At last, here's some good news to cheer us all up: tourism to Israel is on the upswing. And oddly enough, this is thanks in no small measure to the United States government.
The Tourism Ministry announced last week that in the first 11 months of the year, the number of visitors to the Jewish state soared to 2.1 million, a rise of 24% over 2006.
And while the press release didn't specify just how many of those pilgrims came bearing US diplomatic passports, it is clear from the headlines over the past few months that the number is anything but small.
Indeed, it seems that just about everyone in Washington, perhaps with the exception of the White House gardener, has been here for a stay, including Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Middle East envoy Gen. (ret.) Jim Jones and officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
But of course the hands-down winner of the most frequent-flyer miles over the Atlantic is none other than Condoleezza Rice herself. The Secretary of State has raided the mini-bar at Israeli hotels on seven occasions since the start of the year, including four stopovers since August.
That's more visits to Israel than most American Jews make in a lifetime. And now, President Bush himself is slated to come here in two weeks.
As much as some might like to think that this flurry of sightseeing is related to the quality of Israeli hotels and their facilities, the reality of course is quite different.
The comings and goings are undoubtedly connected to the attempts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, as Washington races against the clock to forge an agreement before the end of George W. Bush's term of office.
But while the dollars injected into the local economy by these visits are most certainly welcome, we can not overlook the heavy price-tag that comes along with them, as American officials will be pushing Israel to make dangerous concessions.
The Jewish state has already been put on the defensive over housing construction in Jerusalem, and media reports in recent days indicate that Washington is pressing for the IDF to dismantle Jewish outposts in Judea and Samaria in advance of Bush's trip.
This is only the beginning, and given the government's propensity to capitulate, we can expect much worse in the coming months.
To some extent, all this back-and-forth trekking by American officials brings to mind Henry Kissinger's "shuttle diplomacy" after the Yom Kippur War, when he sought to bring about the signing of an interim agreement between Israel and Egypt.
BUT IN fact what we are witnessing now is something much worse. It is what I refer to as "shtetl diplomacy," which is when the sovereign government of the State of Israel reverts back to the age of Jewish powerlessness in 19th century Eastern Europe and acts accordingly.
Instead of doing what is in Israel's best interests, such as strengthening the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and putting an end to Palestinian rocket attacks on Sderot and the Negev, the government turns to Washington for its marching orders.
The result is that our government seems to show more concern for what the US State Department thinks than what the Israeli public deserves.
This hyper-sensitivity to the sentiments of others, even when it comes at the expense of our national security, was on clear display last week. As the Post reported, Israel has refrained from sharing videotapes with the US Congress which prove that Cairo is assisting Hamas with arms smuggling in order "to avoid infuriating the Egyptians."
That's right. We're so afraid of what Hosni Mubarak might think, that we don't want to risk offending him, even if he continues to brazenly arm our enemies.
And as if that weren't absurd enough, Israel also retreated last week from plans to revive a Jewish neighborhood in northern Jerusalem. Less than 24 hours after Haaretz revealed the Housing Ministry's proposal to build thousands of apartments in Atarot, Minister Ze'ev Boim was quick to back-track, with his spokesman admitting the idea had been shelved because of the "peace process."
The Olmert government seems to have forgotten that a sovereign state is not supposed to behave like a submissive serf, but rather like a proud and independent entity.
And that is why it is time to try something radically different. Instead of "shuttle diplomacy" or "shtetl diplomacy," neither of which has worked very well, let's take a page out of the sports sections of American newspapers and give "steroids diplomacy" a try.
As a report issued two weeks ago by former US senator George Mitchell revealed, American baseball players have produced record-breaking results over the past decade thanks in no small measure to the illicit substances, which enhanced their strength and improved their feats.
Scrawny players were transformed into muscle-bound hulks, while meek performers became fearless competitors on the field of play.
Doesn't that sound exactly like what Israel's negotiators so desperately need? Sure, steroids are illegal, but then again, matters of legality have never been this government's strongest point.
Perhaps a little injection of some "Jewish growth hormone," along with an added dose of national pride, would finally do the trick, and help our government to protect the nation's interests rather than forgo them.
Given the way in which they have been conducting themselves of late, a bit of "steroids diplomacy" might just give our feeble leaders the boost they need to stop retreating and to start fighting for what is rightfully ours.