Does Israel's President Want to Be FW De Klerk or Shimon Peres?

Is anyone else in Israel expressing such courageous truth as the president, Reuven Rivlin? If he wants to make history, though, he must keep going on the road to freedom for all.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressing a meeting of Israelis from across religious spectrum, Jerusalem, July 23, 2015.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressing a meeting of Israelis from across religious spectrum, Jerusalem, July 23, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

There’s a chance the house at 3 Hanassi Street, Jerusalem, is home to the most important person for the future of Israel: the Israeli Frederik Willem de Klerk. Of course, there’s also a danger that what we’re seeing in the President’s Residence is yet another typical Israeli illusion, one that will not take us anywhere and merely give Israelis more of what they love: to feel good about themselves without lifting a finger.

The choice is in his hands. President Reuven Rivlin will have to decide what road to take, and how far he is prepared to walk down it.

His first year as president was sensational. True, he hasn’t boasted about Israeli nanotechnology, but some of his words and deeds have been revolutionary. A president who unhesitatingly, shamefacedly, takes responsibility for Israeli crimes; who treats Palestinians like people; who is filled with love, humanity and genuine compassion; and, above all, who says what he thinks and means what he says – this is unheard of.

And, wonder of wonders, people love him. But that love must not go to his head – or ours. His test is yet to come.

His rhetoric is astonishing, especially in the face of hatred and racism. Another few Rivlin years and Israelis may realize they are not alone here, and that their neighbors are people, just like them. There is nothing more revolutionary than that, it’s the key to everything.

But Rivlin the man still carries the burden of his ideology. If he fails to resolve this contradiction, his actions won’t bear fruit and he’ll be forgotten like all his predecessors.

He is a ray of light in the darkness. But to become a chapter in the country’s history, not just a footnote, he must shake off his past.

Israel will never be moral and just as long as it retains even one privilege for the Jews that is denied to the country’s other residents.

Rivlin still believes this it is not only possible but defensible. He says all the right things about justice and equality, but he wants to preserve the status quo in which, for example, the Law of Return applies only to Jews. There is no way of reconciling equality with such profound discrimination. No visit to wounded Palestinians can bridge that gap. The equality must begin with national equality, and Rivlin has never reached that point.

To his credit, he always understood that a two-state solution was no solution at all.

“I fail to see how the Palestinians, for whom I have great respect, would agree that we have Ben-Gurion International Airport, and F-15s, F-16s and F-35s, and they’ll make do with Dahaniyeh,” he told the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth this week, referring to the shuttered Palestinian airport.

“With our unrelenting, condescending approach to the Palestinians, we think they could accept a two-state solution in which one state is an omnipotent power and the other is not even autonomous.”

From the margins of the far right to the furthest edge of Meretz – is anyone else expressing such courageous truth?

This, though, is where the president stops. But he cannot stop here. He must present his own solution. Fuzzy talk about confederations and open borders do not do justice to his integrity and courage. The continuation of the occupation, in any form, brings all his fine words about justice crashing down.

This is the simple truth: If not two states, than one single state. And if one single state, then its character and form of government will need to change. To be a democracy, there needs to be equality for all – and the alternative to democracy is apartheid. There is no other way, Mr. President, and no room for deception. Your visits to Tira are moving, what you have to say has a positive influence on the public discourse (and maybe on Beitar Jerusalem, too). Your courage is remarkable – perhaps you’ll even succeed in restoring the Ikrit and Biram exiles to their villages. But these do not constitute a historic change. Perhaps you are paving the way for a one-state solution; perhaps, like the right, you have no solution.

In other words, Mr. President, do you prefer to be F.W. de Klerk or Shimon Peres? How do you wish to be remembered?

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