Netanyahu and Obama shake hands 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In November 1947, 10 years before I was born, the United Nations General
Assembly voted in favor of the creation of the State of Israel. Tens of
thousands of Jews took to the streets in spontaneous celebration, overwhelmed
Not everyone took part in this outpouring of bliss. My mother,
then 22, was one of the daring fighters in the underground movement who opposed
the British rule.
Yet, on the eve of the renewal of Jewish sovereignty in
our ancient homeland, she wrote this in her autobiography: “From a rooftop in
downtown Tel Aviv, I watched the crowd with an empty heart. The United Nations
approved a Jewish state without Jerusalem, without Hebron and Bethlehem, without
Judea and Samaria... I could not share in the joy of the crowds below... I felt
only the infinite grief of a slaughtered dream....”
perspective, those who celebrated were justified. My mother – and others – would
have preferred to wait until their vision of Greater Israel could be fully
attained. They did not appreciate the advantage of realpolitik over lofty
dreams. Leaders must come to terms with imperfect realities. Years may pass
before the wisdom and foresight of their decisions become apparent.
Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, chose to accept the UN’s resolution,
and paved the way for a Jewish state after 2,000 years of exile. Menachem Begin
showed the same courage when he accepted Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s
historic initiative for peace, even though it called for painful
These two leaders represent a strong argument for political
Our history, however, has also proved that such pragmatism
can be ill founded. The consequences of the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon
in 2000, and from the Gaza Strip in 2005, illustrate this. Hezbollah turned
South Lebanon into a fundamentalist Iranian proxy.
Hamas turned Gaza into
a terrorist launching pad, from which tens of thousands of rockets have been
fired at innocent civilians.
Hopeful pragmatism versus sober conviction –
these are the dilemmas facing Israel’s leadership today: How can we be sure that
our absolute commitment to security does not become the barrier to peace? How
can we guarantee that our willingness to break through existing barriers is not
misunderstood and exploited? What are the most critical issues, those on which
we cannot afford to compromise, because the price would be unbearable? Israel
has been dealing with such questions since its birth. In light of the current
regional upheaval, they are now more demanding than ever before.
MARCH 2011, Syria has been caught in chaos and anarchy. The civil war has
claimed the lives of over 70,000 people. Hundreds of thousands have become
Unlike Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, where regimes fell
relatively rapidly, Syria’s inner struggle has yet to be decided. The country is
falling apart, and the Islamic forces that are flowing into Syria to battle the
regime have made it a jihad arena.
Obviously, I am not going to discuss
who was responsible for the recent strike in Syria. But I do want to say
something about the reasons speculated upon by the media for why Israel might
have been responsible.
The theories that Israel attempted to intervene in
favor of the rebels, or to send the US the message that “if you don’t act, we
will” are in my opinion absolutely untrue.
Israel has no interest in
becoming embroiled in the internal struggle, nor would it use such means to
encourage an ally to do so. If it were true that Israel carried out airstrikes
in Syria, its only purpose would be to prevent the delivery of advanced, “game
changing” weapons into the hands of terrorist organizations.
It is safe
to assume that as Assad’s chances of survival diminish, Hezbollah will increase
its efforts to take control of strategic arms, including unconventional weapons
and advanced Iranian missiles. While these consequences pose security risks, on
the strategic level the downfall of the Syrian regime will deliver a severe blow
to Iran and its proxies.
In the short term, the fragile status quo of the
last few years will be shaken. In the long run, Syria’s removal from Iran’s
orbit will greatly increase the chances for true stability in the Middle
There currently seems to be no internal force in Syria capable of
ending the inhuman massacre. Therefore, the importance of dialogue and
cooperation between the regional countries, Israel, the US and Europe is all the
IN THE Palestinian arena, we need to restart the constructive
dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, after long years of standstill. The
impasse has had many causes: The gap between the parties’ positions still
remains deep even after two decades of diplomacy.
The division among
Palestinians, following the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, has led
Israelis to doubt Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s (Abu Mazen’s)
relevance as a reliable partner.
