Kerry and Netanyahu
Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with PM Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office. Jerusalem, December 5, 2013 Photo by U.S. Embassy
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The former head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, is right in his assessment that the continued conflict with the Palestinians is more dangerous to Israel than a nuclear Iran, and in his clear call: “We need an agreement now.” At a public forum marking the 10th anniversary of the Geneva Initiative on Wednesday, Diskin said: “I would like to know that our home here has clear borders, and that we’re putting the sanctity of people before the sanctity of land.” He added: “I want a homeland that does not require the occupation of another people in order to maintain itself.”

It is a shame that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a personal attack on Diskin instead of internalizing his warning and acting accordingly. Netanyahu has yet to make good on the public commitment he made in his speech at Bar-Ilan University four and a half years ago: to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In the last few months of negotiations with the Palestinian leadership headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu even warned that a binational state would be a disaster. But the talks are stuck in place and there is fear that Netanyahu is not at all willing to reach an agreement that will be acceptable to the other side, but just continues the show for the sake of reducing the international pressure.

But even if Netanyahu understands the need to divide the land, he is not capable of translating this understanding into decisions and actions. This is a well known anti-leadership behavior pattern, which has accompanied Netanyahu throughout his entire tenure as prime minister: He decides only under pressure, as if he is only capable of showing how the decision was forced on him by the president of the United States, or by public outrage. That is how he signed the Hebron agreement and the Wye River Memorandum, that is how he agreed to the Gilad Shalit deal with Hamas, how he publicaly apologized to his Turkish counterpart, and how he accepted the European dictate as a condition for scientific cooperation.

To make the critical decisions in the negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu will need help in the form of an American peace plan. He will not present a map of his own initiative, as did his predecessors Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. Netanyahu will make progress in the peace process only if he is forced to accept or reject a proposal from the American mediator. The security plan for a final agreement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented to him on Thursday is an important precedent on the road to an overall settlement. Now the Americans must present an outline for the border between Israel and the Palestinian state. Without this, Netanyahu won’t move forward.