An Israeli ‘Spring’ is long overdue

Despite his smooth, sophisticated outer persona, Benjamin Netanyahu is similar to Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Qaddafi and Ali Abdullah Salah, all military men, whose downfall stemmed from their inability to drop their paternalistic authoritarian attitudes toward increasingly informed populations. They failed to adapt their world views to fit altered circumstances and were willfully blind to the writing on the wall.

Netanyahu’s background may differ from his former Arab counterparts but, nevertheless, he is cut from similar rigid cloth. He joined the IDF during the 1967 Six-Day-War and led a commando unit against Syrian forces in 1973—and almost four decades on peace still doesn’t feature on his agenda.

No one can criticize the Israeli prime minister’s Zionist credentials; he’s a patriot who is fiercely protective of his country’s security, which is one of the reasons he still enjoys popular backing. His supporters perceive his natural intransigence and unwillingness to compromise as admirable traits equating to strength; they feel safe with Netanyahu at the helm, even as he steers his country through waters that have rarely been so dark and dangerous.

In reality, the Israeli premier’s decision-making is more appropriate to the mid-20th century than now. He revives memories of the Holocaust during most of his speeches and never fails to characterize Jews as eternal victims surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on throwing his people into the sea; never mind that Israel is a nuclear armed power, the most militarily puissant nation in the region, basking in unconditional US protection . . . at least, for now. Indeed, Netanyahu’s constant aggression, saber-rattling and deep-seated aversion to both a Palestinian state and peace with all 22 Arab League members not only heightens enmity but also places Washington at odds with the Arab world in contravention of US strategic and economic interests.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, currently Netanyahu’s blue-eyed boy, was caught on video at a fundraiser expressing his personal view that there will never be a Palestinian state because the Palestinians have disavowed the concept of peace in favor of Israel’s destruction—a stance that flies in the face of decades-long official US policy. As Romney’s educational credentials are solid, he either secretly harbors messianic ‘Second-coming’ doctrine or, more likely, is currying favor with fat-cat Jewish billionaires and the influential pro-Israel lobby, which has the power to make or break political careers. In any case, his message that was not destined for public consumption is flatly wrong.

Romney is, no doubt, aware how close Yasser Arafat and his “partner in peace” Yitzhak Rabin came to sealing a deal. Israel’s propagandists never cease to blame Arafat for not signing on the dotted line, whereas, in truth, he was offered nothing on paper. And who knows, if circumstances had allowed Bill Clinton and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to remain some months longer, the 2001 final status talks held at Taba in all likelihood would have been positively concluded. Instead, they were rudely interrupted by the arrival of Ariel Sharon, a consummate warmonger, and George W. Bush who had little interest in brokering a two-state solution other than as a sop to get Arab allies on board his regional wars of choice.

Romney certainly knows about the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative unveiled during the 2002 Beirut Summit offering Israel full diplomatic and economic relations with all Arab League members together with an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist, broadly in return for Israel’s retreat to its 1967 borders. Like so many others, that olive branch went unanswered. With guarantees from major world powers, that deal would have put a lid on Israel’s existential concerns forever, provided Israel and its Arab neighbors with unprecedented stability and prosperity and deprived terrorist organizations of their most significant recruitment tool.

And if Romney had bothered to read the Palestinian Papers, a trove of more than 1,600 leaked documents published by Al Jazeera, setting out decades of secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he would know that Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiators were prepared to give in to almost all Israeli demands. The “biggest Jerusalem in Jewish history” to include all but one Jewish settlement remaining on the West Bank was one major concession. Another was the PA’s acceptance that Israel would take in just a small symbolic number of Palestinian refugees scattered around the planet.

If anything, those papers revealed just how desperate Palestinians are to be free from occupation and proved beyond a shadow of doubt that it’s the Israeli leadership, not the Palestinians,’ that won’t say “yes.” Isn’t it about time that the Israeli people wizened up, especially given the altered political landscape in their vicinity? Can’t they see that Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and other likeminded right-wingers are taking them down a path to international isolation, conflict and potential destruction?

Netanyahu’s entrenched self-righteous arrogance is leading them to the brink of war with Iran with or without a green light from Uncle Sam. In an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” aired on Sunday, President Obama dismissed Netanyahu’s worries over the Iranian nuclear program as “noise.” “When it comes to our national security decisions—any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people,” he said, adding, “I am going to block out—any noise that’s out there.” Israel’s hawks should be careful what they wish for. On Sunday, Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, warned that his country could launch a preemptive attack if it felt cornered. “This war is likely to degenerate into World War III,” he added.

Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama has been fraught from the get-go and many Israelis fear that their prime minister’s open backing of Obama’s rival will backfire if the wrong horse wins the race. In this case, their fears are well-founded. Romney’s campaign is floundering largely over his dismissal of almost half the American population as work-shy freeloaders looking for state hand-outs. Obama has the edge in latest polls and in the event he remains in the Oval Office could turn out to be a very different creature in his last term, unburdened by vote-getting people pleasing.

I suspect that the majority of Israelis, sick of gifting their sons and daughters to the IDF and forking out exorbitant taxes to modernize the war machine, want peace as much as most Arabs do. If that’s true, they should create their own version of Tahrir Square, transport Netanyahu to a museum where he belongs, and come up with a young, progressive leader unencumbered by baggage left over from no longer relevant eras; someone who can replace fear-based belligerence with hope.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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