The good, the bad and the PM

Investing in peace.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington (photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Having just heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC, I was very impressed with all that he and his nation of Israel have accomplished. Israel is a tech, economic and military dynamo. And they are making friends and developing relationships in places where they’ve never been before. The numbers are indisputable. And that says a lot.
As for the bad, it was clear long ago that capital ‘B’ Bad has always meant Iran to the prime minister, and its continuing effort to overwhelm and defeat “the Little Satan,” as Iran has labeled Israel. Now Iran has much more than a foothold in Iraq and is developing military bases in Syria. Not that all they are doing wasn’t already in the works, but the $100 billion US payout didn’t hurt its ability to project power both within and far beyond the Middle East. No question Iran is a potent enemy with or without nuclear weapons, and gaining ground and strength. Netanyahu quietly noted that the State of Israel has new friends in the Middle East, without naming Iran’s other nemesis, Saudi Arabia.
The prime minister went on to replace the ugly (from his Clint Eastwood movie analogy) with far more positive terminology; the beautiful. In his mind the beautiful represents the relationship between Israel and the United States, its president, its Congress, both political parties and its people. It was the right place to underline just how successful that relationship has become, with 18,000 Jewish American pro-Israel activists facing the prime minister. After everything is said by him and many others, most of that audience will divide up by congressional districts and march up to Capitol Hill, a few blocks away, to make the case for everything Israel wants and needs to a very supportive Congress.
But that’s not the whole story. As readers know, the prime minister has some legal problems, challenges not so dissimilar from the ones that ended the political career of another prime minister. Israel takes corruption very seriously. Well, Netanyahu wasn’t going to talk about his legal problems in a motivational speech, especially in the US.
He did mention peace, and he called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop paying terrorists:
“You know how much he pays? He pays about $350 million a year to terrorists and their families. Each year. That’s about a little less than 10% of the total Palestinian budget. That’s an incredible number. He pays Hakim Awad, the terrorist who murdered this beautiful family of Ehud and Ruth Fogel and their three children and a three-month-old baby girl. He pays Hakim Awad, this murderer. Over the lifetime of this killer he will be receiving $2m. I have a message for President Abbas: stop paying terrorists!
“Because what message does this send to Palestinian children? It says murder Jews and get rich!
“And I believe President Abbas should find a better use for this money. To build roads, schools, hospitals, factories. Build life, don’t pay death. Invest in life, invest in peace.”
It is easy to rip apart the tenuous network of relations that favor peace in the wake of years, decades and generations of hostility, death, warfare, terrorism and tragedy. So much brutality, killing, conflict and daily mayhem, with stones flying and house demolitions and walls and limits on movement and so much more that throws dirt on every attempt to reach beyond lives of desperation and military service toward something better. How to get beyond the warfare that defines two lifelong enemies fighting over one piece of land when neither is willing to give up the battle and the endless forms of combat that affect every single inhabitant of this merciless, wondrous holy land?
The answer I’m afraid is not to be found in pointing out what is worse about the other. The solution, which I’m also afraid will take years, involves finding and underlining things that two peoples have in common, to begin a conversation that enunciates two histories, that carries both sides forward to a better more convivial place. Not a solution, but the seeds of peace that must be both planted in their season and harvested in the future by two peoples who each have an investment in something better, something lasting, something meaningful that both live beyond today.
Something that breeds confidence and creates a security that can be shared. Something that is sacred in that it touches the hearts and souls of two peoples and their three religions. Something that builds the relationships necessary to promote a lasting peace with both peoples and their leaders actively seeking that peace instead of one more reason to blame the other.
The author is president of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]