Letters from America: Why a Palestinian state is essential

Netanyahu can have his cake and eat it too, but only if he is willing to alter his security recipe.

Binyamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
Binyamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried during the prime minister’s last visit to the White House to recalibrate their relationship.
The rapidly changing face of the Middle East was one factor.
In addition, their awareness of the eventual setting sun on their respective political careers should not be lost on anyone. They need each other when it comes to their legacies and the unfinished business of a resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and the related Arab-Israeli conflict.
That is the easy part. The challenging dynamic is how to bring that agreement about when they have staked out very different positions to address those conflicts. The edgy chatter between Jerusalem and Washington since the two leaders sat down together in the Oval Office documents that gap. In classic conflict resolution theory analysis both hold different positions when it comes to the conflicts Israel has with her neighbors, but both understand they also share other interests and needs.
Those interests and needs can be summed up in one word: security. And the Obama administration has not been shy when it comes to Israel’s security. Last year the administration provided $3.1 billion in military financing for Israel. In addition, it provided funding for three joint US-Israel missile defense systems: David’s Sling ($149.7 million), the Arrow II ($44.3m.), and Arrow III ($74.7m.). Finally there was the $504m. in funding for research, development and production of Israel’s Iron Dome system, not to mention the added $225m. for Iron Dome during this summer’s 50-day war.
While a safe and secure Israel is vital to both the president and prime minister, they also believe in the importance of a number of other interests and needs for the Zionist state. Each desires to see Israel a democratic enlightened state with a Jewish majority, along with strong international support.
The inability of an Israeli ship to dock in the Oakland port the other week because of large protests, along with the recent vote in the British Parliament to recognize a Palestinian state, point to the growing trend of Israel becoming ostracized on the world stage.
A sound and vibrant Israeli economy is also of importance to the president and the prime minister. Related, for Netanyahu, is the challenge of decreasing the large number of Israelis who choose to leave Israel each year. In addition, the prime minister is very concerned young Jews around the world feel an attachment to the Jewish state.
Finally, both the president and the prime minister are motivated to see anti-Jewish attitudes and activities around the world remain benign and not become malignant. The demonstrations and other activities around the world, in response to the Hamas-Israel war, show a more virulent anti-Judaism finding a home once again.
All of these aforementioned objectives contribute to Israel’s security in significant ways.
However, if Israel continues to go down its present very narrow and rigid definition of security it may achieve that particular ambition, but at the expense of all of those other crucial interests, needs, and goals of the Zionist project. That failure will become Netanyahu’s real legacy for Israel and the Jewish people.
Netanyahu can have his cake and eat it too, but only if he is willing to alter his security recipe.
This all becomes the basis for an essential conversation the Obama administration needs to have with the Netanyahu government.
At the core of that conversation is the understanding that the establishment of a viable Palestinian state is imperative for the fulfillment of Zionism’s many goals.
The author is a rabbi and teaches conflict resolution at Bennington College.