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OPINION

Netanyahu Should Reach Out And Change His Rhetoric

By Lanny J. Davis

A very wise Republican friend of mine, Frank Luntz, a pollster and TV pundit and focus group star, has made it a science to persuade politicians the supposedly self-evident proposition that words count.

It can be Mr. Netanyahu's historic legacy to achieve what could accurately be described as the ultimate feat of modern diplomatic history: to bring peace between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East...
The Prime Minister-designate of Israel, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, is known in Israel and throughout the world as a man of the right. He is often referred to as a "hard-liner" when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. The early impression in American and European media has been that Netanyahu, as one Jerusalem-based think tank fellow put it, "has refused to commit himself to a two-state solution."

This is because whenever Bibi is asked whether he favors a two-state solution, his answer is often sounds like, simply put, "No, but...." But given his previously expressed views, instead, Bibi could articulate exactly the same substantive position. However, his answer to the same question could just as well begin with, "Yes, but..."

Words matter, as Frank Luntz always reminds us. And which of these two answers Bibi chooses matters. A lot.

Let's look at substance first. The "but" word, whether it comes after a "no" or "yes," actually understandably involves the same four preconditions to a two-state solution: An extended period of peace and a civil society by the Palestinian entity; freedom of the skies; demilitarization; and a ban on hostile alliances. To understand the reasons for each of them, let's substitute the name America for Israel, and Mexico for Palestine.

Would America agree to recognize Mexico as a sovereign state if Mexico were publicly committed to the destruction of the United States, with moonlighting military forces or terrorists free to use Mexico as a base for invading America or shooting rockets at American cities?

Would America agree if Mexico had control over its border crossings that were regularly used to permit Al Qaeda or other international terrorists to enter and operate in its territory and attack the U.S. and invade Texas? If Mexico could shoot down planes flying from San Diego to Miami if the planes came too close to Mexican air space? If Mexico could make an alliance with Al Qaeda or other anti-U.S. terrorists like Hezbollah and perhaps even cooperate in the planning of another 9/11-style attack on our economy and civilians?

Of course not.

So too for Israel.

Most Americans and even most Europeans, where criticism towards Israel has recently been greater, especially after the recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza, understand that no nation could permit the establishment of a state next to it whose central policy is to bring about its destruction. That is why no two state solution involving a Hamas-governed Gaza is possible. Here is a direct quote from Hamas' Charter:

"The Prophet, Allah's prayer and peace be upon him, says: 'The Hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"

So long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza and committed to terrorism and the destruction of Israel, there can be no peace made with Hamas.

But as to the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Netanyahu has a great historic opportunity to accomplish what the more leftist or "dovish" predecessor, the Kadima Party government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and now leader Tzipi Livni, tried but were unable to achieve.

Bibi Netanyahu has already made it clear that his priority will be to assist the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank (as opposed to the Hamas-terrorist led junta government in Gaza) to achieve economic growth, prosperity, jobs, education, and housing for the Palestinian people. As Yossi Klein Halevi, a leading Jerusalem strategic think tank fellow, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Obama will find a ready partner in Jerusalem [under a Netanyahu government] for improving economic conditions in the West Bank. That process would present the Palestinians with a stark choice between their two territories: the beginnings of prosperity in a peaceful West Bank, or devastation in a jihadist Gaza."

Actually, Mr. Netanyahu set forth similar ideas in the Chicago Tribune last December entitled, "Don't Give Up On Peace," which reads as if it could have been written by former British Prime Minister (and special Mid-East envoy) Tony Blair.

Just as the arch-anti-Communist Republican President Richard Nixon could afford politically to break the barriers and go to Communist China without worrying about being accused of being "soft on Communism," so too would Bibi Netanyahu's credibility and base on the security-conscious Israeli right give him greater flexibility to commit to a two- state solution with the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank - - but only after an evolutionary period that fulfilled the four caveats discussed above, assuring Israelis of security for their country and their children for years to come.

By choosing to answer the two-state solution question, "Yes, but..." Mr. Netanyahu can win additional support from U.S. liberals, women and African Americans who recent polls show were most dismayed by the Gaza intervention, with lesser support for Israel than in past years. By answering "No, but..." Mr. Netanyahu also risks appearing to disagree not only with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Special Mid-East Envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, but also, with the last two U.S. presidents, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton.

Mr. Netanyahu should be confident enough of his conservative security credentials to become the Nixon-to-China historic leader of Israel. He would be following in the footsteps of other conservative Israeli leaders with great credibility on the security-conscious right: the former leader of the Irgun, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who made peace with Egypt in 1978 - a peace that lasts through today and that remains the signal achievement in Israel-Arab peace efforts since the founding of Israel in 1947; former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, considered the father of the settlement movement, who embraced the two-state solution and carried out an Israeli withdrawal of settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank; and, of course, the late Yitzhak Rabin, himself a warrior turned peacemaker.

Mr. Netanyahu might even have the unique ability to reach out boldly (but quietly) to Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt that we know share his conviction that Iran must not be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.

Thus, it can be Mr. Netanyahu's historic legacy to achieve what could accurately be described as the ultimate feat of modern diplomatic history: to bring peace between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East, people who share the same ancient Semitic heritage, and, according to the Torah and Koran, share the same great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great, etc grand-father, Abraham.

If he does that, then Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu can be assured of God's ultimate blessing -- for "blessed be the peacemakers...they shall inherit the earth."

Lanny J. Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton from 1996-98, also served as a member of President George W. Bush's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006 to 2007. He is the author in 2006 of "Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America."

This article also appeared in the Washington Times on Monday, April 13, 2009, in Mr. Davis's weekly column, "Purple Nation." It also appeared in TheHill.com/PunditsBlog, and the Huffington Post.com.

Lanny Davis, a Washington attorney and principal in the firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, specializing in legal crisis management and dispute resolution, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006-07. He currently serves as special counsel to Dilworth Paxson and is the author of the new book, "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life," (Simon & Schuster March 2013). Follow him on Twitter at @LannyDavis.