Israeli voters have spoken—it’s time to set aside the futile “peace process” and focus on domestic issues
Dear Friend of FLAME:
While much of the world gleefully expected the Israeli election to turn out one way---and open Israel up to more media criticism---the results were quite the opposite. Josh Block, President of the Israel Project, wrote:
"Israeli voters, analysts told us, were turning rightward and even losing confidence in the Jewish state's democratic institutions. Voter turnout would slouch toward all-time lows, and remaining voters would empower a government that was, depending on a pundit's particular verve, ‘hardline,' ‘extremist,' ‘ultra-nationalist,' –or even worse."
To the contrary, the final tally from last week's election shows Likud Beiteinu (Prime Minister Netanyahu's party) winning the most Knesset seats (31), followed by Yair Lapid's brand new centrist party, Yesh Atid (19 seats), and the Labor party coming in third (15 seats). There are 120 seats total in the Knesset and 61 needed to form a government.
Far from becoming a far-right country, Israelis actually moved toward the center, with the right and center-left separated by a mere eight seats. Another momentous aspect of this election was the departure by parties all along the political spectrum from their obsession with the peace process.
This week's FLAME Hotline, by Douglas Feith, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, provides a revealing analysis of the Israeli election (though he wrote it one day before the election occurred). Feith explains that missing from the pre-election campaigning were the former battle cries of left-leaning parties: "Peace Now!" "Land for peace." "There's no alternative to peace."
This shift in emphasis by Israeli parties, including left-center Labor, demonstrates a unified understanding on the part of the Israeli electorate that there is no current partner for peace. Israelis themselves realized that no change in Israeli policy would, at this point, bring about peace, since the Palestinians still refuse to take part in direct negotiations and have not reconciled themselves to a Jewish state in the Middle East.
Prior to the election, Yair Lapid's party focused on domestic issues, such as the middle-class share of the tax burden and military service requirements, particularly of the ultra-orthodox. Indeed, as Feith so accurately points out in the article below, Israelis chose to focus on internal issues, in addition to security concerns, rather than on a peace process that is for all practical purposes, at least for now, defunct.
Regardless of the ultimate makeup of the new coalition, Israel, with an impressive 73 percent of the electorate voting (compared with only 57.5 of U.S. voters in 2012) has once again provided a shining example of what a truly open and functional democracy looks like. The fact that the Israeli vote spread defied the pundits' predictions also gives heartening proof of the vitality of Israel's democratic institutions.
To share the inspirational meaning of Israel's 2013 election results with your friends, colleagues, and fellow congregants, I urge you to pass this week's Hotline along using the "send to a friend" button at the bottom of this email, or using the buttons above to share it via social media.
Thanks for your continued support of Israel, and thank you for your support of FLAME.
Israel votes on Jan. 22, and a remarkable feature of its election campaign has been the way politicians on the left have shunned the peace slogans they passionately promoted in the salad days of the peace process.
"Peace Now!" "Land for peace." "There's no alternative to peace." After Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat sealed the Oslo Accords in September 1993 with their famous handshake at President Bill Clinton's White House, these were proud exclamations of Israel's "peace camp." But for many Israelis, sad history over the last 20 years has discredited such talk.
These elections are expected to keep Benjamin Netanyahu of the conservative Likud Party as prime minister of a coalition government. Left-of-center parties have been campaigning about economic and cultural issues but avoiding talk of peace. Israel's Haaretz newspaper notes that the chief of the Labor Party "has decided to play down her party's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and that "issues of peace and the territories have been marginalized in the pre-election rhetoric."
Why has the left changed its tune? Israelis in general continue to crave peace, but the state of Palestinian politics leaves them hopeless. According to recent Dahaf Institute and Smith Consulting polls, more than two-thirds of Israelis support the creation of a non-threatening Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state. If extra security provisions are assumed, support rises to 75 percent. But, as Dahaf reports, many Israelis do not believe "that the Palestinians will uphold the conditions of peace and especially those elements dealing with security."
There are grounds for this skepticism. In the Oslo process, Israel gave governmental power to the new Palestinian Authority (PA), including control over the territories in which virtually all the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza live. Israeli prime ministers from parties on the left and the right then offered previously unthinkable concessions, including the sharing of Jerusalem and land swaps involving pre-1967 Israeli territory. In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud withdrew completely and unilaterally from Gaza, forcibly removing more than 8,000 Israeli settlers.
Terrorism against Israelis, however, intensified after the Rabin-Arafat handshake, with PA support. In 2000, Arafat, then the PA president, rejected an extraordinarily forthcoming peace offer from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (of the Labor Party) and launched the Second Intifada, which lasted more than four years and cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives. After Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, won parliamentary elections there and seized executive power, forcibly expelling PA officials.
In 2006 and again in 2012, Palestinians provoked wars with Israel by firing rockets from Gaza indiscriminately against Israeli civilians. Palestinian schools, whether run by the PA or Hamas, persist in teaching hatred of Israel and Jews and exhorting children to armed resistance. Rather than move toward compromise to end the conflict with Israel, Palestinian leaders have been competing violently with each other in vowing eternal resistance and rejection. Even PA officials, relative moderates compared with Hamas leaders, demand that Israel accept the "return" of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian "refugees," which would amount to Israel's destruction.
It is hardly surprising that Israelis no longer mass at political rallies to shout "Peace Now" and "There's no alternative to peace." Those slogans reflected the belief that the key impediment to peace was Israeli policy. Israel's Labor Party promoted that idea during Likud's ascendancy from 1977 to 1992. Labor politicians argued that the Palestinians were ready for a land-for-peace deal, but that Likud was more interested in controlling the West Bank and Gaza than in making peace. "Peace Now" was a way of saying that Israel could readily achieve lasting peace simply by electing Labor and changing its own policies. By insisting "there's no alternative to peace," Israelis weren't actually suggesting that they would die or commit suicide if the Arab side refused them peace; rather, they were assuming that peace was within Israel's control and rejecting it was inconceivable.
Those slogans helped elect Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister in 1992. He and other Labor strategists wanted to rid Israel of most of the West Bank and Gaza for Israel's own reasons -- to relinquish "the burden of the occupation" -- but they had long thought they could trade the territories for a peace agreement that would end the conflict. After a year of exasperating diplomacy, Rabin discovered that was not possible. He then decided that "divorcing" Israel from the territories was more important than peace.
Accordingly, Rabin accepted the Oslo Accords, which were dressed up as a land-for-peace agreement but really amounted to a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Arafat understood from day one that his various peace promises were not really obligatory, and that Israeli withdrawal would proceed whether or not he complied. By and large, he did not comply. When critics of the Oslo process complained that Arafat was cheating and remained an enemy, Israeli officials answered that one must make peace with one's enemies, not with one's friends. This question-begging reply, despite its obvious absurdity, was praised as ironic sagacity by the "peace camp."
But a nation cannot sustain a profound denial of reality forever. Peace is not a unilateral choice for Israel. The notion that Israelis can make peace with people committed to killing them is, not to put too fine a point on it, impractical. Hence the widespread despair in Israel about peace on this election day.
Update your member profile. | Click here to unsubscribe.