I really had hopes for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Over the past two years I have been praising him as the best possible Israeli leader to negotiate peace with the Palestinians. Sometimes I even felt as if I was his best spokesperson. It’s the Nixon-China thing. In Israel you need the “Left” to make war and you need the “Right” to make peace. Only the Likud can do it – as their slogan used to be. With Netanyahu behind a peace deal with the Palestinians he would bring at least 70 percent of the Israeli public with him.
That’s what we need because the decisions that will have to be made in order to reach peace are very difficult and they could create serious divisions among Jewish Israelis. That’s why we need the leader of the right wing in Israel to be the one to make the deal.
In my lectures in Israel and around the world I would even tell about the letter that I wrote to Netanyahu after the successful negotiations to bring Gilad Schalit home.
In my book about the secret negotiations for the release of Schalit (The Negotiator) I wrote: “Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves praise for his decision to bring Schalit home. He weighed his principles of not negotiating with terrorists or freeing prisoners in a deal like this on one side of the scale and on the other placed the significance of a single soldier.
“Netanyahu had written the book on terror and had lectured around the world to leaders and to civilians that states should not bow down to terrorism. But there was another conflicting value on the other side of the scale: the unwritten Israeli covenant between the State of Israel and its people is that nobody is left behind. He decided against his personal principles to bring Gilad home. In this single decision he earned the title ‘leader.’” My biggest hope over the past two years has been that Netanyahu would prove once again that he is a leader. I had hoped that he would see beyond his positions that he has so well verbalized over years in favor of the bigger picture, the historic opportunity, the chance to fulfill a vision of Israel living in peace with its neighbors and using the enormous creative energies in this country to advance the State of Israel beyond imagination.
It seems I was wrong to place so much hope in Netanyahu.
People who know him well told me he would not do it. They said Netanyahu does not know how to make hard decisions. He is not capable of separating narrow coalition politics from the tasks of a statesman. Some said that he could change after the passing of his father and that he could finally look forward into the future without being constantly held back by history and by his father the historian. But this has apparently not happened.
Yes, he made the famous Bar-Ilan speech and called for a two-state solution. His father did comment the following day on IDF radio that he didn’t mean it. But let’s assume that he did, that he really was sincere in coming to the realization that for Israel’s sake there needs to be a Palestinian state next to Israel. I want to believe that he meant it. I do believe that he meant it. But now I also believe that Netanyahu has ultimately proved that he is not a leader. He is not capable of making a leadership decision. Instead, he will place the blame on the Palestinians.
He is very good at that. But the Palestinians have not earned all the blame.
Honestly, Netanyahu does not deserve all of the blame either. But that is almost irrelevant. I am mainly concerned with the future of Israel and Netanyahu is the decision maker for Israel. He is the prime minister. He is the man who was elected to lead and he is the person who history will judge very harshly for failing to lead Israel to peace.
Netanyahu has not even once presented an Israeli peace initiative. Netanyahu has not made one single offer to the Palestinians. He has told them over and over what he is against. Where is his map – not of the State of Palestine, where is Netanyahu’s map of the State of Israel? Where is his proposal on any single issue? What is his vision? What is his plan? These are questions the Israeli public must ask him. No one knows. Not one of his ministers.
No one in his party knows what he wants. Not a single one of his advisors can tell us how Netanyahu sees a possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If he believes there is no solution then why hasn’t he simply come out and said it? Why does he continue to hoax the world into believing that he is sincerely interested in negotiations? Negotiating what? What does he want the end result of negotiations to be? Any intelligent person, certainly any Israeli prime minister entering negotiations with the Palestinians, must have a pretty good idea of what would be acceptable to the other side.
If he doesn’t know that then we should all be very concerned about the intelligence and assessment experts that surround him. If he does know this and still comes to the conclusions that he could never offer them the minimum of what they demand, then why doesn’t he simply come out and say it? The occupation has been going on for almost 46 years.
It is not a temporary situation. This is as close to a permanent situation as one can imagine. Is it tolerable? Can it continue forever? I am not talking about what the Palestinians might do. Is this situation acceptable for us, for Israel? For Jews? Can we continue to rule over another people, forever denying them the same political rights that we demanded for ourselves? A majority of countries in the world today have already recognized the State of Palestine. It has not changed reality on the ground, but when the world understands that the so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a total charade, will they continue to accept that a member state of the United Nations is occupying another state? This is not a territorial dispute over a border issue. It is one state totally occupying another state. Surely this will not be acceptable forever.
Netanyahu has apparently failed. He has failed his state and his people. He has failed history. He had a chance, he could have done it. He decided to play petty politics. If he does not suddenly rise to the occasion, his government will soon fall, maybe not immediately, but it will fall and he will be remembered for his failures. If he does rise to the occasion, he will not only promise himself a place in history as one of Israel’s greatest leaders, he will also guarantee himself years more in the position of Israel’s prime minister. And most importantly, he will save Israel from the darkness that he has led us into until now.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.