Profiles in leadership spotlighting four towering figures in Israeli history who took great “risks for an elusive peace”—and why those qualities are needed in our current time.
American authors Ross and Makovsky (co-authors: Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, 2009) are both passionately committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace and diplomacy and believe the current Israeli leadership cannot deliver the solution. They observe that long-term Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not believe peace with the Palestinians is in his political interest and is allowing the issue to drift inexorably toward the establishment of a binational state. The authors offer the instructive examples of David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon as guides for the next step. Though all were flawed leaders, they all were “able to see risks clearly and understand which ones had to be run and not avoided,” and they were “willing to make very lonely decisions.” Founding father Ben-Gurion maintained a single-minded determination to establish a Zionist state, a desire magnified by the Holocaust, although he grasped the terrible cost of a war with the Arab neighbors; he was willing to compromise, when needed, though he did not foresee the growth of the religious right. Begin, former leader of the paramilitary underground, led the conservative coalition Likud to leadership in 1977, seizing the moment of making peace with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat (thanks to U.S. mediation) and ending “the virtually constant threat of war looming over Israel during its last three decades.” Rabin also understood the need for concessions, despite the awful political consequences, and Sharon, the early architect of the building of settlements, rehabilitated himself, after a controversial military career, by making the decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and recognizing Palestinian statehood. The choice for the next leaders, write the authors, is “whether [Israel] remains Jewish and democratic.”
Solid historical guidance for policymakers and students of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.