At his upcoming meeting with Obama, the PM should choose peace over ideology.
By JEFF BARAK
The stage has been set; it’s now a question as to whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will deliver. Unlike his previous nighttime visit to the White House in March where he was reportedly treated like an unwanted guest, with no friendly welcoming handshakes for the cameras and a cringing humiliation at the hands of President Barack Obama, who even left the meeting to dine in private, this time it’s going to be different.Tuesday’s meeting has been scheduled for late morning Washington time, ensuring that the scheduled joint news conference afterward will coincide with the peak-time nightly news broadcasts in Israel, thereby allowing Netanyahu to grandstand for the viewers back home.And Obama has even invited the delegation for a meal afterward.If Netanyahu were a true leader, he would use this opportunity to outline his vision for the future. Instead of constantly carping about the past and dragging up hostile Palestinian statements from the archives, the prime minister should seize this meeting as a way to move forward, rather than once again attempt to justify his government’s pathetic and ultimately self-defeating policy of treading water.Even Netanyahu knows that the longer we hold on to the occupied territories, the greater the threat to our survival as a Jewish and democratic state.FOR STARTERS, the prime minister could certainly use his meeting with Obama as the setting for declaring that his government will continue the settlement construction freeze past its September deadline so as to enable the beginning of direct talks with the Palestinians.The Palestinians are complaining of Israeli foot-dragging in the proximity talks, so a major policy declaration on Netanyahu’s part would certainly improve his standing and revive what is beginning to look like a moribund process. The cautiously optimistic noises coming out of the White House over the weekend concerning the proximity talks should only be viewed as an American attempt to improve the atmosphere before tomorrow’s meeting.Netanyahu could also use the White House setting to announce that Israel is ready to begin, gradually, ceding control of the major cities in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, boosting the state-building efforts of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Netanyahu is fond of boasting of the impressive economic growth rate in the West Bank, but the Palestinians, rightly, want more than just an improvement in their standard of living.IT”S CLEAR that Obama, for all his fine words, doesn’t really have much an idea as to how to push the peace process forward. Netanyahu should step into this vacuum and present a plan that can be implemented immediately, be it a Palestinian state in provisional borders or a move to finalstatus negotiations.And if he truly believes a deal with the Palestinians is beyond hope, then he should switch attention to the Syrian track and seek to break up the Iran- Damascus-Hizbullah triangle.The whole tenor of Netanyahu’s premiership has been the dangers facing Israel from the threat of a nuclear Iran, but instead of working to create a coalition of moderate states in the region who also understand the dangers posed by Teheran, he has instead allowed the world’s attention to focus on building projects in east Jerusalem, slipshod assassinations in Dubai and the Turkish flotilla.In fact, Netanyahu has so far wasted his second term in office, bringing the country to a state of international isolation that a decade ago would have seemed unbelievable. He can argue that the right-wing makeup of his government prevents him from taking any initiative, but we all know this is a hollow argument. Kadima is ready and waiting in the wings to replace Israel Beiteinu and Shas and provide Netanyahu with the backing he needs to change direction.Given that the prime minister knows his choice of Avigdor Lieberman was a mistake, and that precious energy has to be wasted on seeking ways to circumvent him, as in the case of last week’s meeting between Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Netanyahu needs to reassess his premiership.He has two choices: He can either follow in the footsteps of the first Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin, who chose peace over ideology when making a deal with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, or he can retrace the path of Yitzhak Shamir, Begin’s successor, whose only policy centered on not giving up an inch of the territories, leading to a rupture in relations with the US and the outbreak of the first intifada.While Netanyahu will certainly enjoy the full-press welcome he will receive tomorrow, he should be aware that there is no such thing as a free meal. If he passes up the chance to set out a new direction for his government, we are all going to pay the price for his failure in leadership.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
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