A Wary Masada Speech

The petty and vicious personal relationship between the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister has become toxic, and in Congress on Capitol Hill they bore poisonous fruit.

The Almighty bestowed many virtues on Benjamin Netanyahu. Generosity, however, was not one of them. Netanyahu is intelligent, cultured and articulate, but he is not magnanimous. He is not altruistic. He has a personal and national egocentrism that does not allow him to see the world from the standpoint of others. As a result, he cannot extend his hand to others. He doesn't know how to break through and capture the hearts of others. He is holed up in a self-righteous narrative about his just cause and our own.

And the world was witness to all of this yesterday. There was the head of the Jewish state appearing before the U.S. Congress. There was the head of the Jewish state winning over Congress. Saying all the right things. Appealing to the emotions. Telling jokes. Bringing the members to their feet more than 20 times. Scoring again and again, but unable to make that emotional breakthrough. Unable to create a diplomatic breakthrough. He doesn't know how to be generous to the Palestinians or the Europeans or U.S. President Barack Obama. It was a lost opportunity, and a tragic one at that.

Benjamin Netanyahu at Congress - Reuters - 24.5.2011

Netanyahu has it. He just does. He knows how to travel the world as a statesman like no other Israeli does. He knows how to speak our truth as no other Israeli does. His perception of reality is outstanding. His choice of words is superb. He's the best. But ultimately, despite everything, Netanyahu really doesn't have what it takes. He lacks the courage and imagination to really take flight. He lacks the greatness to do great things. He is frozen in place, unable to break free of himself.

The prime minister made four gestures to the Palestinians yesterday. He acknowledged that we share the land with the Palestinians. He committed to wide-ranging compromise, including parting with some of the legacy of our forefathers. He declared that there would be settlements that would remain outside the territory of Israel. He said although he would not grant the Palestinians a state along the 1967 borders, he would be generous in what they would be given.

Generous? Not generous. With a diplomatic tsunami at our doorstep, Netanyahu didn't do what he had to. He didn't say enough to protect us from the coming wave. He didn't assume the moral high ground. He didn't go the extra mile needed to assure Israel's future.

Netanyahu is not to blame for everything. Obama's preemptive strike caused him to look inward. The petty and vicious personal relationship between the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister has become toxic, and yesterday on Capitol Hill they bore poisonous fruit.

Benjamin Netanyahu is no Golda Meir. He looks better than Golda. He speaks better than Golda. His education and outlook are broader, but yesterday in Washington, Netanyahu sounded like a turbo-charged Golda. Right, but not smart. Able to melt American hearts, but not able to take essential steps. Capable of telling the Jewish-Israeli story, but not of knowing how to defend Jewish-Israeli existence. He could see the security and diplomatic disaster approaching, but he delivered a wary Masada speech.