Israel is facing some very dangerous times. Crucial decisions must be made that will shape the present and the future of the nation and the Jewish people for a long time ahead. Israel is often at a crossroads, but now it seems that both the opportunities and the risks are greater and more profound than usual. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to many of the people closest to him, is a very bad decision maker. He hesitates, mostly considering local small politics, taking the easy path above larger more consequential and more difficult choices. It often seems that his own political survival and that of his coalition is his foremost concern.
Netanyahu deflects criticism of his tactical approach to leading by constantly sowing fear through the continual emphasis of the threats, real and perceived, that he articulates so well in his dramatic oral presentations. Israel is truly facing enormous threats, both regionally and globally, yet the lack of Israeli initiative and direction heightens those threats, increasing risks and as such jeopardizes the lives of both Israelis and Israel’s neighbors alike.
Netanyahu, instead of demonstrating bold leadership and vision, has chosen to verbally escalate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather than reaching out to the leaders of Israel’s neighbors, who also face serious threats from within and from around the region, has taken on a course of actions and words that not only alienate them, but also raise the rage of the Arab streets throughout the region and within Israel’s own borders. Netanyahu’s failure of leadership has led members of his own coalition to compete with each other on who can present the most inciting rhetoric against the Palestinian leaders and even against Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
It is doubtful that Netanyahu ever really supported the two-state solution that he spoke of in his Bar-Ilan speeches. Since becoming prime minister he has done little if anything to advance the possibility of resolving the conflict on that basis. Netanyahu has never presented a genuine peace initiative. Even his own so-called “economic peace” was blocked by his own policies of continuing to place so many restrictions on the Palestinian economy that it never had any chance of succeeding.
He has constantly engaged in direct and aggressive de legitimation of the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, never even attempting to engage him directly, in public or private. Netanyahu has turned down every single appeal from Abbas over the years to meet directly.
If we only had a leader.
A real Israeli leader would cease the counter-productive verbal attacks against our neighbors and instead challenge them with a strategic vision of real peace. A real leader would present a vision for the future of Israel with concrete ideas and proposals for the resolution of the issues in conflict which would not only see the issues through the prism of Israel but with a viewpoint able to envision common interests being addressed in ways that serve the needs of both sides.
A real leader for Israel would finally address the Arab Peace Initiative presented way back in 2002 and declare that it could serve as a basis for negotiations between Israel and its neighbors. He would enhance that with an Israeli peace initiative which does not negate the Arab Peace Initiative but even broadens it by demonstrating how concrete regional cooperation would significantly enhance regional stability and security for Israel and its neighbors.
Based on a grand Israeli vision that takes into account the Arab Peace Initiative, a real Israeli leader would use the positive platform and vision to call for a summit of Israel and its closest neighbors (the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan) and even seek to rapidly expand the circle which would include Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.
A real Israeli leader would reach out immediately to Abbas with genuine proposals for the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state next to Israel taking into account Israel’s real security needs and together develop the mechanisms in an agreement that would free Palestine and secure Israel.
A real Israeli leader, rather than dousing fuel on the rising flames of hatred and violence between Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian citizens would present legislation in the Knesset making all forms of discrimination in Israel illegal and then he would launch a serious program to finally close the gaps in rights, opportunities and services between the Jewish and Arab sectors in Israel.
After more than 65 years of existence there are no reasonable excuses for the continuation of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion in the democratic State of Israel. A real leader would call for a summit meeting with all of the leadership of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and together with a group of leading Jewish citizens, perhaps mayors and social leaders who would form a “Prime Minister’s Council” for addressing the immediate needs for a civil accord, build partnerships between Jews and Arabs in Israel. This civil leadership initiative would set new policies that would enable Israel’s Palestinian citizens to finally feel at home and welcome in Israel, as full citizens.
We don’t have a real leader. We have Netanyahu, who does not lead, but responds, reacts, incites and deflects. Netanyahu is rapidly bringing Israel into direct confrontation with all of Israel’s neighbors, including those with whom Israel has peace treaties. Netanyahu is bringing Israel into direct confrontation with the entire Muslim world. He is bringing Israel into confrontation with most of Europe and the US administration as well. Netanyahu is intensifying the confrontations between Jews and Arabs inside of Israel. Netanyahu does all of this while presenting no positive agenda, no thoughts on how Israel’s position regionally and globally could be improved.
Israel needs a real leader during these dangerous times. Netanyahu is not the leader that Israel needs.
For the sake of Israel, Netanyahu must change, or he must be changed.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.