Netanyahu needs to face a simple, clear-cut question: Do you want a democratic state based on the 1967 borders, or not?
The slogan that brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power was "making a secure peace." That is no accident. "Peace" has maintained the right-wing government to a much greater extent than the right-wing government has maintained peace.
The reason for this is simple. When "peace" is at issue, the domestic debate is diverted to the image of the "other," the one with whom peace should or should not be made. From there, the road is short in Israel to governmental scorn for the weakness of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and for assertions, like those of Netanyahu, that Hamas is a continuation of the Nazis.
But the cyclical Israeli calendar, which moves from "Holocaust" to "Independence," reminds us of what ought to have been self-evident. There is one question that must precede the question of "peace" - a question that constitutes the essence of independence and formed the basis of the Zionist revolution: What does Israel want?
Not for nothing is that question ignored by the government. For when you ask what Israel wants, the requisite answer is clear: a state based on the borders in which it achieved independence, known today as the 1967 borders; a democratic state in which all are equal, as described in the Declaration of Independence.
This answer is dangerous to the right, because most Israelis still support it and it is also accepted internationally. Moreover, it has potency in any situation, even when all eyes are made to look outward, on relations between Fatah and Hamas. If Defense Minister Ehud Barak is right that Hamas capitulated to Fatah, the way is open for a successful implementation of a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines. And if the opposite is true, an Israel that has chosen a democratic state in the 1967 borders has a wealth of available options that would enable it to look out for itself with widespread international support.
But the question of what Israel wants has a second possible answer: Israel wants a racist messianic state, one in which Jews are citizens and non-Jews are subjects. This second answer is not fantastic. In essence, this has been the Israeli reality for 44 years already. In the territories, and also in Jerusalem, Jews are citizens and non-Jews aren't. Just this week, the science minister (!) presented an award to Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu at a ceremony in which the latter advocated cleansing Safed of Arabs.
Barak, an adherent of the method of verbal misdirection used to enable special-forces operations, dragged "the Third Way" out of storage to be the platform of his Atzmaut party. But Barak knows better than anyone that there is no third way. In special operations, in business and in policy alike, the decision is simple and clear: yes or no. Either Israel wants a state based on the promises of its Declaration of Independence, or it doesn't.
To flee this simple truth, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (Likud ) invented what his staffers termed the "teaspoon" policy at the 1991 Madrid Conference: endless negotiating sessions at which mountains of sugar would be stirred into oceans of tea and coffee, but no agreement would ever be reached. Netanyahu has perfected this method, which enables him to keep stirring sugar into the negotiators' cups forever instead of answering the question of what Israel wants.
But the time for teaspoons has ended. September 2011 is imminent. U.S. President Barack Obama, who came to power on the wings of domestic opposition to racism, has now just scored a victory over racism and messianism abroad. Regardless of whether or not he is personally a fan of Zionism, America's interests and international developments have granted him the ability to help distance Israel from racism and restore its independence.
To do this, it is necessary to end the witch's brew of peace, teaspoons and ambiguity, and bring Netanyahu face to face, both at home and abroad, with this simple, clear-cut question: Do you want a democratic state based on the 1967 borders, or not? There is no other question. But the requisite answer is not a facile breath of air. It requires dismantling the settlements outside Israel's borders, bursting the racist-messianic bubble that is taking over Israel's educational and legal systems, and putting rabbis like Eliyahu on trial instead of granting them awards.
Now is the time to answer that one question, the one that founded Israel 63 years ago: What does Israel want?