Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress this morning, and revealed three important differences between himself and President Obama: he knows who the Palestinians are, he knows what Israel is, and he knows who Americans are.
The big news outlets will make the points of agreement between Netanyahu and Obama the top story. Of course the Prime Minister was gracious. The winner of an argument can afford grace. In fact, it is a wise policy. What would Netanyahu have gained by trying to alienate or embarrass Obama before Congress today? What good would that have done for the free world?
Some look for malevolent intent in Obama’s foreign policy blunders. I think it’s more a question of impatience and ignorance. He is an ideologue – the most rigid to sit in the White House during our lifetimes – and as such, he views the world entirely through ideology. His conclusions are ordained, and the world must change to meet them. He is swiftly frustrated by the parts of the world that he cannot transform.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, is a realist. If he wasn’t that way his entire life, his decisive moment may have been the harrowing battle he recounted during his address, when he was “nearly killed in a firefight inside the Suez Canal. I mean that literally. I went down to the bottom with a 40 pound ammunition pack and somebody grabbed me. They’re still looking for the guy who did such a stupid thing. I almost died down there.”
Israel almost died down there. It has almost died many times. Israelis “must take calls for our destruction seriously,” as Netanyahu explained. Meanwhile, Israel is not interested in killing any other nation. Obscuring this essential truth to curry favor with its enemies accomplishes nothing, except reinforcing the intransigence of those enemies.
That’s what Obama doesn’t understand about the Palestinians. Netanyahu did his best to explain it. He knows many of his neighbors want a better life for themselves and their families. He is crystal clear in his understanding that their leadership does not… and in tyrannies soft and hard, the leadership shapes the people.
“In the past several years,” Netanyahu observed, “the Palestinians have begun to build a better life for themselves. The Palestinian economy is booming, growing by more than 10% a year. Palestinian cities look very different today than they did a few years ago. All this happened without peace. Imagine what could happen with peace.”
Many of those trapped beneath the misrule of Hamas might have that kind of imagination, but Hamas certainly does not. “Why has peace not been achieved?” he asked. “Because so far, the Palestinians have not been willing to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it. This has always been about the existence of a Jewish state.”
Netanyahu knows that “land for peace” is the kind of simplistic and facile concept academics can sell themselves, when they don’t have to worry about finding themselves with “sixty seconds to find shelter from an incoming rocket.” When Israel withdrew from south Lebanon and Gaza, “we thought we’d get peace. That’s not what we got. We got 12,000 rockets showered on our civilians, our children, by Hamas and Hezbollah. European guarantees of ‘peace’ evaporated overnight.”
Netanyahu knows that Israel is “the one anchor of stability in a sea of shifting alliances.” It is the beacon of freedom and democracy in a land sick with violence and oppression. “Israel has always been pro-America,” he told Congress. “Israel will always be pro-America. You don’t need to do nation building in Israel. We’re already built. You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it. You don’t need to send American troops to Israel. We defend ourselves!”
He contrasted Israel with the “medieval rule of Hezbollah inflicted on Lebanon after the Cedar Revolution,” and especially Iran, foremost among the “powerful forces that oppose modernity, democracy, and peace.” Meanwhile, “only in Israel to Arabs enjoy real democratic rights. Only one-half of one percent of Arabs are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel.”
As the Prime Minister put it, “Israel is not what is wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what is right with the Middle East.”
Netanyahu called upon Palestinian President Abbas to “stand before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish state!’ Those six words will change history. They’ll make it clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end. They’re not building a Palestinian state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. They will become true partners for peace, and with such a partner, the Israeli people will be willing to make a far reaching compromise. I will be willing to make such a compromise.”
Imagine if Abbas were to say that. Imagine if the Arab world could produce one great leader who speaks as Benjamin Netanyahu does. Imagine if there was one who could say the words “never again” with a full understanding of all the horror and hope contained in those words. Such a leader would explore a brighter destiny for much of the human race. The enemies of that destiny would immediately sentence him to death.
It is Netanyahu’s understanding of America that made this great address illuminate the halls of Congress. “Israel has no better friend than America, and America has no better friend than Israel,” he declared. “We stand together to advance democracy, spread peace, and fight terrorism.” Those are three aspects of the same wonderful and fearful mission.
Sometimes the idea of a “War on Terror” is mocked, because terror is the method, not the enemy. In truth, terrorism is the final dying gasp of aggressive totalitarianism. The fascists of the twenty-first century cannot hope for military conquest, as their twentieth-century ancestors did. Their methods are political, and terrorism is political murder. Take that weapon away from them, and the viral fantasy of conquest would shrivel further than it has in all of our history, although of course it can never be cured entirely.
“Militant Islam threatens the world,” Netanyahu warned, as he spoke of Iran’s impending acquisition of nuclear weapons. “It threatens Islam.” The answer will inevitably come from America, because “Providence entrusted the United States to be the guardian of freedom.”
“All people who cherish liberty owe you a debt of gratitude,” Netanyahu concluded. “I speak on behalf of the Jewish people and the Jewish state when I say to you, representatives of the United States of America: Thank you.”
There is something profound America shares in common with the state of Israel. Our existence is provocative, and our survival changes history with every passing day. Perhaps one day, Benjamin Netanyahu, or his successor, will have the honor of introducing the president of an even more provocative free and peaceful Palestinian state to the United States Congress, as a fellow guardian of freedom. His speech today made clear the difference between dreams and illusions.