December 14, 2018

How Bibi could surprise the world

When the eyes of the world are on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu on March 3 as he speaks to the U.S. Congress, he’ll have an opportunity to shock them all – Congressmen, Israeli voters, the foreign press, European leaders, Arab dictators, the United Nations and President Barack Obama.

He won’t shock them with his widely anticipated message about the dangers of making a bad deal with Iran. That message is hugely important and must be shared, but that cat’s already out of the bag.

As I touched on in my last column, the political uproar over “Bibigate” has had an unintended consequence – it has broadened the debate. We’re no longer talking just about tougher sanctions against Iran in case an agreement isn’t reached, or the president’s threats to veto such sanctions. 

We’re now talking about the agreement itself. We’re talking about strategy, about the danger of rushing headlong into what Israeli author Ari Shavit last week called “Obama and Khamenei’s disastrous deal.”

Bibi’s speech will milk this. He will rail against the number of centrifuges inside Iran, but also against the growing number of terror states under Iran’s umbrella. He will rail against allowing the chaos in the Middle East to turn a predatory Iran into an ally of the West. He will warn of the dangers of starting a nuclear arms race in the world’s most explosive and unstable neighborhood.

For Bibi to reach greatness, he’ll have to add something new, something epic, something totally unexpected.

In short, Bibi’s address will reinforce a message of risk – the risk of basing a grand bargain with an evil regime on the hope that that regime can, in time, become less evil.

But as crucial as that message will be – and I believe it’s the most crucial foreign policy message of our time – it’s already being delivered by others, and it’s what everyone is expecting to hear. For Bibi to reach greatness, he’ll have to add something new, something epic, something totally unexpected.

Something that will reward the Democratic congressmen who attend the speech despite opposition from their own president.

Something that will belie his reputation as a political opportunist who’s using this high-profile forum to solidify his base back home, two weeks before national elections.

Something that will confront the albatross around Israel’s neck that is fueling the BDS movement and eroding Israel’s global standing.

On March 3, to really shake up the world, Bibi will have to commit to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative and make a serious announcement regarding settlements.

Here’s what I propose: Assuming he remains prime minister, Bibi would invite the Palestinian Authority (PA) back to the negotiating table, and, while negotiations are ongoing, commit to freezing construction in West Bank settlements outside of the main settlement blocs.

Yes, I know, this will lead to a few coronary attacks in his Likud party and make his opponents on the far right salivate. But it would also transform Bibi into a global leader, one with the courage to challenge his own base and risk his political future for the good of his country.

And make no mistake – this would be good for Israel. Even if you believe Israeli settlements are not illegal (as I do), the hard reality is that Israel has lost that argument with much of the world. That reality, however, presents an opportunity: A concrete gesture regarding settlements will disarm our enemies. Why? Because that’s pretty much all they’ve got on Israel. 

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has been cleaning Israel’s clock for years now with the diplomatic bomb of Israeli settlements. Think of how depressed he would be after this announcement, deprived of that most precious weapon with which to batter the Jewish state.

And no, this would not be like the previous freeze. This would be initiated by Israel and would be conditional—they don’t negotiate, Israel doesn’t freeze. How do you beat that for an incentive?

Think also of the U.S. Congress, the most powerful legislature in history and Israel’s greatest friend. Sadly, we’re seeing some of this bipartisan support start to fray. I can’t think of a better way to reinforce that support than to give the Democrats and President Obama a diplomatic initiative they could willingly embrace.

This is not about naively pushing for a peace deal – everyone knows that’s a pipe dream right now. It’s more about demonstrating intent and good will. This good will would surely come in handy when Israel needs maximum congressional support as the zero hour approaches on the nuclear deal with Iran. 

There’s been more than enough bad blood surrounding Bibi’s speech. The differences between Bibi and Obama on Iran are serious and real. On March 3, as he expounds on these differences in front of the world, it wouldn’t hurt to spring a sweet surprise.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at