Tel Aviv — Hillary Clinton arrives in Israel today on her first visit since becoming secretary of state, at a time when many influential people in America and beyond are clamoring for the Obama administration to pressure Israel into making major concessions. Before she succumbs to those pressures, she might want to bear in mind the pain Israel suffered the last time it was forced to make such concessions — when Mrs. Clinton’s husband was president.
It is a pain that has many names and faces. One of them is Kinneret Chaya Boosany. At the very moment that Barack Obama was delivering his historic victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park in the early hours of November 5, a small miracle was happening over 6,000 miles away in Israel when Kinneret gave birth to her first child.
Six years earlier, Kinneret, then a 23-year-old part-time dancer and student of alternative medicine, was blown up as she worked as a waitress in a small coffee shop on Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street. (Like many young Israelis, she worked as a waitress to earn extra money. She was also exceptionally good-looking: Heads would turn wherever she went.)
#ad#Her injuries that night were so horrific that the doctors gave her only a 2 percent chance of survival. She remained in a coma for four months. When she awoke, she changed her name from Kinneret to Kinneret Chaya (meaning “Kinneret Lives” in Hebrew). In her own words, “Kinneret died that night in the flames, but Kinneret Chaya was born.”
She is just one of the thousands of Israelis — both Jews and Arabs — injured by Palestinian suicide bombers who were sent out on their deadly missions by either the Islamist Hamas movement or by the Fatah faction headed by “moderate” Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. The number of Israelis killed in buses and pizza parlors and shopping malls has been greatly reduced in recent years after the government built a security fence to make it harder for bombers to get through.
Today Kinneret has one fully operating lung, sees in only one eye, and hears in only one ear. Her skin still bears the scars of burns over 85 percent of her body. She spends many hours in a heavy pressure suit and face mask to prevent the scarring from getting worse, and she cannot go out in the day because the sun has become her enemy.
But Kinneret has struggled back to life, through countless operations and long sessions of physiotherapy, learning to accept her disfigured body and to smile in spite of her scarred face. And then in November, even though the doctors said she had only a very slim chance of a successful pregnancy, this beautiful former teenage ballerina, who got married at the start of last year, gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
This story is worth reflecting on as Hillary Clinton arrives here in Israel. Barely a day goes by without Jimmy Carter and assorted European politicians calling on Obama to coerce Israel into hastily withdrawing from more land no matter the security risks. The reigning Nobel Peace Prize laureate, for instance, former Finnish prime minister Martti Ahtisaari, went so far as to use the prize ceremony as a soapbox to urge Obama to make pressure on Israel the principal focus of his first year in office.
Like most Israelis, Kinneret Chaya — whom I saw again last week — desperately wants peace with the Palestinians. Indeed it is my experience of covering the region as a reporter for many years that no one wants the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to be peaceably resolved more than Israelis do.
But Israelis are also very aware of the dangers of naively handing over territory to terrorists, as was done during the presidency of Secretary of State Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, in the 1990s. The vote by Israelis in elections two weeks ago was not a vote against peace, as many Western commentators claim. It was a vote for realism and security.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s likely next prime minister, has been wrongly vilified as being against a two-state solution. In fact he is open to the creation of a Palestinian state, but only if it is one that will live in peace with Israel. And for this, Netanyahu argues, you can’t simply wave a magic wand at some fancy signing ceremony on the White House lawn and say “hey presto” — which is exactly what leftist politicians tried to do at the Oslo signing ceremony in 1993.
First the Palestinians need to do the hard work of building institutions that would allow such a state to succeed — a functioning economy, the rule of law, and so on. And Netanyahu is very willing to offer Israeli assistance in building such mechanisms.
Avigdor Lieberman, one of Netanyahu’s possible coalition partners, who has been misleadingly described as an extreme rightist by many journalists, has been even more explicit than Netanyahu in calling for a two-state solution, including the division of Jerusalem between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Even Shimon Peres, Israel’s dovish president, now has second thoughts about unilateral Israeli concessions. Having long championed territorial withdrawals to attain peace, Peres last week acknowledged that it was a mistake for Israel to withdraw from Gaza in 2005 without first having a peaceful and democratic Palestinian party to hand that territory to.
#ad#Israel has always shown a willingness to make peace if a peace partner exists, as it did in the case of the late Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Jordan’s King Hussein. Israelis are still waiting for a Palestinian Anwar Sadat.
One of Netanyahu’s most difficult challenges during his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 was coping with the Clinton administration, which berated him for his belief that peace must be built from the bottom up through the liberalization of Palestinian society, rather than from the top down by giving land to terrorists. The question is whether Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have come round to Netanyahu’s way of thinking.
Kinneret Chaya is an exemplary and courageous figure. The international community owes it to her and the countless other terror victims to confront the basic realities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. By all means pressure Israel into making concessions that do not threaten its security — into not expanding West Bank settlements, for instance. But Israeli concessions will never resolve the conflict by themselves. They will only work if there is corresponding pressure on the Palestinians to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and to make aid to the Palestinians conditional on putting an end to their inciting for the destruction of Israel.
– Tom Gross is the former Jerusalem correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.
(This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe.)