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OpinionColumnistsDan Raviv

Decision time for Israel, its leaders

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech in Kyiv, Ukraine on Aug. 20, 2019. Credit: AP/Efrem Lukatsky

On Sept. 17, Israelis will vote for the second time this year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent victory in April was not quite strong enough for him to form a governing coalition.

Whether they need advice from Americans who worry about the Jewish state’s future, Israelis are being offered strong opinions that fall into two major categories: Make peace with the Palestinians a top priority and grant them their own sovereign state; or stand firm and tell Palestinians that they will never get independence unless they abandon violence and recognize the Jewish state.

The latter advice comes mostly from political conservatives, including Jewish activists, in the United States. Most American Jews are liberals, however, and there are strong indications that they favor the first brand of advice: telling Israel to change course, to stop building Jewish settlements in the disputed West Bank, and to separate from the Palestinians so that the two peoples with rival claims to a sliver of the Middle East may live peacefully in side-by-side states.

When it comes to food for thought for Israeli voters and Americans who care about the outcome, a feast — in the form of a book — is about to be offered by two Americans who worked as mediators between Israel and the Palestinians.

Dennis Ross, who devoted most of his government career to toiling for peace, and David Makovsky, a think-tank scholar in Washington who tried his hand at mediation for Barack Obama’s administration, have co-authored “Be Strong and of Good Courage.” Their book, scheduled to be released Tuesday, offers brief but detailed biographies of four masterful prime ministers: founding father David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon. But Ross and Makovsky use history as a stick to batter the reputation of the incumbent, Netanyahu.

They portray their four heroes as bold decision-makers, who cast aside their prior ideologies and political allies for the sake of helping their nation at dramatic life-or-death moments. Their book suggests that Netanyahu, despite recently setting a record (more than 13 years) as the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s 71-year history, has not been courageous enough to point his nation in the direction of resolving its bitter dispute with the Palestinians.

Reacting to Netanyahu’s recent decision to bar two Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, from flying into Israel to visit Palestine, Ross says Netanyahu bowed to a request from President Donald Trump — unfortunately worsening the politicization of Israel as an issue in the United States. Why isn’t Netanyahu courageous enough to criticize Trump for declaring that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal”?

Ross and Makovsky, who cannot be simply labeled as liberals, claim that Israel needs bold leadership to avoid drifting into a “one-state solution” that could see Jews ruling over an Arab majority after a few years, if Palestinian populations were to be merged into Israel. They contend that whoever becomes prime minister has to move rapidly, with American help, toward preventing a binational state. They are concerned that, otherwise, Israel cannot remain both Jewish and democratic, the two attributes that they call “the essence of the Zionist mission.”

Yet, in a slap at Netanyahu, they write that the current “governing coalition does not act like it has to make a big decision anytime soon on Israel’s position in the West Bank.” He has competitors in the election: party chiefs, centrist and leftist, who offer change and claim they would move quickly toward peace. Perhaps one of them will become prime minister, and we will get to see whether the winner can live up to the high standards of Israel’s finest leaders.

Dan Raviv, senior Washington correspondent of i24News, is co-author of “Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.”