Published in The Jerusalem Post on June 14, 1998
It has taken Binyamin Netanyahu two years to achieve a modicum of legitimacy. Now it’s time that Bibi shook-up the game a bit with bold policy initiatives. Mr. Prime Minister, I think you ought to head out on the road, and go to . . . .
* Go to Kochav Yair * and quickly settle terms for a national unity government with Ehud Barak. You’ve reached the point that diplomatic progress is impossible with the current coalition. Join forces to establish a true majority consensus for final status talks. Barak is the last of the Labor security hawks and will support most of the demands you make of the Palestinians in this regard. Look at what he said regarding Bet El and Ofra several weeks ago.
The fact is that you and Barak both are under attack from the extreme right and left wings of your respective political coalitions, and thus are too weak, independently, to make the historic decisions necessary. You were made for each other.
* Go to Washington * and rehabilitate our alarmingly-bruised ties with the most important government on earth. Rebuild our partnership with Clinton and Gore on Mideast diplomacy, because this alliance is Israel’s most consequential strategic asset. Specifically, negotiate an advance understanding with Washington on the outlines of a final status settlement.
You must act to change the current situation, whereby Arafat is better coordinated with Clinton than we are, and Hillary (read Bill) already is hinting at US-Palestine agreements to our detriment. Make Clinton * our * partner in this process, once again. Newt Gingrich isn’t going to save us.
* Go to Psagot * and have it out with the settlement leadership. Explain to the Yesha Council that in the post-Oslo reality everybody is modifying their positions and that the final status talks are not a zero sum game. Tell them that no Israeli government is going to dismantle settlement blocs and that we will never abandon Hebron, but that some trade-offs of strategic land (we keep) for tiny, isolated settlements (we give up) will be necessary.
Ask them to cool the provocative, defiant squatting in the City of David for a while, and by Lions Gate too. At the same time, release the building permits for Har Homa, build the eastern Jerusalem ring road around the Mt. of Olives, and crack down on Rajoub’s operatives running amok in the Old City.
* Go to Ramallah * and address the Palestinian Legislative Council. A Sadat-like gesture. Forgo the negative hasbara argumentation, and speak of reconciliation. Make clear what the Palestinians have to gain from rescinding the Covenant, from an end to incitement, and from tough police action to collect weaponry and counter-act Hamas. Tell them of the economic cooperation possible and the fuller freedoms in the offing. Articulate a vision for them, with a clear price tag and defined red lines.
Challenge Arafat to declare that he accepts the ultimate limits of this process: that a final status deal indeed constitutes an end-of-the-road solution, from which point on his government will no longer agitate for more Israeli land, for the dismantling of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, or for the return of refugees to our heartland.
Concurrently, re-start direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, in an attempt to re-humanize the process. After all, direct talks were always our key demand. Work it out with Washington in advance so that Arafat won’t have immediate recourse to Uncle Sam at the first snag. Dennis Ross will be thrilled.
* Go to Heichal Shlomo * and tell the Chief Rabbinate to take yes for an answer. The best deal possible from their point of view is on the table – recognition of Orthodox conversion as the absolute standard in Israel, through the Neeman proposals – and they should grab it. There’s no need to compromise halachic standards, just to have a little vision.
If they keep looking over their right shoulders, you might explain to the Rabbis, they’ll lose the masses and whatever legal control they still maintain over marriage and divorce in this country.
* Go to Bnei Brak * and lay down the law before the Ultra-Orthodox leadership. Caution them against pushing the Conversion Law, and counsel them to come up with their own solutions for hareidi army or national service. Offer them a partnership in weaning hareidi society off the dole, and in easing into the modern economy, without coercion and with sensitivity.
Tell them to act courageously now, before the ascending animosity towards hareidim leads to confrontational, unfriendly legislation that only further will bury the hareidi world in isolationism and poverty.
In short, Mr. Prime Minister, get off the current merry-go-round. Move beyond the current stalemated government and seek the middle ground. Build coalitions and partnerships that provide you strength. Use the renewed mandate to speak frankly, and boldly advance us towards peace and security.