Dear friends of Israel:
In Washington, D.C. the opening of the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians proceeded like a well-staged theatre performance. For many observers the event seemed to be just a repetition of a familiar play. A closer look, however, revealed that certain things have changed. Benjamin Netanyahu has come a long way. When the so-called "Oslo Process" started 17 years ago, he was the leader of the opposition. He then accused Yitzhak Rabin that he was worse than Chamberlain. At least the British Premier had put the freedom of another nation at stake, whereas Rabin jeopardized the freedom of his own people. However, things are different now. Before he travelled to Washington, Netanyahu compared himself to Menachem Begin, uttering the hope that Mahmud Abbas could be a courageous partner for a lasting peace in the same way as the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was a partner for Begin. After his arrival in the United States, Netanyahu called Abbas his "peace partner". What in the world has happened to Benjamin Netanyahu?
During a discussion he mentioned that he is often told about the need to think about "creative solutions" for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but in his opinion a completely different approach is the only way. But first of all he would have to convince Abbas and the Arab world and then the Israelis that things ought to be done differently because previous attempts did not work. In his speech he said: "We left Lebanon, we got terror. We left Gaza, we got terror. We want to ensure that territory we concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel, and also aimed at everyone sitting here."
In his speech at the opening of the direct talks the Egyptian President Mubarak made it clear that Netanyahu's first task – convincing the Arabs that things ought to be done differently – will not be easy, since the current talks need to stand on the shoulders of previous agreements or near agreements, reached by Israel and the Palestinians, whether implemented or not. Netanyahu's opposition to starting the current talks from the point where the previous round between his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, and Abbas ended stems not only from opposition to the far-reaching concessions that Olmert made, but also from the fact that Netanyahu does not want to be bound by certain givens that have become accepted as a "peace-making gospel". For instance, Olmert and Ariel Sharon often spoke of the need to uproot Jewish settlements. In Netanyahu's opinion, however, conceding land does not necessarily mean the removal of settlements. One of his advisers once said that a litmus test of whether the Palestinians will be able to live peacefully next to Jews is whether they will allow Jews to live among them. An observer of the political scene remarked that a future Palestinian state would not be acceptable if it were "judenrein" (free of Jews). This is why during his stay in Washington, when asked at one point whether in his mind a final agreement would necessitate removing settlements, Netanyahu said that there is a need for "new conceptions", as the diplomatic process cannot go down the same tired roads of the past which did not prove themselves. Certain ideas that were seen as axiomatic need revision. "We can't continue as if nothing had happened", he said, "as if things that were done over the last years don't obligate a rethinking." He stressed that this would also include the Jewish settlements.
Obviously there has been a shift in the Israeli position, and therefore the current negotiations with the Palestinians might be taken more seriously than the previous ones. This is why Prime Minister Netanyahu will face a great burden. He will need wisdom from above in order to meet this challenge, and he will also need our prayers.
Sharing with you this important mandate of interceding for Israel, I am sending you a warm Shalom,