Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres
As the first decade of the new millennium draws to a close, many a pundit with a pen and a platform will be scribbling thoughts on the past ten years; how can they be best summed up, and how history will view them. What all seem to agree on, is its momentousness and lack of overall positivity, with some labeling it the dreadful decade or the decade from hell. With major events including 9/11, the greatest terrorist attack of all time, the pacific tsunami and global economic meltdown who can argue?
Israel has had no less headline attention in this decade than in previous years as the subject of ongoing global obsession and interest. The events include an Intifada, two wars, withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, a presidential scandal, a prime minister’s resignation, the death of Arafat and a re-structuring of Palestinian Arab leadership, the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, and an American president with an 86% Israeli approval rating, and followed by one with only 4%.
But from an internal perspective, looking at Israeli leadership from the point of view of the Israeli people, if one had to capture the past decade in a few words one could label it the decade of leadership betrayal and broken promises.
As we entered the new Millennium Ehud Barak was Prime Minister, a staunch man of the left, he offered the PA the most substantial ever land for peace agreement of all time. This was categorically rejected by Yassir Arafat at Camp David and followed shortly with the bloody and barbaric second intifada. But more recently with Netanyahu’s election, Barak put his positions aside to maintain political influence and power within the Netanyahu government thus dividing his depleted party in two and betraying his electorate.
Barak was followed by Ariel Sharon, hailed as a hawk by the international media and a leader of the settler movement, it was widely expected that he would respect wholeheartedly the territorial integrity of the land of Israel, and that he would be well equipped to bring about a swift and decisive end to an Intifada that was claiming more lives with every passing day. In an ultimate show of betrayal it was Sharon that forced the removal of every last Jew from the Gaza strip, and relinquished control over the Philadelphi route between Gaza and Egypt, a move that is widely considered today to have set in motion the rise of Hamas to power and the creation of the rocket launching base and proverbial tinderbox that Gaza is today.
Ehud Olmert‘s greatest betrayal to the Israeli people was a moral one; facing numerous charges of corruption and bribery, he finally resigned in 2008. Always a weak prime minister with wavering political power, he was never able to orchestrate some of the grand proposals and agreements that he had begun to draw up with Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership. Although there were others that took the blame and resigned from office, his disastrous handling of the second Lebanon war and his continuous fickle indecision throughout, arguably cost a number of Israeli soldiers their lives.
Netanyahu had started on the right foot, but his recent settlement freeze indicates that he may be slipping back to his old self, when he reneged on his campaign promises in 1997 by signing the Hebron Accords and the Wye River Memorandum. The freeze represents a betrayal to the Israeli people that voted for him and many of his coalition partners. It also further cements and legitimizes the claim that the West Bank communities are illegal and that the solution to all Middle East conflict is Jewish withdrawal from these areas.
Israeli leaders orchestrated two large scale unilateral withdrawals in the past decade, painfully handing over the vacated land in southern Lebanon and in the Gaza strip to Arabs, with high hopes and promises that this just might lead to renewed co-operation and dialogue, and provide the first steps toward building a better common future. But Israel also fought two wars in this period, one in Lebanon and one in Gaza, it is no coincidence that the vacated areas served as the sites of these bloody battlefields. The perceived weakness of concession boosted the morale and courage of terrorist leaders, resulting in further misery and loss. Lebanon and Gaza are two great broken promises of the decade.
Perhaps when looking ahead our leaders should take a page out of the textbook of the regional organization that has seen the greatest success over the past decade, namely Hamas. This terrorist group has made massive military and political gains, including diplomatic invitations to South Africa and Russia and calls from mainstream politicians the world over to include them in political dialogue. This is an organization that is single minded and resolute; Hamas leaders don’t mince their words, or realign their positions with the strongest blowing wind, in spite of making no secret of their demonic intentions they have gained the respect of many.
Although it has been another trying and painful decade for the Israeli people, individual successes and achievement have been overwhelming with many industries booming, and economic growth and stability far better than many other countries around the world. It seems like the ingenuity and creativity of the Israeli people has been their greatest source of pride in the past decade. Perhaps leaders and lawmakers could be more in touch with their constituents to have the courage in their convictions, sticking to their guns and their principles and never betray those that have places their trust in them thus ensuring greater political stability and world respect.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org