When Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister, he had to formulate a peace strategy. He had to decide whether he aspired to reach an interim agreement or a final-status one with the Palestinians. He opted to go for a final-status agreement.
But throughout the time when it would have been possible to establish a Palestinian state while evacuating only illegal outposts and isolated settlements, Netanyahu did not act. He promised the Americans and Europeans that a peace agreement with the Palestinians was within reach. He promised well-meaning Israelis that he would follow in Yitzhak Rabin's footsteps. If only Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would climb down from his tree, he whispered. If you just give me a chance, I'll surprise the world with a peace initiative the likes of which have never been seen before.
This week, Netanyahu got his chance. Granted, Abbas has not climbed down from his tree, nor will he: The Palestinians are not on our side. In addition, U.S. President Barack Obama treated Netanyahu rudely and pettily.
But in the end, Obama's speech to AIPAC largely corrected the flaws in his earlier speech at the State Department. He made it clear that there would be no withdrawal to the 1967 lines before the problem of the refugees was solved. He committed himself to Israel being a Jewish state, to Palestine being demilitarized and to territorial exchanges that would take the existence of the settlement blocs into account.
Thus the combined outcome of Obama's speeches was very good for Israel. What was called for in response was an Israeli move that would help the president defend the Jewish state against a hostile world. What was needed was an Israeli contribution to the American effort to prevent an imminent diplomatic collapse and leave open the possibility of peace in the future. Netanyahu had to make an Israeli gesture, to demonstrate Israeli generosity. He had to offer an Israeli peace plan.
But Netanyahu didn't do it. There was no gesture, no generosity, no peace plan. After four months of anticipation, the king's speech was nothing more than one long, fluent stutter.
A week ago, I wrote that Netanyahu's speech would stand or fall on 30 words. He didn't have to open the gates of heaven; he merely had to indirectly adopt a sensible, comprehensive and creative diplomatic formula.
But even this, Netanyahu wasn't capable of giving. Even a mere 30 words frightened him. Time after time, the prime minister brought the senators and congressmen to their feet, but he himself fell down. Netanyahu missed the last chance that history will give him.
In another few months, reality will come knocking. Israel will find itself in nonsplendid isolation at the United Nations. Israel will be ostracized from the family of nations.
At the same time, a new Palestinian uprising will begin. The liberated masses of the Arab world will support it. There will be no quiet on the security front. There will be no economic growth. There will be a collapse.
Will Netanyahu be the direct cause of this collapse? No. But Netanyahu will be the man who didn't do everything in his power to prevent it. And therefore, Netanyahu will be seen as the one responsible for it. In this terrible sense as well, he will become Golda Meir.
Now, the ball has been passed to Ehud Barak and Dan Meridor. Netanyahu has been misleading these two dovish ministers. And he has caused them to mislead Americans, Europeans and Israelis. If the defense minister and the deputy prime minister continue serving in this failed government, they will be the 2011 versions of Moshe Dayan and Yisrael Galili in Golda's government. For they saw, they understood, they issued warnings, they knew - but they didn't make any waves.
Barak and Meridor must make it clear to the prime minister this week that if an Israeli initiative doesn't materialize pronto, they will quit. They must put a pistol to his temple. Who knows? Perhaps the sight of that pistol will do to Netanyahu what the sight of Obama and Congress didn't do. Perhaps, faced with a real threat, he will finally emerge from his shell.
But if he doesn't, then Barak and Meridor belong in the opposition. They must support opposition leader Tzipi Livni in trying to bring down this terrible government. For there can be no confidence in a Netanyahu government that is running Israel into a wall.
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