Before reading President Obama’s speech I saw this FB status update flash across my screen from a fellow Israeli friend, someone I always assumed was “mainstream” Israeli:
“#obama can go F himself big time - this is the person who represents himself as a friend for israel? he's our worst enemy”
OK, so what prompted such a harsh reaction? I went to read the speech…and honestly cannot understand what got this friend so upset… (see here for full text of speech). A Palestinian state based on 67 borders with land swaps – isn’t that what several Israeli Prime Minister s proposed? And recently past heads of the Mossad, IDF, and Shabak (Israeli FBI) called for the same negotiating parameters. I think my friend above was reacting to reactions…I don’t think he read the speech! This is a symptom of living life in 140 characters, the limits of a tweet. A lot gets missed.
My personal take on all of this is that Obama was really holding back. Bibi has told the world for two years that he wants to re-start the peace talks, that he supports a 2 state solution, and yet he has done nothing to further that goal, in fact has gone out of his way to continue settlement activity (beside a weird ten month lull in building, which was observed in the breach). Bibi has refused to come to the Israeli people with a plan for us to support or reject. Bibi is not preparing the Israeli people at all for any eventual path to compromise which might lead to more peaceful relations with our neighbors.
Bibi and friends operate from a false sense of certainty that Israel will be the “winner” of the turbulence sweeping the Middle East and the world. As someone who cares deeply about the future of this experiment we call the State of Israel, I am extremely troubled by Bibi’s lack of humility.
The State of Israel has existed for 63 years, but there is no guarantee it will continue. By might we will not survive. Our only hope is to maintain our moral right to continue as a sovereign nation. And for years that moral right has been slipping away – not because the world does not want to see a viable State of Israel, but precisely because the world expects so much of a viable State of Israel.
Bibi continues to harp on the demand that everyone, including the Palestinian people through some of their formal institutions (PLO, PA, Hamas government in Gaza) recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. In fact, it was President Obama yesterday who reiterated this, and the American government’s commitment to: “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.” Personally, I don't need my enemies to recognize the justness of my existence. More important that my friends support me.
But what kind of “Jewish state” does Bibi envision? One of stagnation and occupation?
For 44 years we have kept Judea and Samaria (and its residents) in limbo. In East Jerusalem we half-heartedly annexed land, but never brought the infrastructure up to the level of West Jerusalem. We do everything we can as a government to disenfranchise Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. As I have often said, if we truly want to keep East Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, we need to invest. We need to campaign for the residents of East Jerusalem to participate in municipal politics (as a rule, for 44 years East Jerusalem Palestinians have not exercised their rights to vote or participate in the administration of the city).
I referred above to State of Israel as an experiment. And an experiment it is, it could be a model for many of our neighboring states on how a State formed and based on a religo-nation can conduct itself – how we can take the best of our religious tradition, synthesize those values and ideals with the modern recognition of the values of liberal democracy and show off a taste of Messiah. Not the Armageddon of some, but the realization of the Jewish age-old pursuit of “tikkun olam,” of fixing the world.
But experiments can also fail.
Bibi and many others take great pride in Israel’s start-up culture. My friend Saul Singers book “Start-Up Nation” has become a best seller because there is an underlying statement that in a start-up anything is possible. Israel is a state of dreamers, and as a State it dreams as well. But as one who has lived his life amongst start-ups for some time, I call upon us to remember that most start-ups fail.
I do not want this start-up to fail. It is the big, outdated companies that are slow to move, do not react to changes in the marketplace, fail to innovate. Israel as a modern nation is still in its start-up phase, and should be moving at a start-up pace.
We need to re-invigorate a sense of entrepreneurship in our political realm. And then we will begin to merit the status of “Start-Up Nation.”