Letter to Netanyahu: Keep talking like a winner
Dear Prime Minister,
Mazal tov on your recent speech at Bar-Ilan University. It seems to have gone over very well. One poll says that 71 percent of Israelis believe you said the right things. And here in the United States, President Obama sees “positive movement” from your remarks. So job well done, especially if Kadima decides to join the coalition as a result. Apparently 49 percent of the opposition party’s members believe they should join your government based on the speech. Now that would be something.
I’m writing because a couple of things you said bear repeating and reinforcing. First, talking about peace and reconciliation between Israel and her neighbors is so important that instead of high-end rhetoric, simplicity is crucial. Crediting Theodor Herzl, you said “I now am asking that when we speak of the huge challenge of peace, we must use the simplest words possible, using person-to-person terms. Even with our eyes on the horizon, we must have our feet on the ground, firmly rooted in truth.”
You continued, “The simple truth is that the root of the conflict has been — and remains — the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to its own state in its historical homeland.”
It is simple and yet controversial. Today, there is a lot more acceptance of the notion that this conflict has two equally guilty sides, the Israelis are as responsible as the Palestinians, the Jews just as rejectionist as the Arabs. It simply isn’t so. If the Arab world tomorrow said they accepted the existence of the State of the Jews, the conflict as we know it would disappear.
Instead, rejection of Israel and the historical right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is the foundation for the ongoing war against Israel. This war has been going on for more than 60 years, since before the establishment of the State of Israel. Also, it is a war that takes many forms, from conventional fighting, suicide terrorism, Katyusha rockets and Grad missiles to propaganda, academic boycotts and ideological attacks.
All of which leads to another simple idea that doesn’t get reinforced enough: Israel is going to win this conflict. Israel is on the side of liberty, the side of democracy and the side of respect for the rule of law and human rights. The Palestinians and most of the Arab world aren’t.
You touched on this notion when you stated, “the Palestinians must decide between path of peace and path of Hamas. They must overcome Hamas.” Very true. The Palestinians must decide whether they want to win or lose, whether they want to prosper in their own free society or whether they want to continue to suffer the deprivation and degradation of dictatorship. Until now they have chosen jackbooted dictators to oppress them and it has only brought them greater poverty, greater deprivation, greater bloodshed.
As you said, they have to reject the losers (Hamas) and choose the winners (Israel). But here you and Israel have an advantage: Everyone wants to back a winner. Perhaps this is also a simple idea but it is true. Israelis want to be on the winning side. Palestinians want to be on the winning side. Arabs and Muslims from Cairo to Khartoum want to choose the winning side and even the President of the United States wants to support the winning side.
Frederick Kagan explained this basic truth to an audience recently when talking about the surge in Iraq. He said that after meeting with tribal leaders there he understood why the Iraqis decided to support the United States’ strategy. It wasn’t money or ideology or love of Americans. Iraqis supported the surge because they understood the Americans were going to win and they wanted to be on the winning side.
This basic idea is no less true for Palestinians and, indeed, no less true for Americans. We want to win and we want to support winners. As clearly as you can, from now on, keep reminding the Palestinians and the Arabs that Israel is going to win so they’d better get on the right side.
As for President Obama, please continue to make clear that you and he, Israel and America are all on the winning side. At times lately, he has seemed to be flirting with some different and dangerous notions.
Sha’alu shalom Yerushalayim (Pray for the peace of Jerusalem).
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, can be reached online at email@example.com.)