Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech to the U.S. Congress on May 24, was like a battered fighter entering the final round of a championship bout. He knows his only chance to win is by a knockout. With nothing to lose, Bibi got up, and with the “Rocky” music blazing in his ears, fought the fight of his life.
It is hard to overstate the brilliance of Bibi’s speech. Knowing he needed America on his side, and that he couldn’t succumb to President Barack Obama’s demands, he put all his chips on the U.S. Congress and mesmerized a nation. No better case for Israel’s position has ever been made. He was rewarded with 26 standing ovations from the most powerful legislative chamber in the world.
Sadly, the speech was 18 years too late.
Bibi’s message should have been delivered to the world in 1993, at the very beginning of the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians.
That was the perfect time to declare that “Israel is not a foreign occupier” and that while it is willing to make painful compromises for peace, it “will never compromise” on things like defensible borders and security guarantees, the unity of Jerusalem and the impossibility of a Palestinian right of return.
Had Israel been resolute with its red lines from the start, it would have better established the credibility and justness of its cause.
Instead, the opposite happened. It was the Palestinians who stuck to their guns, and the Israelis who kept undermining their own position. At every step, the Palestinians pocketed Israeli concessions and just waited for more. They realized all they needed to do to strengthen their cause was to keep saying no.
Meanwhile, Israel, desperate to be loved by the world and to make peace with a hostile neighbor, went bipolar. One day, it would make an “unprecedented” peace offer; the next, it would become disillusioned with Palestinian violence and unleash its military. In 2005, it even showed the world how it can dismantle settlements by expelling 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank.
On and on this game went, until Israel woke up one day and said: “Hey, wait a minute. The more we compromise, the more the world hates us. The less they compromise, the more the world loves them.”
The breaking point came with President Obama’s “1967 lines” speech, when Obama asked Israel to make more unilateral concessions, without, at a minimum, opposing a Palestinian “right of return” that would effectively end the Zionist project.
That’s when Bibi said “dayenu.” He saw how, after nearly two decades of unilateral concessions and rejected offers, here was Israel sitting isolated and hated, while the uncompromising Palestinians, who had just joined forces with the terrorist group Hamas, were sitting pretty on top of the diplomatic world — and delegitimizing the Jewish state at every turn.
So Bibi went for broke. He unleashed a stunning and unapologetic speech that reverberated with candor. Instead of offering false hopes, Bibi offered the naked truth.
What was that truth? The reason there is no peace has little to do with Israel’s refusal to make more concessions, and everything to do with the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state — settlements or no settlements.
The speech forced us to confront the worst- kept secret in the Middle East: Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a mirage. The conflict is about existence, not borders. The Palestinians would have had their own state 63 years ago if they could make peace with the Jews. But how could they make peace with those they have been taught only to hate?
As I see it, it’s time now for Jews to sit shivah for this false peace. We sit shivah all the time for loved ones who pass away. Well, peace with the Palestinians is a loved one that has passed away.
The death of a cherished illusion isn’t the end of the world. Freed from the burden of chasing a mirage, Israel can still ensure its Jewish and democratic character. How? By filing for divorce.
Israel can implement, at a time of its choosing, Bibi’s vision of defensible borders with maximum security provisions. Peace or no peace, this would remove the “occupation” albatross around Israel’s neck and co-opt Palestinian moves to get their state recognized at the United Nations. Instead of the world giving Palestinians a state with “1967 borders,” Israel would give them a state with “Bibi borders.”
If you ask me, it’s better to have a good deal without an agreement than a bad deal with an agreement. Let’s face it, any deal agreeable to the Palestinians would be terribly dangerous to the Jewish state — and who could trust the Palestinians to even honor it?
But here’s the clincher for Israel: Because Obama has coupled the two “wrenching” issues of Jerusalem and the right of return, and because the Palestinians are unlikely to compromise on their “sacred” right, under this scenario, Israel would keep a united Jerusalem indefinitely, and maybe forever.
In other words, Israel has a chance to protect its Jewish and democratic future, remove the stain of occupation, keep Jerusalem united, and divorce an enemy that can’t stomach its existence.
It wouldn’t be the first time Jews made the best of a tragic situation.