"…for the first time we have reached a national agreement on the two states for two people concept." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting, June 5, 2009.
In uttering these words, Benjamin Netanyahu proved himself to be unworthy of the leadership of the nation. For they clearly show that he lacks either the political wisdom or the political will for the task.
The stark contrast between Netanyahu's cabinet statement and his first rousing and resolute address to the Likud Central Committee as premier in 1996, evoke feelings of profound sadness, bitter disappointment, and deep concern. His opening words then to the eager crowd were: "There will be no Palestinian State."
Rarely does history afford leaders of nations a second chance to redeem themselves. Netanyahu is one the fortunate few who has been afforded such an opportunity. Sadly he has proven unworthy of the extraordinary favor fate granted him, His mettle has been tested and found wanting. His capitulation – however reluctant - to the notion of "two-states" which he has rejected reflects a failure of will or of intellect - or of both.
The essential point for the Israeli leadership to grasp and for the Israeli public to internalize is that the conflict between Israel, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, on the one hand, and both the Palestinians and the wider Arab world on the other, is neither complex nor complicated. Any attempt to characterize it differently reflects neither erudite sophistication nor progressive enlightenment – but rather, ill-informed ignorance at best and disingenuous denial at worst.
For the unvarnished truth is indeed brutal - and binary: In the narrow sliver of land between "The River" and "The Sea" there can prevail – and eventually there will prevail – either exclusive Jewish political sovereignty or exclusive Arab political sovereignty. The side that will endure will be the side whose political will is stronger and whose political vision is sharper.
Who will protect Palestinian state?
This is not a pronouncement motivated by ideological fervor or religious zeal. Rather, it is based on a cold, dispassionate analysis of the prevailing geopolitical parameters that characterize Israel's strategic environment. Over a decade ago, this writer cautioned that “…the structure of the bargain required to be struck between (Israel) and the Arabs seems inherently irresolvable. For whatever appears to be even minimally adequate…for Israel, seems to be totally inadequate… for the Arabs." Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, former head of Israel's National Security Council, made precisely the same point recently:
“…the maximum that any government of Israel will be ready to offer the Palestinians and still survive politically is much less than the minimum that any Palestinian leader can accept.”
For while the demands that the Palestinian state be demilitarized, that it be barred from forging military pacts or from controlling its airspace may seem reasonable to Israelis as a minimum requirement for maintaining their national (and personal) security, they are in fact wildly unreasonable, and totally unrealistic by any objective international criterion.
For to condition recognition of nationhood on national defenselessness is clearly absurd – indeed virtually self-contradictory. After all, one cannot profess to a desire to allow the Palestinians to "govern themselves" and then promptly proceed to demand the prerogative to determine in which areas they will or won't be permitted to govern themselves. One cannot purport to recognize the right of a people to statehood and then negate their right to defend their state.
To expect acceptance of such a far-fetched notion is foolish, and to hope that it could be effectively maintained or monitored in the unlikely event of it being implemented, is to be completely detached from reality. For should the Palestinian state be threatened by some adversary other than Israel, who will be called on to protect it? Or are we to assume that Palestinian state will be totally immune from enmity with all other nations? Or would Israeli youth be called on to shed blood to defend Palestinians in some internecine intra-Islamic dispute?
Unfeasible and ephemeral
Oratory acumen, however impressive, is not substitute for substantive content. Nor are semantic acrobatics a durable prophylactic against the consequences of that content - or lack thereof. Within hours, the misgivings of those critical of the Bar-Ilan speech began to materialize. Many pundits were quick to pounce on the absurdity of the demands for demilitarization.
Barely a day after the address, it was reported that the EU had dropped the original Quartet demands that Hamas "forswear terrorism, recognize Israel or accept previous PLO agreements with Israel"; and prominent Israelis such as author A.B. Yehoshua were rejecting Netanyahu's insistence on Israel being recognized as the nation-state of the Jews, while rebuking him for being obstructive and for making "unnecessary" demands on the Palestinians.
There are, in fact, only two possibilities regarding Netanyahu's Palestinian policy prescriptions. He either really believes that they constitute a feasible prescription for practical implementation of policy – or he does not. If the former is the case, there is cause for great concern regarding the prime minster's judgment, and his grasp of reality. If the latter is the case and the proposals were intended as nothing more than a verbal smokescreen, this will quickly become apparent and only serve to undermine Netanyahu's stature, and reinforce his (hitherto largely undeserved) reputation for deviousness and duplicity.
In the final analysis then, Netanyahu's proposals are either delusional or deceitful; his policy prescriptions foolish, fanciful or fraudulent. Whatever the case, they bestow little credit on himself or his country. He has, in principle, accepted the general outline of the failed Oslo-concept, which he resolutely rejected for almost two decades.
However, as Netanyahu himself has pointed out, and as both the Hezbollah and Hamas have very tangibly demonstrated, even if the Palestinian state was not fully militarized, even without heavy artillery, armor or aircraft, renegade radicals could easily paralyze the country with light and primitive weapons that either are unauthorized or ostensibly not in violation of the stipulated restrictions.
With dizzying speed, the demilitarized-state formula will be exposed - indeed is already being exposed - as unfeasible and ephemeral.
Regrettably, Netanyahu seems to have forgotten a simple truism: To persuade you must persevere. If you do not persist in articulating your true beliefs, there is little reason to expect others to be convinced of their merits. If victory is the imposition of one's will on the adversary, Netanyahu has left little doubt as to who has imposed their will on whom - and gave the Palestinians every reason to believe that victory over the Jews is at hand, or at least, in sight.
These are perilous times for Israel. Netanyahu's volte face has made them even more so. Today, the nation needs a leader who has the intellectual power, the ideological commitment and the political will not only remind the Israeli public that in Hebrew "Yes we can" translates in "Im tirzu ein zu agada" (If you will it, it is no dream), but also a leader with the resolve to resist the American administration and say: "No, you can’t.”