JERUSALEM — As a self-declared “Jewish and democratic state,” Israel would be wise to adhere to biblical writ.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surely is familiar with the Book of Amos, chapter five, verse 13. This is one of the many translations from the ancient Hebrew to post-medieval English:
“Therefore, the prudent doth keep silent in such a time.”
It applies to the tumultuous events taking place in the contemporary Middle East — from Tunisia in the west to Bahrain in the east — mass insurrections that caused the overthrow of longstanding dictatorships and impassioned calls for democracy and social justice.
Under these circumstances, Netanyahu should not come out with new terms for peace that would be based on the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state adjacent to Israel.
There is no way of knowing at this stage of the Middle East crisis which of the existing Arab states will be governed by enlightened regimes willing to adjust to regional realities such as the existence of Israel in their midst and which will fall prey to new authoritarian rulers for whom hostility toward Israel is a means to remain in power.
If Netanyahu would bear this in mind he would reconsider his reported intention to reveal an updated and presumably more generous peace plan during his projected visit to Washington later this month or early next. In any case, why there and not in Jerusalem? Why to President Obama’s administration instead of to his own coalition government?
Netanyahu seems to have taken to heart the criticism directed against him by Israeli advocates of compromise and conciliation with the Palestinians who contend that he has been allowing the once-promising peace process with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s soft-spoken, but cunning president, Mahmoud Abbas, to degenerate into diplomatic paralysis. There have been no bilateral negotiations for months on end, and the Palestinian Authority’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has resigned his post. Abbas has not even broached the name of a prospective successor.
In order for Israel to lure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, Netanyahu must assure them that most of the 330,000 Jewish settlers who moved to the West Bank since the Six-Day War of June 1967 will leave their homes and go back where they came from — west of the 1949 armistice line (the Green Line). He also would have to remove Israel’s military presence from the West Bank. This could be a recipe for a resurgence of terrorist activity.
And all this and much more would have to be done despite the fact that the Gaza Strip, which also is defined in the international news media as part of the “Palestinian territories,” would not be a party to whatever bilateral agreement may be reached. Its Islamic Hamas regime would remain intact, free to lob homemade Kassam and Soviet-type Grad missiles into southern Israel whenever it thinks appropriate. This is because Hamas refuses to recognize or negotiate with Israel. (Ironically, Hamas could win next autumn’s Palestinian election as it did the last one that was held, at U.S. insistence, in the Gaza Strip.
If the turmoil sweeping across the Arab world creates chaos in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, toppling their respective monarchies — an unlikely scenario to date, but one that could still materialize — the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on withdrawal from the West Bank would nurture a situation even more disastrous than the ill-considered unilateral and unconditional “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip perpetrated six years ago by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
In short, a prudent Israeli prime minister would be wise to do exactly what Netanyahu told his own cabinet ministers to do, i.e. refrain from any comment about the drama unfolding in the Arab states. The political follow-up of that stance is to be silent about new diplomatic initiatives.
From Israel’s standpoint, the most encouraging aspect of the insurrection in Egypt, revolution in Libya, uprising in Tunisia and anti-government activity in Bahrain is that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been ignored by the overwhelming majority of the participants.
The best news coming from Cairo has been that the new regime, which the Egyptian military is expected to nurture, will preserve and uphold the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Every serious and responsible analyst should agree that it is in Egypt’s best interest to act accordingly. Optimists are justified in hoping that preoccupation with social and economic reform, exposure and expurgation of corruption and encouragement of free speech and uncensored political discourse will focus Arab attention on difficult though soluble domestic problems rather than irresponsible and potentially perilous conflict with Israel.
In the meantime, Netanyahu and all other sensible Israelis, should continue keeping as low a poliical profile as possible until the Arab world’s unprededented and unpredictable domestic revolts against its old order are over.
This is not the time for a new peace initiative. Nor is it sensible to redirect Arab attention to the Palestinian issue. The better part of wisdom, in the current circumstances, is the oft-heard Hebrew expression, shev ve’al ta’aseh — “sit still and do nothing.”
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)