SHATTERING ISRAEL'S IMAGE
No Israeli government has shattered Israel's international image more than the Netanyahu government has over the past six years. Not only have Netanyahu and his cohorts systematically been engaged in rancorous public narratives against the Palestinians, but they have taken action that could only attest to his unwavering commitment to expand the settlements and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Although the Palestinians have also contributed to the enmity and distrust between the two sides, the conduct of Netanyahu and company has left Israel isolated and scorned while dramatically shifting international public opinion in favor of the Palestinians.
To promote his political scheme, Netanyahu has skillfully linked every conflicting issue with the Palestinians to Israel's national security. He masterfully manipulated public opinion over the years to justify his misadventures and continued occupation in the name of national security, while bringing the peace process to a grinding halt.
He has engaged in double talk; on the one hand, he publicly endorsed the two-state solution, yet on the other hand he missed no opportunity to proclaim Israel's inherent right to the whole 'biblical land of Israel,' which makes the establishment of a Palestinian state a farce.
He, like many of his predecessors, continued the expansion of settlements, except that Netanyahu went about it with zeal, gradually diminishing the prospect of a Palestinian state while defying the international community's plea to halt this illegal enterprise.
While Netanyahu and his friends publicly and routinely charge the Palestinians of hating and resenting Israel, he conveniently forgets that the Palestinians are under occupation, where Israel often exercises unrestrained measures to reign over them. He also forgets that every Palestinian under the age of 48 was born under occupation, and their behavior and the way they feel is a natural reaction to their sense of victimhood and despair.
Netanyahu masterfully uses Hamas' acrimonious narratives and violence against Israel to paint all Palestinians in the same light. Instead of praising the PA for forsaking violence and their full-fledged security cooperation with Israel, he capitalized on the fissure between Hamas and the PA to hold the peace process captive to Hamas' whims.
Netanyahu manipulated the peace negotiations to create deadlocks. He repeatedly accused the Palestinians of being untrustworthy, but then he insisted on continuing settlement expansion during the negotiations, making it extremely difficult for the Palestinians to negotiate “in good faith” while witnessing their territory being chewed up inch by inch.
I do not suggest here that the Palestinians have had the best of intentions to coexist with Israel in peace. There is no doubt that over the years they have sought to undermine Israel, if not eliminate it altogether. And I do not deny that there is still some residue of that within the Palestinians.
That said, the Israelis must recognize that times have changed; Israel must distinguish between Hamas and other jihadists, who represent only a small minority of Palestinians. Today there is an absolute majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who want to live in peace, without necessarily falling in love with Israel. They are sick and tired of their never-ending suffering and humiliation.
Ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state is certainly good for the Palestinians, but it serves Israel's needs and future wellbeing far more so than the Palestinians. Every Israeli who bought into the argument that the Palestinians are an irredeemable foe must now reexamine the falsity of this belief.
The old and tired narratives Netanyahu and his emissaries keep promulgating about how untrustworthy the Palestinians are—about their bad intent, about the Gaza experience, about the Palestinians' perpetual hatred, about their long-term strategy to destroy Israel, and about Israel's constant and grave security concerns—no longer resonate.
It is time for the Israelis to ask themselves the simple question: what is really best for us? Where will the continuing occupation lead us? What will happen to Israel's national character and identity? Can we maintain our democracy and freedom, can we have peace while keeping more than five million Palestinians hostages, can we live with our conscious, and finally, can we afford to forsake our core moral values and still live with ourselves?
The collapse of the Netanyahu government did not come one day too soon. It is time for Israelis to take stock of the damage he caused to the image of the country, to its moral standing, to its place among the nations, to its future as a Jewish state, to its friends and ties with other nations (especially that of the United States), and to its prospect of living in peace and real security.
The Israeli elections offer a momentous opportunity for all Israelis to change course and rid themselves of the clowns that have been running the country asunder. They must begin by disabusing themselves of the notion that Israel is beleaguered and under a constant Palestinian threat.
The Palestinians will never be in a position to threaten Israel's existence. Israel is threatened from within. It is threatened by its political factionalism and dysfunctional political system, it is threatened by egomaniacal politicians whose thirst for power trumps national interest, it is threatened by the hypocrisy and bigotry of its corrupt, incurable political leaders, and it is threatened by misguided leaders who have no clue what tomorrow has in store.
Will the Israeli center and left look at themselves in the mirror for once and ask: what is our real responsibility to the nation, to its preservation, and to its very existence? After nearly seventy years, hasn't the time come to face the inevitable and seek peace with dignity?
The upcoming elections offer all these splintered parties an opportunity to coalesce around a leader (without the absurdity of rotating the premiership a la Livni and Herzog) and once and for all defeat the chauvinistic and blind ideologues who are leading the country toward the abyss.
Those Israelis who claim that, given the raging turmoil throughout the Middle East, Iran's nuclear threat, and the future uncertainty, Israel should focus on its security than take a risk with the Palestinians, are dead wrong.
Nothing will provide Israel greater security than peace, and there is never, ever a bad time to make peace.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.