On Friday October 23, 1998, I sat in a London hotel room with Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, a world authority on Jewish history, as his son Binyamin, the Prime Minister of Israel, signed the Wye River accords. The professor, the patriarch of a family of hero sons who nobly serve the Jewish state, including Yoni who fell at Entebbe, had been my guest lecturing to our students in Oxford on the Spanish Inquisition. It was clear that this famous Jabotinskean defender of Greater Israel was pained by his son's actions and he commented to me that, given the immense pressure from President Clinton, his son had no choice but to capitulate and forfeit land to Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Now, 11 years later, Binyamin Netanyahu is again Prime Minister and he is no doubt about to face the same pressure from a new American president as he travels to Washington to meet Barack Obama.
I first met the Prime Minister when as Israel's young deputy Foreign Minister he accepted my invitation and electrified audiences of thousands at Oxford, most of whom were hugely hostile to him. Over that and future visits I discovered that Netanyahu is a Jew of immense pride and an orator of unequalled power. Contrary to the constant press billing of him as "a hardliner," at Oxford he went out of his way to court the Arab and Jewish students who came to heckle him and managed to befriend more than a few. His message was consistent. The only hope for Middle-East peace was Arab democratization. He repeatedly cited the unassailable fact that in the history of the world no two democracies had ever gone to war against one another. If there was to be Middle East peace it would have to come not from Israel, a liberal democracy, making territorial concessions when it was already the size of a postage stamp but from the Arab world liberating their citizens from political tyranny and the Palestinians ceasing to teach their children that Israel is a cancer that must be eradicated.
So what changed at Wye? We all know the answer. With the sole exception of Yitzchak Shamir, every one of Israel's most recent Prime Ministers has caved to incalculable American and international pressure to exchange "land for peace." In every instant the surrender was catastrophic providing Israel with neither peace nor respect. Menachem Begin allowed Jimmy Carter to bully him into the Camp David accords. Yet Carter today accuses Israel of apartheid and Egypt exports more anti-Semitism than almost any nation on earth.
The Oslo accords are the greatest self-inflicted wound by any nation over the last fifty years. Oslo gave us the suicide bomber which gave us Israel's fence which gave us the condemnation of Pope Benedict last week in Bethlehem.
And where is Israel after all these concessions? It is arguably the most hated and most vulnerable nation on earth. So hated is Israel that when the Iranian President broadcasts his intentions to destroy it, no other nation even has the decency to break off diplomatic relations with Iran and Netanyahu himself is reduced to supplicating the Pope, whose Vatican enjoys full diplomatic relations with Iran, to condemn Ahmedinejad's promise of another holocaust.
Last June I watched a compelling candidate Obama address AIPAC and say that he would get involved in the peace process "from the start of my administration." But did that mean pressure on Israel from day one? This year I heard Rahm Immanuel say that the solution to Iran's bellicosity lies in progress in Israel's peace process with the Palestinians.
Come on Rahm. Say it ain't so. Surely you realize that it's not Israeli intransigence which is responsible for the mess in the Middle East but that the fault lies with Arab leaders who have oppressed their people and denied them democracy and human rights for more than half a century and have successfully scapegoated Israel as the source of Arab suffering.
This week Netanyahu has the opportunity to marshal his stunning eloquence to set the record straight.
He can begin by responding to Pope Benedict's criticism of Israel's security fence and recent war in Gaza. Surely it's a little bit rich for a man who travels around in a bunker-on-wheels to condemn Israel for protecting its citizens. If Israel had Canada as a neighbor it wouldn't need a fence just as if the Pope only spoke to nuns he would not need a traveling fortress. No doubt we Americans would prefer to forego the intrusive security at our airports. But we submit to the inconveniences because we don't take kindly to the sight of our citizens leaping from burning skyscrapers.
As for Gaza, the Pope himself witnessed the ravished state of Germany after the Second World War. But he would presumably not blame the demolition in Berlin, Hamburg, and Dresden on the allies but on the German people themselves who democratically elected a genocidal maniac as their leader and then dragged the world into history's bloodiest war. He could have warned the residents of Gaza that in Hamas they similarly elected a terrorist organization, sworn to Israel's destruction, as their leaders and that there are consequences to using one's territory as a launching pad for murderous rockets.
In our age some religious leaders make the mistake of believing that morality always involves love but never hatred, an embrace of victims but never a revulsion of their oppressors. My Christian brothers especially quote Jesus as saying, "Love your enemies," as a teaching against hatred. Little do they focus on Jesus' precision in saying "your enemies," rather than "G-d's enemies." Your enemy is the man who steals your parking space. G-d's enemies are terrorists who murderer His children.
Rather than perpetuating the myth of Arab victimhood, Western leaders, the Pope included, should call on our Islamic brothers and sisters to restore Islam to its historical grandeur as a religion that once embraced the Jewish refugees of the Spanish Inquisition when they were expelled by Catholic princes who betrayed Christianity by preaching violence in G-d's name.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of "This World: The Values Network." Follow him on Twitter or read his website