Michael Hilkowitz

President Abbas, Honor the Living, Not Only the Dead

President Abbas,

I was touched that you decided to come to the funeral of President Peres in West Jerusalem.  That you chose to be there to honor a man who had, to say the least, a mixed legacy among your people, was honorable. That you should take a political risk to honor this man whose vision for a two-state future hasn’t come to pass is noteworthy.  Although symbolically, it felt to me, as I am sure it felt to many Israelis to the left of center, like you were coming to the funeral of the Two-State future for the Holy Land. President Peres was the last Israeli leader of significant sway who talked about a vision of  Israelis and Palestinians living as neighbors in peace.

The fact that you chose to honor President Peres’s death is heartwarming, but I would prefer you honor the living instead of the dead.  Just a weeks ago, in his General Assembly speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu invited you to address the Knesset.  You turned down the invitation. Now, I know you probably have many reasons to turn down the invitation, but I ask you for a moment to reconsider your decision.

The death of President Peres brings to my mind the man’s vision.  Looking at the current cadre of Israeli political leaders, it is hard to find one who has any real vision for Israel’s future beyond the status quo.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has convinced most Israelis that there is no opportunity for peace in the current situation and that it is better to maintain the status quo for now, rather than take risks for peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has convinced most Israelis and many people around the world that you Mr. President are not a viable partner for peace.  Mr. President, you have convinced Israelis that you are not interested in a negotiated peace, that you are interested in bypassing the Israeli people and getting the international community to impose your parameters on a settlement.  I can promise you, that will not be successful.  The international community is just as split on the issue of Israel and Palestine as the people of Israel or Palestine are.

Just as the International community and the UN were powerless to implement the Partition Plan in 1947, or an end to the fighting in Syria or Sudan,  they are powerless to impose a solution here.  Mr. President, if you want peace and a Palestinian State, there is no way to bypass the Israeli people.  It doesn’t matter how many peace conferences are hosted by how many different countries until the Israelis and Palestinians come to an agreement between themselves, there will be no end, no settlement, no solution, and the status quo will continue. I can assure you, sir, the status quo is much worse on your people than it is on mine.   Mr. President, if you are betting that Israel will be treated like South Africa, I hate to break it to you, but you are sorely mistaken.  Especially as long as organs within the PA continue to incite your people toward terrorism and regularly use anti-semitic rhetoric.

There is no way around us, Mr. President, in the short term, or in the long term.  The short term is especially important for you though sir.   You are 81 years old.  Even optimistically,  your time as the leader of your people is starting to run short.  What do you want to leave for your people Mr. President?  What do you want your legacy to be?  What will you be remembered for?  What accomplishments can you point to since 2005?  Are your people any better off than they were when you took office?  Your people in Gaza are certainly much worse off today than they were when you took office. Do you want your gift to your people to be another generation of occupation until another leader comes along who maybe can make some change?

Please, Mr. President, reconsider your rejection of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s invitation to address the Knesset.  If you can come to West Jerusalem to honor the dead, to pay homage to the wish that President Peres had for peace, then surely you should be able to come to West Jerusalem to speak for your people, and for our shared destiny.  What leader wouldn’t take such an opportunity to speak directly to the people of the other side?

Mr. President, were you to show the courage to come and address the Knesset, imagine the pulpit you would have, not only would you be broadcast on every television in Israel and Palestine, but your speech would be carried live around the world. Mr. President, it seems to me that you have been working hard the last few years to show yourself as a legitimate figure on the world stage, but with an opportunity like this, you wouldn’t need to work to be a legitimate figure on the world stage, you would be a legitimate leader on the world stage.  This kind of invitation is the thing no real leader would pass up.  Any chance to stand and make the case for your people in front of what would be a worldwide audience should be too important to pass up, no matter what the reason.

Mr. President, Israelis and many others around the world are understandably skeptical of your intentions and motives.  All of us have seen too much bloodshed in this conflict to take things on faith anymore.  Trust needs to be built up because neither side has any right now.  What better way to start to build than taking a step.  I know you think Prime Minister Netanyahu was not sincere in his invitation.  What does that matter?  He never believed for a moment you would accept the invitation, so it was a safe bet for him to make.  Call his bluff Mr. President, rise above and take this opportunity to lay out your vision of the future for the Israeli people, and the world, lay it out for all to see.  In one speech you will become the leader you want to be and begin to secure your legacy as a leader who helped to bring independence and prosperity to his people.

Think to the future Mr. President, while I wish you no harm, we all shuffle off this mortal coil at some point or another, so think into the future to your funeral Mr. President.  Where do you want it to be?  In Egypt? Ramallah? Or do you want your funeral to be in Jerusalem, on the Noble Sanctuary?  Who do you see attending Mr. President?  President Peres had Heads of State from all over the world attending, your predecessor had not a Western or Superpower Head of State to be seen. For you Mr. President, I envision a funeral on the Noble Sanctuary, in Palestine, with leaders of all the world’s countries, coming together to honor a man of peace, who took bold steps to secure a prosperous peaceful future for his people.

Sir, speeches are amazingly powerful things.  During a speech, you have the chance to paint the picture of a brighter future, or highlight injustice, or reach a hand out in friendship.  Think back over the amazing leaders in the world and I think you will find each one of them had a speech, a moment of history that was defining.  Kennedy in Berlin, Dr. King on the Mall, Arafat at the U.N. Obama in Cairo.  Speeches are history, they are what the future remembers.  Mr. President, please take that drive from Ramallah to the West Jerusalem. Define your legacy, and the future of your people for all Israelis and all the world to see.

About the Author
Michael Hilkowitz holds degrees in History and Secondary Education from Temple University and is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for International Affairs. He is currently a Masters student in Security and Diplomacy Studies at Tel Aviv University. Living in Israel since 2012, he formerly served as the Chief Content Office for The Israel Innovation Fund, a 501.c.3 working to promote Israeli culture, art, and humanities innovation abroad.
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