How the Israeli mainstream views the West Bank

The Left and Right in Israel continue to feud over what should be done with the West Bank, yet the argument between them seems to leave many Israelis cold.

The Left continues to advocate a general, Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, in exchange for a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.

Sections of the Right continue to argue for the construction of ever-growing numbers of settlements, a line pushed by the national-religious camp.

Yet neither arguments have created much of a stir among many Israelis, who appear to belong to a wider political mainstream.

Today, the mainstream, while vague and difficult to define, seems quiet about the Left – Right dispute. It wasn’t always like this. In the 1990s, such arguments dominated Israel’s daily agenda, divided society, and stirred popular passions and interest.

At that time, the issue was deeply engaged with by the Israeli people, and governments defined their very essence by their positions on whether Israel should stay or remain in the West Bank.

Why has this changed?

Today, the Israeli Left is a shadow of its former itself. It never recovered from the blow dealt to it by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in 2000, when Arafat rejected former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s two-state peace offer.

Instead of saying yes, or producing a counter-offer, Arafat launched a wave of deadly, organized, mass-casualty terrorist attacks, that turned Israeli cities into carnage zones. It took the Israel Defense Forces almost five years to quell the terror campaign, through battles and counter-terrorism operations that raged across Palestinian cities, towns, and villages.

A second blow to the Left came in 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew all of its civilians and military forces from the Gaza Strip, following a dramatic decision by the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to leave.

Yet by 2007, the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority had lost control of the territory. Gaza was overrun by Hamas, which ejected Fatah in a violent coup, and wasted little time in turning the Strip into a belligerent, Islamist fortress.

Gaza became a Muslim Brotherhood-run, Iranian-sponsored rocket-launching base, and a radical source of unending hostility against Israel, buffered by tactical truces.

In 2008, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a far-reaching two-state offer to the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, for reasons that remain disputed, rejected the offer.

By this stage, the credibility of the land for peace and recognition formula – the cornerstone of the Israel Left – was shattered among the Israeli electorate.

The fact that southern Lebanon, vacated by Israel in 2000, turned into an Iranian-Hezbollah attack base, which today forms the biggest military threat to Israel, did not help the Left’s cause either.

The Right, under Prime Minister Netanyahu, was able to seize upon these developments to fend off the Left in one election round after another. Yet the Right itself is a splintered camp.

It contains elements that wish to see a stable Palestinian Authority remain in charge of the West Bank’s estimated two and a half million Palestinians.

These same elements would like to see settlements largely limited to the blocs near Israel.

The Right also contains the influential national religious camp, which uses historical, religious, and ideological arguments to push for Israeli civilian construction right across the West Bank.

While wary of the Left’s traditional formula, many Israelis seem equally unconvinced by the call to settle the whole of the Land of Israel en masse, fearing that such a move would eliminate a future possibility of separating from the Palestinians.

A situation whereby Israel takes responsibility, and runs the daily affairs of West Bank Palestinians, poses major existential-demographic challenges to Israel’s future, as a Jewish majority and democratic state.

A binational state, in any form, would be an abomination of the vision of Israel held by the Zionist founding fathers, or the guiding vision outlined in the 1948 Declaration of Independence. These fears are not lost on the seemingly silent majority of Israelis in the mainstream.

In the national 2015 elections, the Jewish Home party, which calls for an Israeli annexation of Area C of the West Bank, home to some 400,000 Israelis, came in sixth place.

This provides an indicator of the actual popularity of the leading, national religious party.

Nevertheless, this party, a member of the government, forms an influential component, due to Israel’s coalition political structure.

The majority of the Israeli electorate, scarred by years of conflict and terrorism, is today pleased with the current period of stability, and relative calm.

The mainstream, it seems, has lost faith in the feasibility of a far-reaching peace agreement, but is not rushing to endorse the national-religious camp’s call to settle the hilltops of Judea and Samaria either.

According to a recent poll, 55% of Israelis continue to support a two state solution, yet 80% do not envisage a Palestinian state being formed within the next five years.

These figures represent accurately the willingness of the Israeli mainstream to accept, in principal, a partition of the land, while holding reservations about the near-term feasibility of such a move.

This position falls into a broader political Center. Those who belong to this view are not enthralled with the Greater Israel ideology, but have little hope that an Israeli military and civilian withdrawal from the West Bank will turn out any differently than did the Gaza withdrawal.

Edited by: Benjamin Anthony

Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author. Visit www.oursoldiersspeak.org .

About the Author
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs expert. His areas of coverage are focused on Israel’s defense establishment, and the country’s strategic environment. He receives briefings on a regular basis from senior military and intelligence officials. Yaakov is the Israel correspondent for Jane’s Defense Weekly, and a regular guest on international TV and radio outlets, providing commentary on defense issues. In 2011, Yaakov published his first book, Virtual Caliphate, which explored the online jihadist presence, mindset, and recruitment method. He is in-house analyst for Our Soldiers Speak (www.oursoldiersspeak.org)
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