Netanyahu, Threatened by Tsunamis From Near and Far

If there’s no solution to the conflict, Israel will be hit by a tsunami of South African proportions. But if Netanyahu does genuinely pursue talks, the waters will rise from within.

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has declared that talks between Israel and the Palestinians will resume. That seems to be a breakthrough. But even now, there’s more to this than meets the eye.

What is going through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s head as he enters direct negotiations with the Palestinians? What goes through the head of any person who takes upon himself responsibility for a country’s existence? I assume that Netanyahu feels he is moving between two types of tsunamis, knowing he can only escape from one of them. The first is the tsunami that will hit the State of Israel if there’s no solution to the conflict. That’s a tsunami whose force will build up slowly, but it will gradually get worse − as happened in South Africa in the 1980s.

The second is the domestic tsunami, the one that will hit him as prime minister if he pursues talks. Then, Naftali Bennett, Moshe Feiglin, Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely will open wide and fire off their barbs. After that, the right-wing rabbis will declare a day of crisis. A tsunami, pure and simple.

So the prime minister sits in his house and says to himself, “I’m going to avoid both types of tsunamis. I will abandon the battle to achieve peace and fight a different battle, the one in which I’ll invest most of my strength. If negotiations have been decreed, we must prepare for the next stage − the battle for public opinion when the peace efforts fail.

“If I succeed in that battle − and I believe I can − I will tell those Europeans, who are tainted with anti-Semitism and are under Islamic pressure, that I did all I could, leaving no stone unturned, but that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a rude and persistent rejectionist. To Danon and his friends, I’ll say that I defended Israel’s true interests. Naturally, the tsunami they were planning for me will turn into a campaign that will glorify my phenomenal ability to flee the trap that had been planted for me.”

True, this analysis is lacking one simple but important piece of information: What does Israel’s prime minister really want? He gave the Bar-Ilan University speech in 2009 that favored the two-state solution, but is that really his position? If so, why wasn’t it inserted into the Likud electoral platform before January’s election? And why was this point absent from the government guidelines? It’s very possible that this would have caused gaping disagreements with Bennett ‏(Habayit Hayehudi‏) and Avigdor Lieberman ‏(Yisrael Beiteinu‏), but the prime minister would have thus signaled to the broader public the direction in which he wants to steer the ship of state.

The tragic side of every diplomatic maneuver that’s liable to be successful is Israel’s neglect of its existential interest − a peace treaty with the Palestinians. Netanyahu knows that such an agreement will open paths to the Arab world and give Israel a real tailwind against Iran. He knows that Israel’s integration into Europe will be possible and meaningful. He knows it will allow countries that have made peace with us to market it to their people, who still refuse to acknowledge it. But in the meantime, he does not dare confront the nationalist-mystical tendencies that have firmly settled in the hearts of the right.

Maybe now, when the world’s eyes are on him and he has no illusions about what the response to a failure of the talks and efforts to place blame would be, Netanyahu will reveal some hidden power that we didn’t believe he possessed, and demonstrate leadership, both outward and inward. After all, the responsibility does not rest on the shoulders of Tzipi Livni or even Yair Lapid. This is his responsibility, and he can’t share it with anyone.

I’d like to think that if he dared, he would find most of the public behind him; those who are fed up with those hitchhiking on the Likud wagon and with the extreme nationalists who dream of rebuilding the Temple. People are ready to go in a different direction, if only the elected prime minister of the State of Israel proves ready to take them there. Will he dare?

Netanyahu at the Likud-Beiteinu campaign launch in 2012.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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