Now More Than Ever
The ascent of Benjamin Netanyahu to the position of Prime Minister in Israel gave rise to a considerable amount of hand-wringing among international politicians, as well as liberal and anti-Israel elements in the news media. Just how long sensible people will tolerate out-of-control journalists who shamelessly attempt to impose their editorial will in areas where their only mandate is to report the news—not create it—remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is how intolerable it is to liberal zealots in the Fourth Estate when they find themselves rebuffed by people who ignore their polls and opinions and do what they judge to be right for themselves and the best interests of their nation.
Cases in point flowed through the American news media as editors and their penmen suffered through morning-after blues following Netanyahu’s “upset victory” over Shimon Peres. The Boston Globe called the results “A blow to peace.” CNN felt an ominous “victory of fear over hope” chill in the air. Dan Rather opined that the election raised “questions about the future of the Middle East.” Columnist Robert Novak, CNN’s Crossfire host, charged Israeli voters with thumbing their collective noses at the United States by picking their own “anti-peace party.” A Washington Post cartoonist ent so far as to show two mangled suicide bombers raising their fists in celebration over a newspaper declaring Netanyahu’s victory under the caption, “It Looks Like We Won.”
A more tempered view was taken by Hirsh Goodman, Editor-in-Chief of the Israel-based Jerusalem Report. Goodman, who did not vote for Netanyahu, wrote, “In contrast to the conventional wisdom heard so often after this election, this country is not divided. Ninety percent of the public wants the same thing—peace with security. Where people differ is on how to go about it.”
“How to go about it” was the question mirrored by Israeli reaction to the recent Arab summit held in Cairo. Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the concerns of the Israeli electorate when he said that preconditions that would jeopardize the nation’s security were not an acceptable formula for peace and would, in the end, contribute to accelerated hostilities. As expected, the 21 Arab leaders attending the Cairo summit demanded Israeli “withdrawal from Arab lands,” while declaring a new era of Arab unity. In reality, there was nothing new about what the leaders were seeking. They are standing pat on positions that caused the consternation that swept Shimon Peres out of power.
In actuality, they are pinning their hopes on the United States to make the dream of an emasculated Israel come true. A senior official who accompanied Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to the summit is reported to have said, “The United States has a moral responsibility as a sponsor of the peace talks and as a superpower to get its own terms of peace honored by its ally Israel.
“The Arab states supported Syria’s stands and demands which are just demands,” he went on to say. “It is now the turn of the U.S. to exert its efforts with Israel’s new leaders to work for real peace.”
In Syria’s view, “real peace” means virtual up-front capitulation on issues ranging from Israel’s forfeiture of the Golan, to Syrian control of regional water rights, the so-called “right of return” of Arabs to claim lands in Israel proper, Israel’s departure from the Southern Lebanese security zone, and keeping mum about Syria’s functional annexation of Lebanon.
The extent to which the United States will attempt to pressure Israel to hold to the Peres line remains to be seen. But the administration and congressional leaders would be well advised to consider as a first priority respecting the fears of the Israeli electorate and taking a more cautious and deliberate approach to the peace process. After all, Israelis are facing life or death issues in a process that is rapidly becoming irreversible. This is, therefore, no time to make speeding up Israeli concessions a first cause. There is time—pressure from Arab states or the ranting of some in the media notwithstanding—to try and get it right the first time. In this process, a wrong turn may offer no second tries.
For example, if a Palestinian state is formed and later radicalized by Islamic extremists, both Jordan and Israel will face intolerable situations. You can be sure that King Hussein is no more interested in taking this risk than is Israel’s Netanyahu. It is therefore in everyone’s best interest for the United States to take the lead in being more concerned about peace with security than marching to the land-for-peace drumbeat in lockstep with some who sat at the conference table in Cairo with one thought in mind: dissecting the State of Israel a slice at a time.
For those true friends of Israel who seem relieved that the peace process is under reassessment, this is not a time to believe that anything has been assured. In the months to come, Israel will need every friend she has—now more than ever—to speak up, become involved, and, above all, pray for the leaders of Israel, of whatever political stripe, and for the peace of Jerusalem.