Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a bold step toward peace on Sunday. Speaking at Bar Ilan University’s commencement exercises in Tel Aviv, the Israeli PM departed from his past positions and redefined Israel’s stance on a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
Rising to calls from the Obama administration, the Palestinian Authority and a few members of his own governing coalition, Netanyahu declared that “Israel embraces the idea of a Palestinian state, would not build any new settlements and would refrain from expanding existing Israeli communities in the West Bank.”
But it’s hard for some people to take yes for an answer.
There are already those among both the Palestinians and members of Israel’s hard left who are shouting about the insufficiency of Netanyahu’s move. And not surprisingly, they are balanced by those on Israel’s hard right who see the Prime Minister’s remarks as a total betrayal. To my mind, that’s a sure sign that he is on the right track, if not yet at the appropriate stop for this train.
The question now will be this: are all sides prepared to enter a conversation based not on what is True, Just, Fair or mandated by God, (because about these things, we are not likely to agree any time soon) but based on what works? That is all that matters, if peace and security — and not the triumph of a particular ideology, theology, history or some concept of honor — are the real goals of each side. These are all abstract ideas, which however important they may be, have a proven track record of being more effective at war-making than peace-making, in this conflict at least.
But, because we know that these ideas are so important to so many swept up in the conflict between Israel and her neighbors, it is vital that those of us who care about them, work as hard as possible to locate how truth, justice, fairness, and even God will be honored by making the peace we need instead of holding out for the final solution to which some on each side aspire. That is what defines the ability to change without feeling that one has betrayed one’s self or their most deeply held values.
Netanyahu took a tremendous chance last night. He stood before the world and changed. That is hard for any of us, and especially so for politicians who are usually rewarded by playing to their base and assuring them that the one thing which they will never need to do is change. But peace will be a change. It will redefine the region and with that redefinition will come shifts in identity, and ideology which are hard.
What does it mean to be a lover of the biblical land of Israel who is willing to cede land? What does it mean to wear a key around one’s neck even if one will never return to the house that goes with it? These are tough questions, but Benjamin Netanyahu seems ready to wrestle with them. Are other leaders in the region? Are we, who support one side or the other in this conflict? If we are, peace is not only possible, it’s likely.