Confidence in Abu Mazen has been further
eroded by three developments: (1) the fact that Israel’s initiative to freeze
construction in the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria for 10 months did
not bring about a change in the Palestinians preconditions; (2) the
“reconciliation agreement” signed two years ago in Cairo between the PA and
Hamas; and (3) the unilateral initiative by the Palestinians, last November, to
be accepted as a nonmember observer state in the UN.
difficulties, I believe the conditions are ripe for a new attempt at breaking
The make-up of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new
government signifies a more moderate approach than the previous one. President
Barack Obama has entrusted Secretary of State John Kerry with bridging the gap
between the parties, and he has already demonstrated an ambitious and serious
The main reason for my careful optimism is that the two-state
solution is widely accepted among both Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu
publicly supports this idea, while also emphasizing the necessary conditions for
this vision to be viable.
These conditions are not easy for the
Palestinians to accept: recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; the end of the
conflict, and of all mutual claims; strict security principles, including a
demilitarized Palestinian state; renunciation of the Palestinian demand for the
return of refugees into the State of Israel; and the preservation of large
Israeli settlement blocs as part of a land swap agreement.
emphasize that these are conditions for a viable agreement, not preconditions
While the task is daunting, both sides are keenly aware
that time is not in their favor. Many Israelis understand that a lack of
progress in the peace process might lend legitimacy to the one-state idea, which
contradicts the vision of a Jewish democratic state.
now realize that their successful maneuver in the UN has limited value. Their
independence can be achieved only on the basis of direct negotiations with
Israel, which will lead to a historic compromise that both sides can live
My view is that the government of Israel needs to do all it can to
help the American effort to bring both sides back to the negotiating
There are unacceptable Palestinian preconditions, whose purpose is
to determine the outcome of the negotiations before they have begun. But there
are also confidence- building measures that Israel can implement to enable
Secretary Kerry’s success. It will be, after all, not only his success: millions
of Israelis and Palestinians are hoping for it. We must give it a
AND FINALLY, Iran. In the past, there have been doubts as to the
character and goal of the Iranian nuclear program.
Perhaps the only
positive development since this crisis began is that the differences in
intelligence assessments have largely been ironed out. Today all the leaders of
the free world recognize that Iran’s goal is to acquire a military nuclear
capability, and that this goal is close at hand.
We must admit that we
are nearing the moment when the major players will have to make difficult
The need to decide looms, first and foremost, over Iran’s
Other major decisions will be derived primarily from theirs.
Some analysts believe that the identity of Iran’s next president could influence
its policy. I think that this is a naïve expectation.
In Iran, strategy
is determined by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and he is not going
anywhere on June 14. Khamenei has had many opportunities to reach a reasonable
settlement. Innumerable meetings, rounds of talks, back-channel negotiations,
initiatives and mediation efforts have come and gone.
During the past two
years the international community, led by President Obama, has managed to unite
around the strongest set of sanctions yet. All the organizations that monitor
these developments are in agreement: the sanctions have had a profound effect on
the Iranian economy. Unfortunately, there is no sign at all that these economic
hardships are being translated into policy shifts.
The only time Iran has
ever halted its determined effort for the bomb was in 2003, when Iranian leaders
feared they would become the third target in the US’s War on Terrorism,
following Afghanistan and Iraq. It is therefore clear that a credible military
threat could have a real influence on Iranian policy.
So, if sanctions
and diplomatic efforts continue to prove ineffective, and the only options left
on the table are containment, or the use of force – should Israel place its fate
in the hands of the US? Can Israel be assured that its closest ally will act, in
due time, to remove the nuclear threat? My answer is no.
can be given by no president, and can be demanded by no prime minister. Israel
does not, and should not, expect such a commitment. Israel’s bond with the US is
unbreakable, and the threat posed to our nations by a nuclear Iran is mutual –
but at the end of the day we are each beholden to our own national security
policies and priorities.
Just as no president can commit to military
action unconditional of his own nation’s best interest – so can no prime
minister forsake his country’s inherent right for self defense.
Obama, during his recent visit to Israel, reiterated that Israel must be able to
defend itself by itself against any threat. And all of us in Israel thank the
president and appreciate this message of support. ■