I’m sitting here some 5000 miles away from the action in my little home without a safe room or the worry of a military call up for my son or the threat of a missile attack from Gaza. I don’t have a vote in the Israeli election. But I do have a voice. I found my way back to my Jewish roots some eighteen years ago when a new synagogue, Kehilat HaNahar; the Little Shul By the River was born in New Hope, PA. After some time I became chair of its Social Action Committee and decided both I and my synagogue needed a closer relationship with Israel. In March 2000 we held an Educational Forum for Peace and Understanding and had Israeli Council General Dan Ashbel and PLO Deputy Chief Representative Khalil Foutah together on a panel discussion on the status of the peace process. I have studied the situation each and every day since, traveled to Israel/Palestine four times, (the last as coordinator of an interfaith delegation from Philadelphia that I put together), and written more than my share of interviews and Op Eds in local papers and even in the Jerusalem Post. Through it all I keep reading from Ynet to Al Jazeera and have meandered carefully from the unadulterated left to a step closer to the middle. I am a liberal Democrat who tends to be more conservative on defense issues.
So with 250 words of introduction I am going to write a bit about two futures for Israel. After the Second Intifada, the Unilateral Disengagement from Gaza, the political and military rise of Hamas, the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, Operation Cast Lead, the War with Lebanon, the Arab Spring and Operation Pillar of Cloud it is not so difficult to understand that a majority of Israelis do not see peace on the horizon. Accordingly the people who elected Benjamin Netanyahu, (actually his Likud Party received less votes than Tzipi Livni’s Kadima), have become more conservative and replaced ministers like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor with Moshe Feiglin and Danny Dannon in this election and made the Prime Minister’s transcendent pledge to pursue Two States in 2009 much more a piece of political rhetoric than a policy driving a nation and its people toward peace. It is possible to go to peaceable events and surround one with people whose hearts yearn for understanding and dialogue, (and I have recently attended two and felt hugged and supported). But the choices for those standing watch looking out at Hamas or Hezbollah or their powerful benefactor Iran or at the radicalization of the Middle East as a result of ongoing Arab revolutions are far more bleak and threatening. Israel finds itself in a changed region in a changing world that requires grown up decisions, unusual statesmanship and the development of new and renewed regional and international relationships if it is to do better than survive as an increasingly isolated address for a decreasing Jewish minority living behind walls built out of fear and hostility. Most people reject heartless realities like the value of torture in the search for Bin Laden whether it is national policy, a Presidential directive or the fulcrum of a movie script, (that is unless you live in Israel). So the ground is hard and every action taken by Palestinians, Israelis, Americans or others seems to only make it tougher to achieve peace. That may be at least in part because everybody seems to be busy playing their own hand in a game that requires extraordinary cooperation.
So on Tuesday Israelis will go to the polls and choose between 34 parties and their leaders who will serve in the next Knesset and who will be asked to form a government. Israel has benefited in its past from unity governments and PM Netanyahu brought in Labor in the last, (current), government to allow Ehud Barak to serve as Defense Minister and present a more acceptable voice to a liberally led America. While it is unlikely that any of the three leading moderate parties will garner enough votes individually to challenge the Likud Beitenu coalition and it has more than enough trouble dealing with Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home Party, (as it underlines the move of Israelis from center right to far right and opens the door to substantive conversations on annexation and the creation of a Third Temple), it is vital to preserve a real avenue to peace. This is not only true for appearances or for the sake of international relations. It is true because creating justice for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and eventually Gaza can help to guarantee security for Israel itself in a conflicted Middle East. A new Prime Minister Netanyahu can choose to reach out to peace and the future of Israel by excluding Bennett and his far right Jewish Home Party and including Tzipi Livni and her moderate Hatnuah Party, appointing her Foreign Minister and allowing her to handle the peace portfolio. Peace is more important than politics and if Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to secure his legacy as a leader who is not only successful but transcendent he must work to balance the past and the present with a formula to make the goal of peace both desirable and attainable during his second administration.
Larry Snider is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace an NGO based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . The words represent the beliefs of the author and should not be construed as the policy of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace.