You’ll forgive me, friends, if the state of Israel is on my mind these days. Tomorrow night, I will be delivering a talk on the topic of Spinoza and Zionism, and Tuesday, the Jewish State will hold what could be one of the most pivotal elections in her 68 year history. The election is essentially a referendum on Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has become the single public face of his nation throughout the world. Defiant, resolute, articulate, uncompromising, parochial, intelligent … these are the words you typically hear about Netanyahu, unless of course you are involved in the peace movement as I am, and then you only hear expletives and comparisons to the Nazis. Personally, I’m not one to blame Netanyahu every time it rains too much or whenever my football team loses a game. But nor am I going to tell you that he is what Israel needs right now. For reasons that should be obvious, pot-luck would be better. And increasingly, it is beginning to look like the Israelis have realized as much.
Daniel Webster was referring to Dartmouth when he exclaimed, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet, there are those who love it.” That is one of my favorite lines to have ever emerged from the field of law. If you substitute the word “country” for “college,” you have captured well my attitude towards Israel. In that regards, Bibi and I are fully in accord. I don’t question his motives every time he acts. I accept that he loves Israel, cares desperately for her people to be secure, and has no particular interest in turning Israel turn into some sort of empire. Unlike Isis, he’s not looking to create a single massive Caliphate, unlike the leaders of Iran, he’s not looking to control the governments of many nations, and unlike the 19th century European colonialists, he’s not looking to “take up the white man’s burden” and civilize the developing world.
But that isn’t to say that Bibi is willing to work for a two-state solution. While he professes to support such a goal, his actions speak louder than his words. He does nothing to pull back from the West Bank Settlements, and he must recognize that with every new Jewish home that is built in pre-67 Palestine, a viable Palestinian state becomes that much more difficult to create. Bibi isn’t stupid. He knows what he’s doing. He is giving up on the dream of a Palestinian state, and turning Israel into a fortress that is expanding, ever so gradually, into the only land that is available to make Palestine an independent and prosperous neighbor of Israel.
In the process, Bibi is also turning Israel into an international pariah. His is not the face of a diplomat, but rather a warrior. Largely because of his lack of diplomatic skills, he has created the impression that as warriors go, he is more like a Goliath than a David. It’s actually pretty amusing to think of Israel as a Goliath. Just look at a globe; you can hardly see the Jewish State, it’s that small. Then again, that is true of Dartmouth, and yet I’m sure that in Hanover, New Hampshire, it casts quite a shadow. Sure enough, Israel is plenty large enough in its own neighborhood to come across as a bully if and when it abuses its power. Netanyahu doesn’t seem to care if it is perceived as such internationally. Increasingly, though, it appears that the voters of Israel do care – or at least that’s what the pre-election polls are telling us.
It is time for Israel to elect a new, more moderate Prime Minister. That leader must embrace the idea of a two-state solution and immediately halt new settlement construction whether or not the current Palestinian regime wishes to come to the table. At the same time, the Israeli leader should invite his or her Palestinian counterpart to similarly send signals that the Palestinians also wish to see the establishment of two states for two peoples -- and not simply as a temporary measure but rather as a permanent solution to the Conflict. By "signals," I’m not talking about empty rhetoric, but actions – such as in the way that Jews and Jewish history are portrayed in Palestinian textbooks.
There is no reason for Israel’s leaders to take steps that compromise the security of their people any more than there is a reason why Palestinians must accept the Israeli narrative about how these two peoples came to find themselves at this crossroads. The two sides have plenty of work that they can do together, cooperatively and with integrity, that stops short of crossing the line into foolhardiness or self-abasement.
The key is that both sides need leaders who are committed to a vision of compromise and mutual respect. Clearly, Bibi is not such a statesman. His time has come and gone. I for one am ready for his replacement.