As Israel Goes to the Polls….A Thought for Tuesday

Israel will go to the polls on Tuesday to elect members of the 21st Knesset. In our parliamentary democracy the President of Israel will, after the votes are tallied, decide who to invite to form the next government based on his judgement as to which of the leading vote getting parties has the best chance of doing so.

Given the closeness of the race between the Likud (headed by the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu) and the Blue & White party (headed by newcomer to politics former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz) the President really will become kingmaker more so this time than normal.

The question then becomes, for those of us entering the polling stations, what should determine how we vote? Should the governing issue be security? Economics? International relations? The occupation? The list is endless.

The real question would seem to be who will make the best leader of Israel as we move into the last years of the first quarter of the 21st century? Who is it that can successfully address the major unsolved problems that Israel faces while concurrently maintaining the positive aspects of this society that has made Israel the envy of the world, particularly its role as the Start-Up Nation?

To many of us, the most pressing issue that faces Israel today is, as it has always been, how best to deal with the challenge of two peoples claiming this land as their own? Logic would dictate that the current situation which, more or less, has been in place since the amazing Israeli victory in 1967’s Six Day War, simply cannot go on forever.

Israel tried to approach the problem first with the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the follow on 1993 agreement, but they did not prove particularly successful given the recalcitrant attitudes of the Palestinian leadership. Peace agreements were developed a number of times after that all of which were refused by the Palestinians. The Sharon government even tried a total divorce from Gaza in 2005 but nobody here calls that a success. The expected maturation of the leadership there was a total bust and the withdrawal simply created an unfriendly neighbor lobbing rockets at us from the south. So, clearly a unilateral withdrawal is not the solution.

More recently, Micah Goodman, author of Catch-67 has developed eight steps to shrink the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which are expounded in the current issue of The Atlantic and they make a lot of sense. But the question still remains whether there is anyone in government willing to actually move to actualize those, all of which would seem to at least approach a partial addressing of the problem.

It seems that while we continue to blame the Palestinians for not wanting to make peace, oftentimes it is also our reluctance to take another chance on some action that might make the lives of all of us better by directly confronting the challenge.

So that brings us back to Tuesday. For whom do we vote? Celebrated author Amos Oz, when he was alive, had an interesting take on what the country needs most in a leader. He is reported to have said that a good leader – not one who thinks he is the mightiest in the world, but one who knows that his job is to persuade people to do things they don’t want to, or are afraid to do, or would like to delay doing – can achieve peace. Oz liked to describe Israel as a shared two-bedroom apartment where the bedrooms were private spaces but where both parties had to figure out how to use the bath and kitchen facilities.

That may be the best description of the kind of person Israel needs in the political leadership and one description of how the candidates should be evaluated. That would eliminate all of the single or limited issue candidates (e.g. a commitment to build the third temple, a promise to legalize marijuana, etc.) as well. It is certainly not clear at this point which of the primary candidates best fits Oz’s model. But it is certainly a question each of us should ask ourselves before selecting the slip of paper that will cast a vote for the party of our choice.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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