Netanyahu's Overtures Come Too Little, Too Late

The prime minister made the international community fed up with him, and by doing so, made it fed up with Israel as well.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after addressing the Jewish Federations of North America's 2015 General Assembly, November 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
AFP

For a change, Benjamin Netanyahu should be commended. Some of the tunes he sang this week during his visit in the United States were pleasant to the ear. He repeated his commitment to the two-state solution, expressed appreciation and gratitude for the United States’ contribution to Israel’s security and said he would consider the possibility of taking unilateral steps in the West Bank. Especially important was his recognition of the Reform and Conservative Jewish communities. These communities are persecuted by the ultra-Orthodox and most Israelis don’t fight their battles.

After a year in which a harsh and aggressive Netanyahu made every possible mistake with regard to America and American Jewry, a gentle, human Netanyahu suddenly emerged, trying to appease our allies and win the hearts of our brothers and sisters. Well done.

But between us, Netanyahu, I’d like to tell you in private: It’s too little and too late.

Six years ago, decent people still gave him a chance. Five years ago, reasonable people were still ready to listen to him. The Bar-Ilan University speech was impressive. Suspending the construction in the settlements was courageous. Mahmoud Abbas was the rejectionist, while Netanyahu conducted, at times, significant negotiations both on the Syrian and the Palestinian issue.

It was possible to believe that not all was lost. It was possible to hope that ultimately reason would prevail. That’s why even President Barack Obama went hand-in-hand with him for some time. That’s why even John Kerry, Tony Blair, Shimon Peres and Dan Meridor said that maybe it was possible. Maybe. But after more than 100,000 settlers, no one really believes him. After 100 reckless statements, no one really listens to him. When his government is fanatic and his party is chauvinistic and the head of his public diplomacy department has the outlook of an apartheid-era Afrikaner, the world treats Netanyahu as it treated South Africa’s Prime Minister P. W. Botha at the end of the ‘80s. Netanyahu made the international community fed up with him, and by doing so made it fed up with his country as well, and turned Israel in to a state (wrongly!) seen as the soon-to-be South Africa.

What happened to Israel in recent years is disastrous. The country is on a collision course with the winds of time. This collision is more dangerous than a collision with an iceberg. From a certain point on, Netanyahu’s arguments are no longer heard, even if they are spectacular. From a certain point on, he’s not treated as legitimate, even when he’s absolutely right. Since he’s seen as a fossil from another era, he has become anachronistic, irrelevant and tedious. Then, one day, the family of nations vomits him out. Suddenly, the winds of time blow him over. After long years of saying “no big deal” and “not so bad,” the bottom of the boat breaks apart and Netanyahu finds himself in the frozen water of ostracism.

So now, when the European Union is already marking products from the settlements, a few commendable statements at the Center for American Progress are not enough. Now, when Israel is in dire straits, a few faint hems and haws about peace won’t cut it. What's needed now is firm, resolute acts that quickly change the reality on the ground. What’s needed now is a sharp, dramatic, immediate swerve of the steering wheel and a change of direction. We don’t have to repeat Ariel Sharon’s move of initiating the disengagement — but Netanyahu must adopt Sharon’s internal rationale. We don’t have to do as David Ben-Gurion did when he received the Partition Plans of 1937 and 1947 — but we must return to Ben-Gurion’s ingenious diplomatic strategy.

History doesn't forgive small nations that don't understand its rules and insist on ending up its wrong side.