In March 2015, the surprising victory of the Likud and return of Bibi Netanyahu to the Prime Minister’s Office came as a surprise to much of American Jewry. To me and many others, it seemed almost guaranteed that Netanyahu’s time had come to an end and that something had to be done about the political inertia that so very encapsulated the past few years in Israel.
But alas, no. Netanyahu — albeit with some dirty political tricks up his sleeve — emerged victorious. Ten months since that election, what is there to have learned?
I’ve learned this: It’s easy for an outsider, such as an American Jew, to impose his or her political views on an election happening thousands of miles away, especially for a country considered to many as a home away from home. But in the end, we remain outsiders. Maybe if American Jews were living in Israel for, say, a year or two, they may feel differently after having experienced the daily life of an Israeli citizen. Maybe Netanyahu was the logical choice.
Nevertheless, it’s time for change. But also from the Palestinian Authority, and not just on the Israeli side. Netanyahu is nearing 10 years as prime minister (over two terms), while Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is approaching 11 years.
The way I see it, part of the reason why there has been so much stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian political arena is because both sides have been hearing the same thing for over a decade. In the spirit of democracy and leadership — especially the musical-chairs-style one that Israel so skillfully practices — power must be shifted. Yes, he or she must be elected by the people. Yes, he or she has the right to express his or her beliefs. But for how long, I ask? And at what cost to their people?
“Incitement” has been the buzz word in Israel for fall 2015. This incitement has been largely terroristic in nature, but what about the political back-and-forth incitement? When Abu Mazen claimed that Jews desecrate the Al-Aqsa mosque with their “dirty feet”, that was incitement. But what about when Netanyahu campaigned under the “no Palestinian state on my watch” approach, may that not have incited the other side?
It worried me when Isaac Herzog came out this week saying that a two-state solution is currently unrealistic, largely due to security concerns. He has a valid point, but that’s not what worried me. What worried me was that the man that many — both Israeli and American — thought may have inched Israel closer to peace should the Zionist Union carried the election in March (as it was projected to), now seemed to be losing hope.
But Israel has tried and tried and tried. In many ways, its hands are tied. That’s why the Palestinians deserve a new voice, as well. A couple of months ago, Abu Mazen admitted that he rejected a peace offer from then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, an offer that virtually gave the Palestinians everything they had asked for. If the Palestinians are so committed to peace, which I believe a majority are, they do not deserve to have Abu Mazen be their voice on the world stage.
In the U.S., our national executive can only be in power for 8 years. Both Netanyahu and Abu Mazen have been in power for more than that. In the U.S., some are concerned that Bernie Sanders, at age 74, is to old to be president. Abu Mazen is currently 80. I say these things not to draw a socio-political-cultural equivalency between the U.S. and Israel, but rather just to illustrate the similarities and differences.
I want change. I want to see progress. But alas, I am an outsider. Maybe if I was an insider I would feel different. In fact, I know I most likely would. I’ve been to Israel many times before and have lived there extensively, but not once have I felt unsafe there. This Winter Break, when I was in Israel for two and a half weeks, was the first time I felt unsafe in my home. Maybe if I felt like that on a daily basis, it wouldn’t be so easy for me to point and command from the comfort of a laptop 3,000 miles away.