Early Monday, when the news broke of the IDF trading fire with the Lebanese army, everyone in this house, and undoubtedly many others in Israel, had the same thought:
That's it. Netanyahu's decided to solve the protest crisis by going to war.
In fact, even before the Lebanon tension began, journalist Yossi Gurvitz outlined exactly such a scenario. In the face of the mushrooming protests over social welfare issues, "Netanyahu's magic hat is emptying quickly," Gurvitz wrote last week, adding that the prime minister might choose a war as the way out of his troubles.
You needn't look far for precedent. There is ample evidence that Ehud Olmert could have, and certainly should have, avoided the Gaza war as a means of halting rocket fire from the Strip. But, in the wake of his disastrous conduct of the Second Lebanon War and the sewn-on shadow of graft allegations, Olmert had something to prove and much to hide. We went to war because Olmert needed to.
Stunned and reeling by the success of the protest movement nationwide, Netanyahu is desperately rummaging in his magic hat for a trump card, if not one that reads "Get Out of Jail Free."
It's in there. It's been in there all along. But it's not a war. No one, at this point, would be fooled by a war. No one would be shocked by one.
If he wants to deal with the protests, which may grow to monster proportions by just this weekend, he has to draw the one card that no one is expecting, the card that can outflank his opponents on every segment of the political spectrum.
He has to go the one way no one is looking: Move immediately – and sincerely - for peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
This is the time. His party and his government are laying back, uncharacteristically silent, waiting for him to take charge, make a move that is bold enough to meet the challenge of the nation's broadest social movement in memory.
If Benjamin Netanyahu was telling the truth about a future of two states, Israel and Palestine, living in peace, and if he believes the polls which consistently show that a majority of the Israeli public does as well, then this is the time, prior to September, for him to make history and shape the future of his country.
If it's a distraction that he needs, let it be the one distraction that can help Israel again attend to the needs of ordinary people – housing, education, health care, transportation, employment.
Let it be the distraction that begins to stop the monumental bleeding - monetary, diplomatic, and literal - that derives directly from the occupation.
"Like Sadat to Jerusalem or former President Nixon to China, Mr. Netanyahu can go to Ramallah and extend a hand in building a Palestinian future," Edgar and Adam Bronfman
wrote over the weekend.
"Mr. Netanyahu will be trusted by Israelis and Jews the world over to protect their interests and guarantee the unity, security and vitality of the Jewish state. The rest of the world will recognize him as a pragmatic and visionary leader ready to seize the moment and change history. The burden then will be on Israel’s enemies to prove that they possess the good will and strength of character to recognize the Jewish state and allow it to remain thus."
On a wall near this house, someone, perhaps just back from the march through the streets of Tel Aviv, spray-painted the words: Flip. Switch. Change.
The message of the march, and even more massive ones to follow, is that a small change will be interpreted for exactly what it is: a misdirection, a distraction, a trick.
Mr. Netanyahu, history is offering you a nation whose beating heart, its genuine consensus, has gotten up and is on the move. You can lead it. Right now. Lead the country in the direction it has needed for decades.
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