The question facing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is how he wants to remembered: as someone who led his people to a historic reconciliation, along the lines of Nelson Mandela, or as a modern-day Marie Antoinette, spending some NIS 6,000 a year on scented candles to hide the whiff of the diplomatic decay in Israel’s international standing.
No matter how much of the taxpayers’ money Netanyahu spends on watering the lawns of his private villa in Caesarea, the only greenery that really matters is that of the Green Line and the final fixing of Israel’s borders under a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
As former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin warned last week, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians poses a greater existential danger to Israel than Iran’s nuclear program. Describing the current state of affairs in the West Bank as a powder-keg, Diskin bluntly stated that “the alternative to the vision of a two-state solution is one state. In a situation like this, the vision of a democratic Jewish state will disappear. This is perhaps the last opportunity to reach a two-state solution.”
Of course, rather than deal with Diskin’s analysis head on ‒ particularly his trenchant criticism of this government’s settlement expansion policy which, the former Shin Bet head argued, had undermined any possibility of a rapprochement with the Palestinians who “feel that their state is being stolen from them” ‒ Netanyahu’s cronies quickly launched an ad hominem attack on the former security official, accusing him of bitterness after reportedly being passed over for the job of Mossad head.
Such “go for the man, not the ball” tactics are typical of those who lack any real counter-arguments. Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank will inevitably lead to an apartheid-like situation, with Israel’s Jewish minority between the Mediterranean and Jordan River becoming 21st-century Afrikaners. To talk, as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman did this weekend in Washington, of simply managing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as opposed to seeking to resolve it, is to ignore the dynamics of demography.
FORTUNATELY , the new leader of the opposition, Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog, is aware of these dangers. Unlike his predecessor Shelly Yacimovich, who foolishly tried to ingratiate herself with the settlement movement, Herzog understands the importance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, even at the cost of major territorial concessions, in order to keep the Zionist dream of a democratic Jewish state alive.
In a magazine profile in this weekend’s Yediot Aharanot, Herzog re-affirmed Labor’s pragmatic stance concerning any future agreement: “We have to be realistic and go for [keeping] settlement blocs in return for land swaps. This is the truth and it’s about time we internalized it. Regardless of how hard it is, there’s no alternative but to divide the land.”
As for Jerusalem, Herzog said he saw no reason why it couldn’t function as the capital for two states; a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem and Israel’s capital in west Jerusalem.
Herzog also correctly put the Iranian issue into perspective: “My advice to the Israeli people and Netanyahu is to calm down a little. You can’t live the whole time against the background of sirens. Today is not Munich 1938.”
The task facing Israel now is not to further undermine the country’s relations with Washington by public spats over the interim agreement with Tehran, but to work with President Barack Obama to ensure that any final agreement succeeds in stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
Frustratingly for Netanyahu’s lackeys, as the son of a former president of the country and the grandson of Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, and a successful lawyer in his own right, there’s no cause for bitterness in Herzog’s background for them to attack in order to divert attention from his actual arguments.
Herzog made it clear in his interview that if Netanyahu was ready to truly set Israel on the path towards peace with the Palestinians, then Labor would be ready to support him. The question, as always, is what does Netanyahu really want: to live up to his words to US Secretary of State John Kerry last week that “Israel is ready for historic peace, and it’s a peace based on two states for two peoples,” or to continue to appease his right-wing supporters and further entrench Israel’s grasp on the West Bank.
Given Netanyahu’s failure until now to act decisively on the diplomatic front during his three terms as prime minister, it’s clear that his peace rhetoric should be viewed much in the same light as the household expenses he charges to the taxpayer: exaggerated and out of touch with the real world.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.