Netanyahu Stands on the Brink of History
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has returned from triumphant visits to the United States, Australia and Singapore. Now is the time for him to display courage and make serious decisions that will determine his legacy — either as one of Israel’s great leaders or a failure.
We are living in a crazy world, which was stunned by the surprise election of Donald Trump. The new American president has proceeded, at breakneck speed, to reverse the politically correct approaches of Barack Obama, which included endorsing groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Trump is the first American president to confront the bias of the liberal press. But his haste to implement some policies, such as his decree limiting Muslim immigration, led to chaos and ultimately was curbed by the courts.
Still, Trump’s election is regarded as a gift by many Israelis. His uninhibited display of warmth and friendship toward the Jewish state and Netanyahu have raised Israel’s standing in the eyes of many nations that were implicitly encouraged by the Obama administration to condemn it. The US now treats Israel as a genuine partner, something that will enormously benefit Israel politically, economically and militarily.
There has already been a profound impact at the United Nations, where Trump’s new ambassador, Nikki Haley, clearly stated that the US “will not turn a blind eye” to Israel-bashing, and will demonstrate “ironclad support for Israel and intolerance for the UN’s anti-Israel bias.” Beyond that, the administration has warned the UN that it may pull out of the obscenely anti-Israeli Human Rights Council, which would send a powerful message.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg for Israel.
Another most astonishing development is the almost open alliance between Israel and the moderate Sunni states, which Trump has been actively encouraging. Israel’s relationship with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, including defense and intelligence sharing, exceeds the heady days of the late President Anwar Sadat. Likewise, senior Saudi spokesmen have been downplaying their traditional hatred of Israel, and, with the other Gulf states, are calling for a united front against the efforts of the Shiite Iranian terrorist state to achieve regional hegemony as a nuclear power.
Trump has vowed to reverse the appeasement policies of Obama, and has reiterated that he will never come to terms with a nuclear Iran, and will take steps to neutralize its global terrorist activities.
Remarkably, Israel has also developed a relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, notwithstanding his support for Syria. Thanks to Obama’s blunders, Russia now occupies a dominant position in the Middle East. Hopefully, Trump’s policies will not cause any ruptures in Israel’s interaction with Russia.
In Asia, Africa and some European countries, the bonds between those countries and Israel are being strengthened, because those other countries are seeking a better relationship with Trump, and sense that his affection for Israel is genuine.
This atmosphere provides Israel with opportunities to move forward in relation to settlements, and a policy toward the Palestinians.
Trump has said that he is not committed to a two-state policy, and that he would be supportive of a different solution. In the course of professing his love for Israel and his determination to act as a genuine ally, he stated that his ultimate objective was to reach a deal that would never undermine Israel’s security.
He stressed that Israel would be obliged to make some compromises, and that excessive expansion of settlements would not be helpful. But at the same time, he insisted that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and cease their incitement. Yet he also postponed moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, presumably because he was advised that it could undermine the very delicate relationship brewing between Israel and the Sunni states.
While there is still chaos in the administration, the hysteria against Trump by American liberals is unprecedented.
The liberal majority of the American-Jewish community has become engaged in an insane campaign to demonize Trump as an antisemite. There has been an increase in antisemitism in the US, and Trump has been tone deaf not to respond more vigorously. But given his regard for his family, his circle of Jewish friends and his extraordinary outpourings of love for Israel, it is obscene to accuse him of promoting antisemitism. The visit by Vice President Mike Pence to Dachau and his personal commitment in helping to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery further reinforced this message.
Official mainstream organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement have effectively adopted the same role as J Street, and have attacked Trump. Yet during the Obama administration, they failed to react to the most dangerous instances of antisemitism cloaked as anti-Zionism.
Initially, the ADL even defended the candidacy of the antisemitic Keith Ellison to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee (they reversed themselves after damaging recordings of Ellison came to light). The ADL also refused to condemn the Black Lives Matter movement, despite the outrageous condemnation of Israel as an apartheid state by some of its members. Nor did the ADL object to Linda Sarsour and other radical anti-Israel activists who helped lead the Women’s March on Washington. Fortunately, the support of the Christian evangelical movement for Israel has more than compensated for the poor behavior of some American Jews.
But despite the hostility of liberal American Jews, Israel is now presented with a unique opportunity to achieve crucial national objectives. Israel’s success will depend on our leaders’ willingness to set aside short-term partisan politics, and act in the national interest.
Aside from the extreme Left and the extreme Right, there is a greater national consensus among Israelis than has existed at any time since the great schism over the Oslo Accords. Most agree that we must separate from the Palestinians and recognize that the annexation of all of Judea and Samaria would inevitably lead to a binational state, and end the Zionist dream. Yet there is also a clear consensus that an independent Palestinian state today would effectively amount to a terror state at our doorstep.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull summed up Israel’s predicament when he stated that “being blunt and realistic about this — you cannot expect any Israeli government to put itself in a position where its security is at risk, where its citizens are not safe. The first duty of every government is the safety of the people.”
Netanyahu must now spell out our main objectives, which include approval of unlimited building in the major settlement blocs within existing boundaries, defining permanent borders and formal US endorsement for the annexation of the Golan Heights.
At the same time, it is also in Israel’s interest to promote greater industrialization and economic infrastructure in the West Bank, in order to incentivize coexistence. This would facilitate greater Palestinian autonomy — subject, of course, to maintaining Israel’s fundamental security requirements.
This requires Netanyahu to confront not only Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi, but also the radicals in his own Likud party. If he fails to stand up to them, we could face a disaster.
Trump is volatile, and if Netanyahu permits the radicals in his coalition to unilaterally initiate annexations, this could easily spark a confrontation with Trump, which Netanyahu is desperate to avoid.
Trump seems determined to achieve a deal. However, unlike Obama, he is unlikely to promote any scheme that would undermine Israel’s security. Netanyahu must engage positively in these negotiations, and if the Palestinians remain inflexible, Trump will, in all likelihood, fully support us.
But prior to that, Netanyahu must stand firm, and if his radical partners seek to embark on unauthorized initiatives, he must be willing to dissolve the government.
Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid is a contender to be the next prime minister. He has been extremely responsible in his statements over the past 12 months. Setting aside personalities, he and Netanyahu probably share a similar vision of what should be done. Were he to publicly support Netanyahu, he would strengthen his own status in the public as a future leader, and enable Netanyahu to move forward.
Today, we are in a remarkable position. We have been presented with the great opportunity to shape our destiny with a genuinely pro-Israel US administration. But this will depend on Netanyahu and whether he succeeds in resisting the pressures from the radical elements of his own party and coalition. If he does so, he will have the nation’s support to steer through the diplomatic minefields and capitalize on his personal relationship with Trump to lead the nation towards stability and security.
A version of this article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom.