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Netanyahu's election provides several opportunities having international implications

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Oded Balilty, Associated Press

Benjamin Netanyahu had a tough few weeks, with widespread criticism for his speech to the U.S. Congress, a cold shoulder from the Obama administration and a tighter-than-expected political battle to retain his seat as Israel's prime minister. But Netanyahu is no stranger to tough battles. In today’s world of growing violence from both nation-states and terrorist insurgents, many have asked, “Where is our Winston Churchill?” Based on his willingness to speak the uncomfortable truths and stand up to tyrants, Netanyahu seems to be one of a few world leaders willing to fill that role. The U.S. should be pleased to see this strong leader win a historic fourth term.

The result of the election in the Israeli Knesset presents two opportunities. The first is for the U.S. to renew our strong ties to Israel. This will take some pivoting from Obama, but reconfirming our commitment to this important ally is the right thing to do. Netanyahu needs to do some pivoting as well, away from his recent comments against a Palestinian state and returning to his earlier position in support of a two-state solution.

Netanyahu is a realist, born from the experience of living in a nation constantly under threat of attack from neighbors who refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist and espouse actions to make sure it doesn’t. Existence under such circumstances is difficult for most in the U.S. to understand. Maybe the closest we can come is to recall the vulnerability we felt on 9/11 and the days soon after, and imagine living with that feeling every day.

But even as a realist, Netanyahu must understand that a strong leader can mold public opinion, change the political landscape and thereby create a new reality. Netanyahu is in a unique position to do so, because no one can question his commitment to defending Israel from its avowed enemies. I saw this commitment up close during a meeting with the prime minister in 2013, when Gov. Gary Herbert led a Utah trade mission to Israel. During our meeting, Netanyahu mentioned he was visiting the U.K., France and China in the coming weeks with the sole intent of letting other world leaders know that Israel would never let Iran have a nuclear weapon. No one in that room doubted that he meant what he said.

On that same trade mission to Israel, we had the opportunity to visit Ramallah in the West Bank. We met with Palestinian business leaders and came away with a great admiration for what those men and women are doing to improve their communities. We also came away with a clearer understanding of their frustration with the limitations placed on their ability to succeed, such as intentionally reduced Internet accessibility and delayed or disappearing cargo at Israeli ports.

As Netanyahu reaches out to minority political parties to build his coalition government, he would do well to also reach out to Palestinian leaders and begin to rebuild those coalitions. By so doing, the prime minister would use his unquestionable commitment to the defense of his country to create long-term prospects for peace and stability.

Creating that new reality is the vision of Israel’s most beloved figure, former President Shimon Peres, whom the Utah trade delegation also had the honor of visiting. As our meeting began, I was reminded of the stature this man holds in the eyes of his countrymen when our Israeli guide whispered to me, “this is like meeting George Washington.” Indeed, President Peres fought in Israel’s war of independence, served as a member of 12 cabinets, was prime minister twice and recently retired at the age of 90 as the country’s president. He is rightly esteemed as one of Israel’s founding fathers.

In this meeting, President Peres shared sage wisdom, saying “the key to lasting peace is economic prosperity.”

Today’s world leaders would be well served to heed the words of this wise man. The solution to living with threats from neighbors is not further retrenchment and retribution. Rather, it is forging ties and building relationships that provide a better life that comes from economic freedom.

Derek B. Miller is the president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.