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What Netanyahu Should Be Saying
From the Spring, 2011 issue of Jewish Currents
AS PROTEST AND REVOLUTION HAVE SWEPT THROUGH SEVERAL ARAB LANDS and so far overturned regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, the Israeli government has been largely quiet about the changes swirling around them. One group of prominent Israelis, including former intelligence and military leaders, have at long last responded to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and 2007 with an “Israeli Peace Initiative” that includes major Israeli concessions on borders, on Jerusalem, and on the status of Palestinian refugees. The Israeli government, however, has done little but resume military actions, including assassinations, against Palestinian they hold to be terrorists.
What follows is the kind of statement we wish the Netanyahu government would make to use this historic opportunity to try to recalibrate Arab-Israeli relations.
Shalom Aleikhem/Salaam Aleikum! In this time of profound upheaval, when the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and other Arab lands have courageously confronted their pharaohs to say, ‘Let our people go!’ — the government of Israel sends these words of heartfelt solidarity and hope.
“Our 1948 Declaration of Independence envisioned our tiny country as a land of ‘freedom, justice and peace’ and ensured ‘freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture’ in the State of Israel. We believe that these are the same values for which you are now risking your lives as you strive to free your lands of corruption, dictatorship, poverty and other obstacles to democracy, economic development, and human happiness.
“In the Hebrew language, the words for war, milkhama, and for bread, lekhem, come from the same root, in testimony to the fact that a people who are not fed bread will be fed hatred and bitterness instead. We are confident that your revolutions will bring you and your children bread, and knowledge, and a better future, which will help spare us all from the sufferings of unnecessary war in the decades to come.
“Israel and the Arab peoples have too long lived with harsh anger and a vengeful spirit towards one another. This cannot be overcome by our standing, immobilized, in the past. In mortal fear for our existence, Israel has sought the protection of our own armed might, responded harshly to every provocation, and embraced the friendship of any who offer it — including, at times, some of the very pharaohs whom you are driving from their thrones. And in dark despair about your lack of progress and prospects, many Arab people have sought solace in the hatred of Israel, acted in violence against us, and believed the propaganda of your leaders, who blamed their ill rule and greed on the very presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
“Let those days of mutual folly be past! Let democracy and prosperity now be our shared mission. Our Talmud asks, ‘Who is mighty? The one who turns an enemy into a friend.’ Let the might by which we have built our nations now be applied to the conversion of our enmity into friendship. Let us work together to see the Palestinian state at last established and ready to prosper, our occupation of the West Bank ended, our citizens restored to within the secure borders of Israel, and Palestinian refugees compensated for their suffering. Let us work together to see the natural wealth of the entire region shared, and the guarantees of democracy made real, so that this great land — from Jerusalem to Mecca, from Ramallah to Cairo, from Amman to Tripoli — becomes not merely a place of promise but a place of plenty, not merely a land of past revelation but of future redemption.”
Prime Minister B. Netanyahu