Binyamin Netanyahu as Charles de Gaulle
It is increasingly looking like Binyamin Netanyahu will have to become Charles de Gaulle for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is currently escalating at a dangerous pace, to have a serious chance of being resolved in a viable and constructive way. Can he do it? Will he do it?
Charles de Gaulle - with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill - was considered one of three giants of World War II. He was the last to die in 1970, just shy of his 80th birthday, a year after he was defeated in a constitutional referendum.
What characterizes him - as opposed to FDR and the man with the 'V' sign and the cigar - is that he was not a giant (except physically) during and immediately after the war, but that he became one by sheer willpower.
During WWII, he was one of several leaders of defeated European countries that had sought refuge in London, trying to contribute what little they could to the struggle against Nazi Germany.
It is sometimes forgotten that de Gaulle, undeniably, showed that he was a great statesman during the Algerian crisis. Algeria was for more than a century a French colony and more than 1 million French settlers lived there, many for several generations. At first, he was a firm believer in AlgÃ©rie FranÃ§aise (French Algeria). But, he realized, as the war dragged on and on, and as the French army resorted to torture and the casualties piled up, that independence had to be granted to Algeria.
It was not easy. The army rebelled. There was an attempt to assassinate him which was barely thwarted. But, in the end, de Gaulle prevailed. He gave French settlers in Algeria three choices: one, to become Algerian citizens; two, to remain French citizens, but live in Algeria under Algerian sovereignty; and three, to come back home. Very few became Algerian citizens; some chose the second option, but most decided to go home. They are, in France, known as the Pieds Noirs (the black-footed ones). Most of them became supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen's fascist Action Nationale party. France is a democracy and that was the price to pay.
IN ISRAEL and Palestine, the situation has not reached that stage of gravity yet. The Palestinian resistance is not as strong as was the Algerian one. But, at least in one respect, the Palestinians today are in a stronger position than were the Algerians in the 1950s: The world has changed and Western civil societies have become far more powerful. And the thousands of NGOs, church groups, students' associations, trade unions, peace activists, intellectuals and writers and so on that make it up actively support the Palestinian cause. And they will not give up until the occupation comes to an end and an independent Palestinian state is established.
Can Netanyahu - will he - find the resources and the will power to do as de Gaulle did? Can he become the great leader that Israelis are yearning for?
I think so. He is intelligent, loves his country and is an experienced politician. He must tell Israelis the truth: that the dream of building a greater Israel between the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River cannot be realized; that the country is in a downward spiral which must be reversed; that the survival, in the long run, of Israel demands it. And that that implies building a - beautiful - future, together with the Palestinians.
Bibi can do it, because most Israelis will listen to him. They like him, trust him and even love him. But he must prove himself worthy by having the courage to set the country on the right track.
The writer is secretary-general of PEN International's Swiss Romand Center. He is also a leading member of that organization's Writers for Peace Committee. He lived in Jerusalem between 1978 and 1981 when he was a research fellow at the Harry S Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.