Choose wisely, Mr. Prime Minister

What will it be: Peace and stability, albeit at a price? Or going down in history as the leader who preferred the cheers of a foreign legislature and homegrown rejectionists over the needs of his own people?

By COLETTE AVITAL
June 13, 2011 23:46
4 minute read.
COLETTE AVITAL

COLETTE AVITAL 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israelis were glued to their televisions last month, listening to a torrent of eloquent speeches from Washington, DC. With his rich language, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu won over both houses of Congress – which couldn’t seem to cheer loudly enough – as well as his hard-Right base at home.

Most Israelis, however, were left cold.

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When you’ve lived with an unresolved, violent conflict for this long, the cheers of Congress do not help.

What matters is that we find a way to get past rhetoric and take our country’s future back into our own hands.

This, I’m sorry to say, our prime minister failed to do.

Indeed, in reaching for the applause of American lawmakers and Israeli extremists, Netanyahu managed to slap away the hand extended by Israel’s most stalwart ally. Like every president in the past 10 years, President Barack Obama understands that for Israel to have peace and security, it will have to adopt a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. But Netanyahu was having none of it.

Rather than embrace the peace plans put forward for 20 years, he chose to stir up faux controversy and insist that the “status quo” – a situation that has been deteriorating for years – can last forever.

In so doing, Netanyahu not only declined America’s help in getting out of our deadly stalemate, he missed a golden opportunity to help us determine our own fate.

Instead, here we stand, mere months away from a United Nations vote on Palestinian sovereignty, with no more vision than we’ve had for years. The world will move on, Palestinian statehood will probably be approved by a sizable number of states, and Israel – a nation predicated on the Jewish people taking their future into their own hands – will be forced to react and “refuse” again, alienating the world .

To make matters worse, the vote won’t change much on the ground. No – the occupation will still be in place, settlements will continue to expand, and the conflict will still be unresolved.

But violence may erupt, and IDF soldiers will have to react on what by then will be considered Palestinian territory, so Israel will find itself in an even deeper morass.

WHAT A reversal of fortunes! The Palestinians – long seen as refusing to yield and waiting for others to resolve their problems – have launched an ingenious diplomatic offensive. At a time when all the world is focused on Arab revolution, this move is irresistible. It’s as if the torch of state-building has passed from our nation to theirs.

In the absence of diplomatic movement, the Palestinians have taken matters into their own hands, beginning the hard work of creating state institutions from the ground up, while Israel’s leaders have remained trapped in their mental paralysis.

If our government doesn’t snap out of it, Israel will find itself increasingly isolated.

Already, hardly a day goes by without yet another boycott against our business, academic or cultural communities, while even friendly governments level harsher and harsher pronouncements against us.

Not surprisingly, Israel’s far Right greeted Obama’s speeches with fear and resentment, wildly applauding Netanyahu’s belligerent response. Some individuals even suggested that the president appeared to lack basic knowledge of regional geography – when it would seem our own prime minister doesn’t know how to read a map. If he did, he wouldn’t have set us on a collision course with our greatest friend and ally.

Realistically Netanyahu now has three choices: recognize the Palestinian state and present his own peace plan, with more flexibility and less fear; accept the parameters reiterated by Obama last month, thus joining our greatest ally in a new diplomatic initiative; or do nothing, dig in and wait.

It appears the prime minister has chosen the latter, though the sad truth is that we no longer have the luxury of attempting to wait out our problems.

The status quo is simply not sustainable, the situation is worsening, and events now shaking the Arab world won’t spare Palestinian society.

Whereas a renewed peace process enjoying some measure of success would ensure the success of pragmatic forces in Palestinian society, a continuing lack of progress will give Hamas and other extremists the upper hand.

Frankly put: Our only chance at survival as a Jewish, democratic state is by having a peaceful Palestinian state at our side. What will my prime minister’s choice be? Peace and stability, albeit at a price? Or going down in history as the prime minister who preferred the cheers of a foreign legislature and homegrown rejectionists over the needs of his own people?

The writer served as Israel’s consul general in New York (1992-1996), and as an MK in the Labor and One Israel parties (1999-2009).


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