Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Welcome to my neighborhood

It was exciting to have President Biden here in Israel last week even if, as some analysts have asserted, we were just a waystation on his way to his real objective, Saudi Arabia.  It's understandable if we were second fiddle; U.S. gas prices were topping five bucks a gallon and Saudi Arabia has  oil.  We've got computer chips and falafel.

Our apartment is very close to the President and the Prime Minister's residences, so we had some inconvenience but we also really felt the activity.  It was refreshing to have a President of the U.S. and a Prime Minister of Israel who acted like adults and conducted themselves civilly.  No incidents, no embarrassing statements by either side, no significant gaffes. Disagreements handled smoothly and respectfully. Warmth exuded.

Regardless of  politics, a lot of people here in Israel are thankful that visit went smoothly and safely.  There was a collective sigh of relief when Air Force One took off.

Prime Minister Lapid, having just recently taken office upon the downfall of the Bennet coalition that Lapid knitted together and facing an election on November 1st, acquitted himself well.  He displayed some class and graciousness, characteristics often missing in Israel politics and in politics generally.  He broke protocal by inviting his predecessor, Naftali Bennett, to the airport to greet Biden and his entourage.

And he demonstrated class and sensitivity to Defense Minister Gantz, a man who betrayed his commitment to Lapid and those that voted for him not to join a Netanyahu-led government based on Netanyahu's commitment that the prime ministership would rotate to Gantz, a commitment that, out of about 9.5 million Israelis, only Gantz and perhaps his wife believed had a chance of being kept.

Despite having ample reason to shun Gantz, Lapid, knowing that Gantz's mother, like Lapid's father, was a Holocaust survivor, included him in Biden's visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust and an obligatory must-stop for visiting dignitaries.

A major point of agreement:  Both Biden and Lapid expressed their support for a "two-state solution."  And both agreed that it is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Tom Friedman's recent column discussing the visit takes off from his long-stated belief that without the establishment of a Palestinian state, Israel is headed to a bi-national state or a non-democratic state.