We all need to chose our political activism, and mine is aimed at helping Netanyahu to find the road to peace.
We need Netanyahu.
Not because a Netanyahu government will more effectively rebuild the Israeli left. Not because I believe that for it to get better it has to get a lot worse, though both may be true. But because there is no one, absolutely no one in the Israeli political arena who has the capability of delivering a peace deal that the Israeli mainstream (meaning both the peace skeptics like Kadima voters and the religious and right of center people who together compose the vast majority of Israeli society) would support.
I know, it sounds like the old Nixon-China deal —only Nixon could build the bridge to the Communist state. Nixon delivered. Only Netanyahu can make peace with the Palestinians.
Let’s face it, in any reasonable scenario; peace with the Palestinians will require the resettlement of tens of thousands of settlers. Even though a majority of those settlers who will need to move will probably relocate to other parts of Judea and Samaria that will be annexed to Israel, and even if the Palestinians accept (which I believe we should insist) that there will a Jewish national minority in the Palestinian state, several tens of thousands of settlers will refuse to cooperate with the democratic decision supporting a peace deal with the Palestinians. And Netanyahu is the only one who will be able to confront these refusenik settlers.
Any peace deal with the Palestinians will require Israel relinquishing its claim of sovereignty and control over the Temple Mount. Even with Israeli sovereignty recognized over the Kotel (the Western Wall), the Jewish Quartet of the Old City of Jerusalem and all of West Jerusalem, only Netanyahu will be able to secure a majority of public support behind the creation of two capitals for two states in Jerusalem.
When Netanyahu declared his support for the two states solution in his famous speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009 the sky did not fall and the right wing did not take to the streets. When he agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including over 300 who killed Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, nearly 90% of the public supported him. His cabinet voted overwhelmingly for the deal: 26 yay, 3 nay. No other living Israeli political leader could bring the same results.
We, as the backbone of the Israeli peace camp need to reframe our political challenge. Under normal circumstances, it is the main task of the opposition is to convince the public to replace the ruling regime and its political platform and propose a real alternative. Now, in Israel 2012, our task and challenge is to embrace Netanyahu and to convince him to become the historic leader that he thinks he is. Netanyahu’s historic role must be not to bomb Iran, but to make peace with the Palestinians and to reach out to the Arab world and embrace the Arab peace initiative.
Leaders change. Rabin changed. Sharon changed. Our challenge must be to get Netanyahu to make the change too. I don’t know if he is capable of change; many Netanyahu experts think he won’t. They speak of the deep influence that his father, the ultimate right wing Zionist history professor has on him and about his radically right wing wife and her control over him. Maybe they’re right. But its worth noting that father Professor Benzion Netanyahu is 102 years old. And Sarah Netanyahu, though she may have some direct influence on Bibi, is not the Prime Minister.
In some ways I am counting on Netanyahu’s ego and self-perception as a leader who will do glorious things for Israel. In 1998 he negotiated the Wye River Plantation with Yasser Arafat who he later called “his friend.” He also transferred the Jewish Holy City of Hebron to the Palestinians. Bibi is our man.
I would rather support Netanyahu in a move in the right direction than to spend my time strategizing about how to remove him from office. It may be that both options have small chances of success. But we all need to chose our political activism, and mine is aimed at helping Netanyahu to find the road to peace.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.