— It is possible to imagine a scenario more favorable to Israel than the
current one, but it is not easy.
is giving up its chemical weapons. In the civil war there, Hezbollah and Iran
are bleeding. The Egyptian Army has ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, restored a
trusted interlocutor for Israel, and embarked on a squeeze of Hamas in Gaza. In
Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has overstretched; the glow
is off his aggressive stand for Palestine.
Arabia is furious with President Obama over his policies toward Egypt, Syria
and Iran. It has scant anger left for Israel. Sunni-Shiite enmity, played out
in a Syrian conflict that could make the 30-year religious war in Europe seem
short, feels more venomous today than the old story of Arabs and Jews. The
power and prosperity of Israel have seldom, if ever, looked more sustainable in
its 65-year history.
course things can change in the Middle East — of late very fast — but if
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is inclined to take risks from
strength, the present looks propitious. As he wrote in an open letter to
Israelis in July, “We have built a wonderful country and turned it into one of
the world’s most prosperous, advanced and powerful countries.”
true. Israel is a miracle of innovation and development. Tel Aviv, at once
sensual and vibrant, is a boom town. Go there and smile.
almost three months now Israelis and Palestinians have been negotiating peace
in U.S.-brokered talks. They have been doing so in such quiet that the previous
sentence may seem startling. Nobody is leaking. Because expectations are low,
spoilers are quiescent. There is a feeling nobody opposed to a resolution need
lift a finger because the talks will fail all on their own. This is good.
Absent discretion, diplomacy dies.
cause exists for skepticism. The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, insists that
not one Israeli soldier will be allowed in Palestine; Netanyahu wants Israeli
troops in the Jordan Valley for decades. There are hundreds of thousands of
Israeli settlers in the West Bank with no plans to go anywhere. Several members
of the Israeli government scoff at the notion of Palestine; Netanyahu has
become a liberal Likudnik, of all things. The Palestinian national movement is
split, incitement against Israel continues, and the idea of a two-state outcome
is losing favor. All this before Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return
are even broached.
with scarcely a murmur, the talks continue. They are almost a third of the way
into the allotted nine months. Well before that time is up, the two sides’
final positions will have become clear. There will be gaps. That will be the
moment for the United States to step forward with its take-it-or-leave-it
bridging proposal. That will be the time of the leaders — Netanyahu, Abbas and
Obama — and the test of their readiness for risk in the name of a peace that
can only come with painful concessions.
is strong today for many reasons. A core one is the resilience and stability of
its democratic institutions. There is, however, a risk to this: No democracy
can be immune to running an undemocratic system of oppression in territory
under its control.
citizens on one side of an invisible line and disenfranchised subjects without
rights on the other side does not work. It is corrosive. A democracy needs
borders. It cannot slither into military rule for Palestinians in occupied West
Bank areas where state-subsidized settler Jews have the right to vote as if
within Israel. If Israel is to remain a Jewish and democratic state — and it
must — something has to give. Netanyahu knows this.
must also make painful choices. They are weak, Israel is strong — and getting
stronger. The world is never going back to 1948.
Jerusalem’s Old City I was walking this year down from the Damascus Gate.
Crowds of Palestinians were pouring out of a Friday service at the Al Aqsa
Mosque. A large group of Orthodox Jews was moving in the opposite direction,
toward the Western Wall. Into this Muslim-Jewish melee, out of the Via
Dolorosa, a cluster of Christians emerged carrying a large wooden cross they
tried to navigate through the crowd. It was a scene of despair for anyone
convinced faiths and peoples can be disentangled in the Holy Land. Looked at
another way it was a scene of hope, even mirth.
has recently taken to quoting Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for
me?” Of course it was Hillel who said: “That which is hateful to yourself, do
not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah, the rest is just commentary.”
Netanyahu’s chosen quote, in this time of strength, ends with four words he has
omitted: “If not now, when?”