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WILL BIBI NETANYAHU BE ISRAEL'S CHARLES DE GAULLE?

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is known to be a great admirer of Winston Churchill, who led Britain's battle for survival against Nazi Germany. However on the eve of the negotiations with the Palestinians in Washington, Netanyahu may be signaling that he may be about to follow in the footsteps of France's Charles de Gaulle, who against all the expectations, decided to relinquish French control of Algeria in order to end an extremely bloody war. Apparently, Netanyahu has crossed another milestone on his way to seeking a territorial compromise on the Land of Israel with the Palestinians.

[Bibi's] statement was a significant step beyond his former vague declaration about a two-state solution that had been perceived as a tactical move to fend off mounting international pressure...

Addressing the cabinet, Netanyahu referred to the 'danger of a bi-national state' between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River that could eventually put paid to the Zionist dream of a Jewish state in the historic homeland. On the other hand, he would oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state that would threaten Israel's security. The Likud leader's statement was a significant step beyond his former vague declaration about a two-state solution that had been perceived as a tactical move to fend off mounting international pressure, primarily from U.S. President Barack Obama. Bibi's reference to a bi-national state raised the spectra of the demographic danger posed by the Palestinian population growth on the West Bank. Therefore it follows, that the only rational solution for Israel will be to separate from most of the densely populated Palestinian areas of the West Bank. In my mind it harkened back to another historic moment on May 28, 2003, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent shock waves through his Likud Knesset caucus by declaring: 'You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation.  Holding 3.5 million Palestinians is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy. We have to end it without risking our security'. Netanyahu is not there yet but he may be on the way to Sharon's reaction to the Roadmap peace plan presented by former U.S. President George W. Bush. 

By announcing that a national referendum would be held to approve any future Israeli withdrawal from Judea & Samaria, the Prime Minister has gained room for maneuver...

By announcing that a national referendum would be held to approve any future Israeli withdrawal from Judea & Samaria (West Bank), the Prime Minister has gained room for maneuver with the Palestinians in Washington. Many of Netanyahu's own Likud members and his coalition partner Naftali Bennett of 'Jewish Home', are totally opposed to a Palestinian state on the West Bank but now they can sit back and hope the talks break down. If not, there is the fallback position of the referendum. But if Israel's Tzipi Livni and Yitzak Molho do cut a deal with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, a national plebiscite could prevent the outbreak of a civil war in Israel over a withdrawal from most of Judea & Samaria. One poll has indicated that 55% of Israelis would vote for a peace accord with the Palestinians. The poll did not indicate whether it included Israeli Arabs who make up nearly 21% of the state's population and could be expected to vote en masse for an Israeli withdrawal on the West Bank.

 On the face of it, Netanyahu could be following in the footsteps of other second generation Herut 'loyalists' who have discarded the ideology of 'All of the Land of Israel'. In what has emerged as a struggle between ideology and national survival, they have reached the conclusion that striving to control all of Judea & Samaria, with its burgeoning Palestinian population, will propel Israel into either a bi-national or an apartheid state. Israel's chief negotiator, current Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is one of them, as are former Likud cabinet members Dan Meridor and Roni Milo, not to speak of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. 

...five other former chiefs of Shabak...all called on Israel to make the concessions required to try and reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would provide security for the Jewish state.

Yuval Diskin, the former chief of the Shaback Security Service, has also gone public, warning that Israel might soon pass 'a point of no return' on the two-state solution. He noted that in 2010, an independent Israeli report indicated that Israelis comprised a mere 53% of the entire population in all the Land of Israel. But not only Diskin is worried. In the Israeli TV documentary 'The Gatekeepers', five other former chiefs of Shabak expressed similar positions. Avraham Shalom, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Yaacov Perri, and Avi Dichter all called on Israel to make the concessions required to try and reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would provide security for the Jewish state. Ami Ayalon, who also served as a former commander of the Israeli navy, is even on record in favor of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal on the West Bank, if the Palestinians refuse to compromise.

Obviously every Israel citizen is entitled to his or her opinion on whether the Palestinians are ready for peace with the Jewish state. Certainly Hamas, which expelled Mahmoud Abbas from Gaza, is not: IDF Gen. Amos Gilad has just said: 'Make no mistake, destroying Israel is in the DNA of Hamas, in fact Hamas is now biding its time for another attempt'. Those six former Shabak chiefs have fought 'in the trenches' day and night and for years against the Palestinian enemy, and have reached the conclusion that continuing the occupation is not in Israel's national interest. On the contrary, the existing situation is an existential threat to Israel's survival as a democratic and Jewish state. Surely their conclusions deserve the most serious consideration no matter what one's private position might be.

In the north, Syria is in a gruesome bloodbath with no end in sight, Hezbollah, the most powerful military force in Lebanon, has even been branded as a terrorist organization by the E.U., while Egypt is teetering at the brink of its own civil war.

President Charles de Gaulle shocked his generals when he decided that France should call it a day and end its barbaric war in Algeria. It was not in France's long-term national interest to continue its opposition to Algeria's demand for self-determination. In response some of the French military establishment, who had supported de Gaulle in the belief that he would crack down harder in Algeria, were so incensed they tried to assassinate him. In the past, Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin had the political courage to take on the far Right and carry out a total Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in return for Egyptian security guarantees that have been honored to this very day, in spite of the terror upsurge in Sinai that is being combatted by the Egyptian Army. After taking office, and after President Anwar Sadat's peace offer, Begin reassessed his hardline policy of 'not one inch' and confounded the world by deciding that it was in Israel's national interest to forge a peace agreement with the most powerful country in the Arab world. The quest for peace cost Sadat his life as it did Yitzak Rabin. This is the stuff that great leaders are made of -  once elected to office they act not only as the head of their own political party or beholden to their voters, but their cardinal priority is the welfare of the entire country when facing shifting circumstances. In Netanyahu's case, the Middle East is in its greatest tumult since the two colonial powers, Britain and France, signed their Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916 that carved up the region to suit their imperial interests. In the north, Syria is in a gruesome bloodbath with no end in sight, Hezbollah, the most powerful military force in Lebanon, has even been branded as a terrorist organization by the E.U., while Egypt is teetering at the brink of its own civil war. And just over the Jordan River on Israel's eastern flank, King Abdullah II may feel the backlash from the Arab Spring that is swirling around both him and Netanyahu. Then again, recalling Cato the Elder in ancient Rome and his fear of Carthage, today Bibi Netanyahu is convinced: 'The Iranian nuclear threat must be destroyed, if need be'. So if the Israeli leader must now cope with two existential threats to the state's very existence, he must tread warily and wisely in the days to come.

And this final anecdote: In the hectic and tense period preceding the American Civil War, an adviser informed President Abraham Lincoln that the press was castigating him for not adopting a decisive, clear-cut policy in dealing with the question of slavery that was threatening to tear asunder the North and South. Lincoln replied somewhat in these words: 'That may very well be, but I'll tell you what my policy is in these very trying times. Every morning I get with one thought in mind - what can I do today that will best serve my country'.     

David Essing

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