NEW YORK (JTA) — For the Arab Spring, Israel represents the hope that in the Middle East, a nation can be both a national homeland and a free society. Israel is a modern, thriving democracy amid a region dominated by despotic regimes that brutally oppress their people and rape their land’s resources. Freedom enables Israel’s advancing economy, robust educational system, unique culture, prolific media and independent judiciary to thrive.
Yet Israel and its neighbors remain in a perpetual state of war, and the majority of the world’s nations regularly condemn the Jewish state. Unable to beat Israel on the battlefield in 1956, ’67, ’73 and the ’80s, Israel’s Arab neighbors resorted to terrorism, the perpetuation of Palestinian suffering and endless propaganda.
In this context, Israel has struggled for peace. For decades Israel has been a willing and reliable partner in peace with Jordan and Egypt. However, a lasting peace with the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s surrounding enemies has remained elusive. Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, all active surrogates of the Iranian regime, are sworn to Israel’s destruction, oppose peace at every turn and promise not to be bound by any agreement.
Nevertheless, the Jewish state must regain the moral high ground. Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu are vilified as obstacles to Palestinian self-determination. So strong is the impression that Israel perpetuates Palestinian suffering that a majority of United Nations members may vote to support a unilateral Palestinian state at this September’s General Assembly.
In America, perception is fast becoming reality, and a growing number of people are questioning support for Israel. Worrisome for the longer term, even among younger Jews, support for Israel is now a debatable question instead of an undisputed fact.
Through Hillel, Birthright Israel, the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel and many other initiatives, we work tirelessly to educate Jewish youth and expose them to the wonders of their heritage and to the blessing that is the Jewish state. But when this generation is bombarded constantly by images and descriptions of Israel’s villainy, it becomes increasingly difficult to combat negative impressions. Through action and inaction, Israel is fast losing ground in this battle.
Misguided ideologues advance Israeli construction in parts of the West Bank hoping for the realization of a Greater Israel that encompasses the entire biblical homeland. However romantic the notion, facts on the ground preclude such an eventuality. Annexation of the entire West Bank would require the displacement or repression of millions of Palestinians and is not something a moral and just Israel could or should do. It is in neither the long-term nor short-term interests of the Jewish state to govern burgeoning Palestinian populations. Ariel Sharon recognized this when he withdrew Israel from the Gaza Strip, and many recognize this now in the West Bank.
Short of unilateral action, there is little anyone believes that Israel can do to truly alter the situation on the ground. But there is a way for Israel to create conditions conducive to a just and lasting peace by completely changing the conversation and breaking the cycle that serves only the status quo. As popular dissent spreads throughout the Middle East and old norms are tossed aside, Prime Minister Netanyahu can speak directly to the Palestinian people and by extension the greater Arab world.
Like Sadat to Jerusalem or former President Nixon to China, Mr. Netanyahu can go to Ramallah and extend a hand in building a Palestinian future. He can describe a free and democratic Palestinian nation living peacefully side by side with Israel where children carry books instead of guns; hearts are filled with hope instead of hate, and pockets with money instead of rocks; and family members grow to be doctors, lawyers and engineers instead of suicide bombers and purveyors of destruction.
Mr. Netanyahu can pledge his best intentions and most diligent efforts to realize this vision and invite any leader of good will to meet him, without precondition, to negotiate a just, secure and lasting peace.
Mr. Netanyahu will be trusted by Israelis and Jews the world over to protect their interests and guarantee the unity, security and vitality of the Jewish state. The rest of the world will recognize him as a pragmatic and visionary leader ready to seize the moment and change history. The burden then will be on Israel’s enemies to prove that they possess the good will and strength of character to recognize the Jewish state and allow it to remain thus.
Jews are a people of hope. We are the students of Moses’ brother Aaron who love peace and pursue peace. We need a leader who will do the same, thereby restoring our hope and bringing our nation peace. Mr. Netanyahu can be such a leader.
(Edgar M. Bronfman is a leading philanthropist and president of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Adam R. Bronfman is managing director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. )