The coming days promise to be momentous ones for Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas are coming to Washington this week to begin direct peace negotiations. The subject could not be more serious. The stakes could not be higher. Summer vacation is over.
By all accounts, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been pushing for these direct negotiations. And by all accounts he is sincere in his desire to negotiate a lasting peace with the Palestinians. This seems like an unlikely departure for a man who so deeply understands that the land Israel would have to concede in any peace agreement is Israel’s Biblical heartland – the very land in which the Jewish people was born, and on which they lived out and wrote down the stories of the Hebrew Bible. This seems like an odd obsession for a man who so clearly recognizes the strategic value of this land – a mountainous region overlooking Israel’s population and industrial centers in the narrow coastal plain below.
And yet like the prime ministers who preceded him of both the left and the right, and like a solid majority of Israelis, Netanyahu seems prepared to rip out his heart and hand it over if it would only bring peace. And this, of course, is the question: will these concessions bring peace?
Netanyahu is well aware of the doubts and the danger. He has stated up front that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the Jewish state. He has also stated up front that he is looking for tangible security arrangements on the ground to prevent the security debacles that followed past peace gestures. He knows very well that Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon resulted in a Hezbollah advance and missile fire upon northern Israel. He opposed the Gaza withdrawal which resulted in a Hamas take over and missile fire on southern Israel. He does not intend to repeat these mistakes.
But here’s the risk. Negotiations typically take on a powerful momentum of their own. President Obama is immersing himself ever deeper in the peace process. And first term presidents want two things: to be reelected and to make history. A peace agreement may well guarantee Obama both. Failure, on the other hand, will confirm the emerging view of Obama as both naïve and inexperienced, and may well cost him both. Expect enormous pressure to come down on whichever side is seen as the obstacle to an agreement. And since Israel’s demands are necessary minimums – not exaggerated maximums – expect Israel to be pressured into making some very risky concessions.
We who stand with Israel in America have two obligations. The first is to recognize that our proper role is to support Israel’s democratically elected government. We don’t live in Israel. Our houses are not within missile range of Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran. Our fathers, sons and husbands don’t serve in the Israeli army and won’t be called off to battle in the middle of the night. Our knowledge of Israel – even if we’ve studied it in detail – is typically not equal to that of most Israelis who are immersed in the conflict every day of their lives. We all think we know what’s best for Israel – every Israeli does and every one of us does. But ultimately we must all recognize that there was an election, Netanyahu won it, and he has the right to govern his people.
But while we don’t presume to dictate to Israel’s government, we have every right – and every responsibility – to speak to our own government. We have every right to demand that our government not pressure Israel into making concessions that the Israelis themselves do not wish to make. If history proves one thing, it proves that Israelis want peace so desperately that they will place themselves in peril to achieve it. If the Israelis are not willing to take a particular risk, this is a strong sign it is not a reasonable risk to take.
Let us pray for peace. But let as also watch these negotiations very closely. If Israel is pressured to abandon its very reasonable requests for recognition and security, we must be prepared to speak loudly in Israel’s defense. If Netanyahu stretches out his arm to make a concession to Abbas, this is his right. But if Netanyahu offers a concession because his arm is being twisted behind his back, then speaking out in Israel’s defense is our right.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel and author of a new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity. You can follow David on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.