Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on June 15, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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A book can be written about errors made by the Israeli left, about its exaggerated or extremist approaches, and its estrangement from reality. At first, the left's blunders really do not seem like anything anyone has to fret too much about. But the lamentable thing is that the left's stances and statements drive large sectors of the Israeli public away from moderate, balanced positions.

It's hard to under-estimate the impact the left has had in terms of strengthening Israel's right-wing, including its extremist fringe. A classic example is the recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. It's not clear why President Barack Obama can emphasize at every opportunity that Israel must be the "Jewish state, and the homeland of the Jewish people," whereas Benjamin Netanyahu cannot say the same thing. It's not clear why the government of France can, in an official document submitted to the two sides, discuss "two states for two peoples," not to mention UN resolutions that explicitly referred to the Jewish state, whereas Israel's bringing up a demand for the same nomenclature is criminal.

In its editorial on June 17, Haaretz wrote that the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, to which all Jews of the world are welcome to immigrate, is tantamount to asking that the Palestinians give up on "their national ethos." No Palestinian leader, the editorial wrote, "can agree to this dictate."

Is that so? If the Palestinians are indeed not willing to accept the fact that the Jewish people has at least some connection to this country, and that within the framework of willingness to divide the land between two peoples there must be consent to a Jewish state existing here, and that this state should be accessible to Jewish immigrants, just as the Palestinian state will be open to any Palestinian - if these things are unacceptable to the Palestinians, then the conflict really is insoluble. Proposing that Israel back down from such elementary demands causes incalculable damage to the peace process.

The government of Israel can legitimately be criticized for its inaction, but such criticism needs to be focused, reasonable and persuasive. The problem is not Netanyahu's words but rather his deeds. The principles he presented to the Knesset reflect a consensus, but nobody really believes that he intends to implement them.

Netanyahu earned the lack of credibility his image evokes. It is unrealistic to present such peace principles, and then wink at [Likud MKs]Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon. And it is unreasonable to talk about settlement blocs, and then perform tricks aimed at promoting construction in locales in the territories that are outside of such blocs.

Netanyahu's lack of credibility stems from an original sin - and that is the coalition he established two years ago. A prime minister who really wants to lead a far-ranging diplomatic process cannot put together a coalition that will impede any move on the peace process. On the eve of the elections, Netanyahu stated that his big mistake during his first term as prime minister was that he did not cobble together a unity government. I think he was being honest when he made these statements, and so the repetition of the mistake is a particularly egregious error.

But it's not too late. The coalition is not an inseparable bond; it can be altered. If Netanyahu has the will, he can make the requisite domestic changes. That will entail taking a political risk, but the willingness to take chances for a supreme national goal is one of the trademarks of leadership. That is the real test awaiting Netanyahu, and history will judge whatever decision he makes.