Bibi getting into gear

Credit where it’s due: Recent events have triggered Netanyahu to take decisive action; But if the PM wants to prevent the emergence of a binational state, he must announce the immediate freeze of settlement-building in the West Bank.

311_Netanyahu, Abbas staring contest (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO )
311_Netanyahu, Abbas staring contest
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO )
The recent turmoil in the Middle East is forcing those in the region to examine their own evolving situations. Israelis are quite used to asking themselves, "is it good for the Jews?” Or, equally, “is it good for Israel?” But this time the question only leads to many more.
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Those who believe that the regional upheaval is good for Israel point to the fact that it has caused the Jewish State to stand out as an island of stability and security in a tempestuous Middle East. Conversely, those who think it may spell bad news for the country underscore the Middle East’s growing hatred towards it. This hatred goes hand in hand with increasing criticism from the rest of the world, fostering an isolation that only amplifies Israel’s existing "siege mentality."
However,it looks as though at least one Israeli has arrived at some solidconvictions in light of recent events: namely, Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu. Like many of us, Bibi feels that the problem is notnecessarily with the region, but is right here at home. The growinginternational pressure on Israel to withdraw from the territories itoccupies served as a good motivator for the Prime Minister to begintaking action.
Bibi understands that Israel is dependent mostly upon itself and thatthe country is strong enough to shape its own future. And there aremore and more signs that his way of thinking is fast evolving; First ofall, recall the PM’s latest rhetoric diatribe in closed meetings thesepast few days; his announcement that "a binational state would be adisaster for Israel" holds more water that his famous (but redundant)"Bar-Ilan" two-states speech. There is little doubt that Bibi made thatspeech as a gesture to President Barack Obama. His body language andthe actions that followed it (or lack thereof) indicate that they werenot his own words.
Yet last week he looked much more convinced and ready for action. Ifthe one-(binational) -state solution really is a catastrophe in themaking, Israel will have to immediately cease settlement-building inall controversial West Bank areas. Netanyahu should make anannouncement to this effect very soon (perhaps in his upcoming visit tothe US) in order to avoid the emergence of a joint state – one thatwould obviously eliminate the existing state’s Jewish nature.
Commentators may once again describe such a move as being an expressionof gratitude to the US for the generous veto in the recent UN SecurityCouncil resolution, but at least this time it will not be the onlyreason. The Prime Minister should announce the freeze in order to avoidwhat he himself described as a possible disaster. The binational statewill become an unavoidable reality if the existing momentum with thesettlements is not reversed.
Another encouraging sign that Bibi’s methodology is changing is theremoval of Uzi Arad, the PM’s senior foreign affairs adviser and headof Israel's National Security. Counsel Arad, known for his hawkishviews, has been regarded as an obstacle in   arriving at a sensible andjust Israeli-Arab peace agreement. Without Arad whispering in his ear,Bibi can move unimpeded toward a practical and courageous agreement.
Another measure that is essential to moving forward seems to be justaround the corner; namely, the replacement of Foreign Minister AvigdorLieberman by the leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni. Such a changeto the coalition will enable Netanyahu to make a decision about whetherto resume negotiations with the Palestinians or with the Syrians. Ineither case Livni's Kadima party will back his choice.
After two utterly wasted years that did nothing except bring us closerthan ever to the dreaded realization of a binational state, we may atlast be on the brink of a breakthrough. But if Bibi will not agree tosit in a room with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas or with Syrian PresidentBashar Assad prior to the upcoming UN September assembly, he willinvariably find himself with a unilaterally declared Palestinian State(this time supported by the US). At all costs, Netanyahu must preventsuch a diplomatic blow at home, otherwise he risks being banished tohis own luxury home in Caesarea.
The writer, a former chargé d’affaires in Turkey and ambassador to South Africa, was director-general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000 and 2001. Today he lectures at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.