may never have heard of Shaul Mofaz, but he's a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff, and he's number 2 in the opposition Kadima party. For the past two weeks, he has been promoting a 'peace plan' of his own in the United States. He doesn't represent the Israeli government, and for that matter, his own opposition party hasn't even discussed his plan. But he's been in the US, meeting with high level Obama administration officials on 'Israel's behalf' to discuss his plan. And he's not the first one to do this either.

Evelyn Gordon explains why what Mofaz is doing is harmful to Israel's interests.
First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. [Yossi] Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative [Beilin's plan. CiJ], for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.
I would go a step further, and I believe that Evelyn would agree with me. It's not enough for Israel to sit back and expect foreign governments not to talk with their favorite Israeli politicians, or with Israeli politicians who present plans that the foreign governments prefer. We need to be proactive. We need a law on the books that will prohibit anyone who is not authorized by the incumbent government from negotiating with foreign governments on 'our behalf.' We need a Logan Act. And unlike the US, we might even need to prosecute someone under it to convince everyone that we mean what it says.


At 1:09 PM, Blogger sarah leah said...

and how do we know that this is not being condoned "off-the-record" by the powers that be?

At 1:19 PM, Blogger A Soldier's Mother said...

I thought this years ago when Yossi Beilin was opening his mouth abroad. Absolutely critical that this be brought to Israel because there are few who do as much damage to Israel than our leaders in the opposition and our current president. I cringe almost every time they go abroad and open their mouths!

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

American politicians or ex-politicians or their intermediaries frequently engage in their own diplomacy at odds with the nation's diplomacy. This can include presidential candidates.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

In a free society, people will do free-lancing. Its not a question of their doing so much as a question of the government's willingness to defend its own interests before the world. I should like to remind Carl the US Logan Act has never been enforced and its highly unlikely an Israel version would be enforced. Mofaz's plan has no chance of success because Hamas is not going to accept Israel's existence - and the chance the Palestinians are going to accept less of Judea and Samaria than they have already been offered is a pipe dream.


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