Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves some compliments.
Compliment No. 1: As soon as it was clear that Russia was involving itself heavily in Syria, Netanyahu flew to Moscow to clarify face-to-face with Presid’ent Vladimir Putin what the Russian intentions and hopes were for Syria.
He also initiated a de facto collaboration technique to avoid potential clashes between Russian and Israeli forces, especially aircraft.
The prime minister thereby recognized that Russia will become puppet-master of some form of Syria, as it had been before 1967 and 1973, that is, before its arms and aircraft supplied to Egypt and Syria were crushed by Israeli soldiers and pilots using American arms.
Certainly, the American retreat from its redlines on Syria, drawn by US President Barack Obama in fading-to-invisible ink, signaled that the field was open. Russia leapt at the opportunity.
Netanyahu was right to rush off to Moscow to ensure Israel would retain relative freedom of action, and to state clearly to Putin what our interests are and will continue to be.
This is more than a tactical agreement.
It is a shift in Israeli strategy.
It should be seen as well in the wider strategic context of the fine work that has been done in tightening relations with India and improving Israel- Chinese ties.Compliment No. 2:
Israel has responded to Arab knife, drive-by and stone-throwing murders with sufficient force to slow down the number and scope of these human tragedies.
Although some feel that Israeli reactions to the situation are too extreme, the fact is that Netanyahu did not repeat the heavy-handed error made by his predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin. Reacting to the first intifada, Rabin said “we will break their bones.” Though probably used as a metaphor, this was actually acted upon by some of our commanders.Compliment No. 3:
Netanyahu, with the help of US Secretary of State John Kerry (surprise!!) sought to find a way with Jordan to eliminate the constant Muslim-PA claim that we changed and are changing the status quo. Installing effective camera surveillance can prove who incites. The mufti, chosen by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, rejects the planned camera supervision of the status quo.
(By the way, the mufti, the senior Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, has said that Haram al-Sharif or the Temple Mount has been a mosque since the world was created.
Well... A historian is born! And judging by what today’s Mufti Hussein said, perhaps the prime minister was not so wrong to refer to Hussein’s Nazi predecessor, Mufti Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini of 75 years ago.
Are they related by blood or just by hatred?) Netanyahu deserves credit for his proposal to install cameras on the Temple Mount. He has done so in the face of the extreme Right. This now not only includes Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi Party, dissident ex-Shas figures and the thinned-out Avigdor Liberman group but embraces parts of the Likud.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is also foreign minister. His deputy in that role, Tzipi Hotovely, announced that she can’t wait to see the Israeli flag waving over the mosque. This brilliant pearl of wisdom she cast before the world in a social media entry, just days – almost hours – after her prime minister and chief at the Foreign Ministry had garnered all his considerable rhetoric to insist that we have not changed, are not changing and will not change the status quo.
Hotovely represents the extreme face of the Likud Kahanist element. She and the other extremists will do all they can to unseat Netanyahu. I am afraid that current extremist incitement may presage dreadful events.
In meeting Putin and in tempering the reaction to the wave of Palestinian murders, Netanyahu has moved from politician to statesman. He has placed Israel’s national interests above sectoral desires, and even over resonances of our history.
His detractors will say, “It’s not him.
It’s his advisers.” Regardless of the paternity of these policies, it is the person who approves them and carries them out who is the one to wear the laurels.
A caveat. Would the present hate-filled Arab attacks have occurred if we had had a different strategy in place years ago? The facts on the ground today cannot be cast back retrospectively. I conjecture that perhaps life here would be far different.
But would not then the Temple Mount become or be made a flashpoint? A stronger caveat. It seems that Netanyahu has not levered the present chaos in the Middle East – a tohubohu of Biblical proportions – to create new and open realities in our relations with some Arab states. I used the words “open realities,” because I do not know what is going on clandestinely. I have a sense that under the oath of silence there is more than meets the eye.
Now, if I were to meet the premier and offer some solicited advice, I would say, “True, prime minister, I have criticized your management and probity on some issues. But right now you can realize your dream of being Churchill.
“Winston Churchill ‘crossed the floor of the House,’ and went from the Conservatives to the Liberals and then back to the Conservatives.
“Now is the time, Mr. Netanyahu, to rally your rational Likud followers with a program of timed steps towards Palestinian autonomy, while preserving or even thereby enhancing Israel’s security.
“The Likud may split? Then you can restore some respect and honor (‘hadar’ in Jabotinsky’s teachings) to your camp, and get rid of the ragtag self-promoters, cheap populists and Kahanist crazies.
Take the Likud loyalists who stand with you to create a government with one central aim: to negotiate strong security arrangements leading to a form of Palestinian self-government that restores dignity and self-respect to the Palestinians.
On that basis, the Center and Left would willingly join a national unity government.
“This policy together with economic progress and cooperation can bring light into the Palestinian darkness and hope to our own young generation.
“You have helped make Israel strong.
We have proven our strength more than once. Now let us be strong enough to do what is needed.
“Mr. Netanyahu, a leader who wishes to change reality, must begin by freeing himself and his thinking from idées fixes, to act with firm coolness and resolute vision. Ben-Gurion did it. Rabin did it. So can you.”Avraham Avi-hai has filled major public and educational roles in a career spanning over six decades in Jerusalem. firstname.lastname@example.org