Netanyahu should go back to ‘Begin’

Sadat, Carter, and Begin Shake Hands

 As Mahmoud Abbas gets set to officially file an application for statehood at the UN Netanyahu may want to heed a lesson from one of his predecessors in finding the appropriate response.

Whatever the immediate outcome of the Palestinian bid for statehood it is likely the medium to long term implications will consist of increased pressure on Israel to find an acceptable solution to the impasse.

Concessions on the part of Netanyahu and the Israelis would be a wise move for Israel’s long term security. 

Despite repeated Palestinian threats in calling off the peace process and now an official bid before the UN, Netanyahu has been reluctant to take such a step. The domestic political repercussions are seemingly too great for Netanyahu as pro-settler parties dominate his ruling coalition.

This may seem classical political compromise at least internally on Netanyahu’s part but as Israel’s own history shows a more shrewd move would be to seize the opportunity and compromise with the enemy.

When Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai in 1979, the then Prime Minister Menachem Begin could barely bring himself to look at his Egyptian counterpart. 

Begin possessed a super temporal view of history and considered the Sinai Peninsula as God’s gift to the Jewish people; something that was dictated by and enshrined in the Bible. 

Conceding the territory to Anwar Sadat’s Egypt was a huge step down for Begin. After all this was a man who had resigned from government in 1970 when America applied pressure on the Jewish State to step down from its ambitions for a Greater Israel.

Begin’s response was to form an alliance with right-wingers and establish the Likud (Consolidation). The party would go on to end the Left’s thirty-year dominance of Israeli politics by sweeping to victory in 1977.

The new Prime Minister described his victory in Biblical terms as ‘a turning point in the history of the Jewish people.’ He would protect what he saw as Israel’s God given right.

Yet 1979 saw a different Begin who although troubled by his concession saw in it the greater good for the future of his nation. For all the religious rhetoric on which he had secured his victory, Begin fulfilled his role as a Prime Minister as opposed to a saviour. The politician within him came to the fore and concession was the order of the day.

On this front at least history has proved him to have made the correct call. Israel has had one less enemy in the shape of Egypt and the two nations have enjoyed mostly cordial relations ever since.   

What was perhaps most remarkable about Begin’s concession is the fact that he was of a generation that had brought the state of Israel into existence. The ‘blood, sweat and tears’, scenario was personal. The next generation of Likud politicians should have no such hang ups.

With the party back at the helm of Israeli politics its present leader Binyamin Netanyahu may well take heed from Begin. The uncompromising stance of Netanyahu’s government over the status of Jerusalem and settlements smacks of ideological sentiment and is absent of any political skill. In short it is doing little to secure Israel’s long-term future.  

With the American-Israeli alliance showing signs of fragmentation in the recent past and a new dawn of revolution arising in the Middle East,the Jewish state has never been in greater need of peace with its neighbours. Concessions may well be the order of the day.


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