Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance at congress was impressive and stirred a sense of justified pride among many Israelis who are not subjugated to political rivalries and hatreds. Netanyahu is a talented orator and is particularly lucid in English. He knows how to speak to the Americans in heart-warming “American” they can understand. It was no coincidence that he received a very warm, sympathetic welcome in Congress. It was no wonder that his speech, which was aired live in Israel, elicited a similar response among the Israeli public. It was a moment of pleasure that every Israeli was entitled to enjoy and take pride in.
This may have been the happiest moment in our diplomatic lives for a while time now, and it may remain that way for a long time to come. Such speeches are important and are a necessary part of the agenda of every statesman, and certainly an Israeli statesman appearing in one of the world’s most important venues. However, such speeches cannot be a substitute for a peace policy; the kind Israel lacks today. In any case, such policy was not expressed by Netanyahu in America or in Israel.
The question isn’t whether Netanyahu managed to deter the US president or whether President Obama is firm enough to stir fears among us. President Obama changed nothing and said nothing new in his speeches last week. He expressed the simple truth that has no alternative. The whole world, and certainly Western countries, ranging from Australia through Canada, Europe and all US administrations in the last generation – with no exceptions – unequivocally support the resolution of our conflict with the Palestinians on the basis of the 1967 borders with territorial swaps.
This is what Obama said in his first speech and reiterated in his second speech. Nothing has changed between the two speeches, even though President Obama also ultimately failed to present a cohesive diplomatic plan.
Territorial swaps will clearly change the borderline compared to the 1967 lines, yet this change does not imply renunciation of the demand to achieve a solution based on the 1967 lines. Swaps will require us to shift areas that were under Israeli sovereignty until 1967 to Palestinian sovereignty in exchange for three Jewish population centers in Judea and Samaria. Their size and location will be discussed during the negotiations. The two-state solution is vital for Israel’s security and existence. The basis of the 1967 lines is the key to this, and we have nothing to fear in this context.
The same is true for Jerusalem. All the states of the enlightened world, including the overwhelming majority of the American public, support the detachment of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem from Israeli sovereignty. This is inevitable, and it’s also the right move for those who wish to maintain Israel’s capital as a Jewish city. There is no escaping it. As Jerusalem’s former mayor I know this well, and it’s possible. Those who refuse to discuss it terminate the chances for a peace process. One can speak nicely, stir up rightist radicals and draw applause from the settlers, yet this will not give rise to peace, genuine negotiations and global understanding.
The bottom line of the prime minister’s journey of speeches in America arouses deep concern. There are those who believe that we took a step back with the needless confrontation vis-à-vis Obama, the open dispute with the US, and the clear disagreement with Europe. Others will say that we in fact took a step forward towards the abyss that has been lying at our doorstep for a while now; an abyss of isolation, condemnation, boycotts and extreme criticism; an abyss that may ultimately lead to a dramatic decline in Israel’s global status as a peace-seeking state that genuinely wishes to reach an agreement on the basis of a painful, heart-breaking compromise that is difficult to execute but is inevitable.
The cries of joy by the masses may be deceiving at times. Public opinion polls may improve our mood, but they do not change reality. Courage, determination, decision-making ability and mostly the willingness to confront one’s party members and domestic supporters are the true leadership test.
Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, ruled in an era that had no public opinions polls that could indicate where the wind was blowing. He once said: “I don’t know what the people want; I know what the people need.” Israel needs to make peace, agree to withdraw to borders premised on the 1967 lines, keep Jerusalem’s Jewish parts, finalize security arrangements to be guaranteed by the US and ensure that the outcome of the process will perserve the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s national, secure home – not through verbal pledges, but via a reality that will emerge as result of the agreement.
This will not be achieved with Congress or Knesset speeches, but rather, with the courage to take decisions that will change a reality which is increasingly creating a substantive threat on the State of Israel’s stature, on the international support it receives, and on its future as a Jewish democratic state.