If there’s one thing we learned from the debacle last week in U.S.-Israel relations, it’s that swearing at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t persuade him to make peace.
So now, 100 retired Israeli army generals are taking a different tack: They’re sucking up to Netanyahu. And telling him to make peace.
In a letter published as a full-page ad last weekend in Israeli papers, a chorus of former senior officers says something like this:
Bibi, you’re the man. You’re awesome. You know what awesome people do? They take chances to make peace. So don’t screw this opportunity up. Love, the (ret.) army.
“We were impressed by your level-headed leadership in Operation Protective Edge,” the generals write, in a translation supplied by the Israel Policy Forum.
In those circumstances Israel could not and cannot allow fire on our homes nor to put the public in danger. But this operation may turn out to be in vain if we do not act to prevent the next war. The government of Israel and its residents do not have the privilege of sitting around idly. It is time to take responsibility for our future and take advantage of the historical opportunity that has come up following Operation Protective Edge.
Senior Israeli veterans pushing the peace process is nothing new. What’s striking here is the tone of the letter, which sounds wholly supportive of Netanyahu’s leadership. Sentence after sentence start with phrases like “Sir, you yourself have declared” and “You know…”
It’s reminiscent of billboards placed across Israel earlier this year that featured Netanyahu’s face alongside slogans like “Only with an agreement can we secure a Jewish and democratic state. Bibi, only you can do it!” The billboards were a project of Breaking the Impasse, a coalition of 300 Israeli and Palestinian business leaders aimed at advancing a peace accord.
We all know how that worked out. But as the generals’ letter notes, Netanyahu himself said that this summer’s war, and the regional realignments it hinted at, presented a “possible diplomatic horizon” for Israel in the region. The generals see now as the time to capitalize on that chance, and they see Netanyahu as the leader to do it.
The letter pushes the prime minister to embrace the Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi-sponsored document that promises Israel full diplomatic relations with the Arab world in exchange for a withdrawal from most of the West Bank and an agreement regarding Palestinian refugees. Successive Israeli governments have ignored or rejected the initiative out of fear that a wholesale return of refugees means demographic death for Israel, but recently some Knesset members have pushed it as a starting point for a regional agreement.
Given the repeated failure of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the generals seem surprisingly bullish on the chances for a regional peace process. “There is a high chance that this initiative will succeed,” they write near the end of the letter.
“But even if it doesn’t, you owe this to the people of Israel,” they continue. “Only then can we look our children and grandchildren in the eye and say: ‘We tried; we are sorry, we did not succeed.'”
They end by writing, “Lead the way and we will stand behind you!”
We’ll see if the love letter works.