The Speech of Our Lives

Rare are the moments when one person can change history. Tonight is the night.

This column's headline is taken from a piece in which my colleague, Yossi Sarid, described U.S. President Barack Obama's historic address. There is no more fitting headline for tonight's speech as well, with which the prime minister will determine our future. This kind of opportunity will not come our way again.

Rare are the moments when one person can change history. Tonight is the night. There will be no more Obamas or Arab peace initiatives. These opportunities come around once every few generations. It will be too late the next time such an opportunity presents itself, because Israel's situation will deteriorate immeasurably. Obama is liable to lose interest and the Arab world will throw up its hands in desperation. There will be no more moderate elements; after every partner we ruled out, someone even more extreme invariably took his place. Therfore every rejection will be fateful, every attempt to once again buy time and placate the Americans with lies will be fatal. Benjamin Netanyahu will decide our future tonight. Are we headed for another 60 years of bloodshed and international isolation, a life reliant on the sword and a gluttony for real estate; 60 more years of subjecting our neighbors to a cruel, brutal occupation? Or are we destined for a new beginning, a restart of the entire Zionist enterprise?

No flowery language or pathos can overstate the importance of the words at Bar-Ilan University tonight. Ultimately, Israel will respond with peace or war, integration into the region or continual threats against it, joining the family of enlightened nations or South Africa, maintaining the critical alliance with the United States or doing away with it. Tonight, the War of Independence can end with a grand victory; tonight the war may also start anew with full force and violence, leading to Israel's defeat.

A speech is just a speech, Netanyahu is just Netanyahu. Nonetheless, the eyes are entranced and the soul is aflutter. Will we witness the birth of the Israeli Charles de Gaulle or F.W. de Klerk, or will we once again see the little Bibi? Will Israel see what the entire world sees, or will it continue with its blindness and obduracy?

The chance for change is slim to none. The voices so far portend bad news. On Wednesday, Netanyahu held a meeting with David Grossman and Eyal Meged. The authors pleaded with him to take the path of giants, and Netanyahu occasionally jotted down notes. This could be a sign of good things, but his pad has always been filled with lots of bad advice, a history of wholesale negotiations - what will Bogie and Buji say, what will placate Ketzale and Hotovely, those representatives from both the right and left of the political spectrum.

Netanyahu should keep everyone at a distance and give the speech of his life, which is the speech of our lives, solely on the basis of his practical intentions. This speech will be measured by what follows: either Ariel Sharon's historic Herzliya speech, which was backed by a determined plan of action, or Ehud Olmert's forgotten Herzliya speech, which was backed by hollow words. No political excuse will do because leaders are judged by a different standard. A cup containing 10 measuring units - nine containing reward and one containing risk - sits before us: Will he once again choose the risks?

A historic speech will perhaps arouse society's mainstream from its slumber. If this mainstream does not wake up, no speech will help. Not only the prime minister, but all of society will give its answer tonight: peace or war. This is Netanyahu's once-in-a-lifetime chance to touch history - not as a historian like his father, but as a maker of history whose father's students will study his words and deeds. Will the historian's son deliver another fearmongering speech, or will he surprise us with a speech of hope?

One does not need advisers, experts, citations from the Holy Bible or the Koran; no convoluted formulations or vague adherence to the road map; no Holocaust references and Iran. This is the moment to speak simple, painful truths: The Israeli occupation will soon end. The settlements will be dismantled and two states for two peoples will arise. Nineteen words that will say everything. Nineteen words that will open a huge gate for Israel. Open that gate for us, Netanyahu, because as it is being locked, the day beckons.