All Netanyahu needs is to say one magic number: 1967
If Netanyahu finds a way to say '1967' in Washington, he will earn a new lease on life. He will give hope to his country and himself. But if he hesitates, if he hems and haws, he will be done for.
The international community is tensely waiting to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's words to the U.S. Congress in 12 days' time. Yet it will not be words that determine how the speech is received, but rather a number. If Netanyahu does not specifically mention the number 1967, the world will reject his speech from the outset. Israel's future hangs today on the prime minister's ability to utter the four digits he has not yet uttered - one, nine, six, seven: 1967.
Netanyahu? 1967? Not a chance - unless he realizes the seriousness of the situation. Unless he realizes that our backs are to the wall and we must change direction. Unless he rises above himself and becomes a statesman and a leader.
The prime minister is a persecuted, pursued and controversial man. But he is a patriot, committed to Israel's future.
Netanyahu believes that to ensure Israel's future, the Palestinians must recognize it as a Jewish state and agree to a demilitarized Palestine. Netanyahu believes that to ensure Israel's future, Israel must control security in the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu believes that to ensure Israel's future, Israel must include the large settlement blocs.
Netanyahu believes that creative solutions must be found for the settlers, the holy places and Jerusalem. Netanyahu believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be brought to an end without dealing with the regional and strategic challenges threatening the West and Israel.
All well and good. But Netanyahu should also understand that he cannot attain his just claims without giving something in exchange. That something is a known quantity: Israeli agreement that at the end of the day, the border between Israel and Palestine will be based on the 1967 lines. An exchange of territory - yes; security arrangements - yes; complete demilitarization - yes; rejection of the Palestinian demand for the refugees' return - yes; international guarantees - yes. But in exchange for all these, Israel must agree that in the end, the area of the Palestinian state will be equivalent to the area conquered in June 1967.
As of now, the Palestinians are not the partner; the world is the partner. And the deal with the world is simple: Israel gives a pledge about how the game will end and receives in return a pledge about the game's rules, character and duration.
The withdrawal will be phased, with implementation based on the Palestinians' fulfillment of their obligations. The international community will assist and support the withdrawal, which will be dependent on the world stopping Iran. But at the end of the process, the withdrawal will be comprehensive. The withdrawal will end the occupation, divide the country and create a new situation of two nation-states between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Can Netanyahu do it? That is unclear. Years ago, his slogan was "if they don't give, they won't get." Unfortunately, that slogan applies to us as well. If we don't give, we won't get.
Netanyahu does not like to pay. But he must understand that people who do not pay do not acquire anything. People who do not compromise do not survive. Political parsimony is not political greatness.
Even Ehud Olmert understood this. He waged two wars and built settlements wildly, but in accepting the principle of 1967, he gave Israel a political shield. Although he never actually evacuated a single settlement or withdrew from a single centimeter, Olmert enjoyed political credit that allowed him to strike at Israel's enemies. He shifted the onus of responsibility for the lack of peace from Israel to the Palestinians.
When Netanyahu decided to go to Washington, he took a huge risk. Some people think he was wrong; others believe he was right. But the importance of Netanyahu's speech to Congress is that he is creating a moment of truth. This moment obliges the prime minister to show his true self.
If Netanyahu finds a way to say "1967" in Washington, he will earn a new lease on life. He will give hope to his country and himself. But if he hesitates, if he hems and haws, he will be done for. A vague, miserly speech to Congress will be the beginning of his downfall.