Israel’s main politicians are ignoring existential threats because of the dishonesty of the right and the timidity of the left. So I offer a blueprint and a tip: to persuade, one must trouble to make the point.
First, Israel will die as a Jewish state unless it partitions from the Palestinians. It is as simple as that. The Arabs under Israel’s control cannot be disenfranchised for centuries more. Without a partition, the whole place, from Tel Aviv to Nablus, will be called Palestine one day. The only alternative is to destroy the planet first (which may happen).
The rightists are too foolish to see it, and the religious among them too fabulist to care. Meanwhile, the opposition is too timid to say it; they hope to draw rightist votes by focusing on Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption and such. Generally they hope in vain: people are too set in their ways, and many are corrupt themselves.
Second, Israel will die as a modern society if it continues to allow the rapidly expanding Haredi sector to banish a core curriculum from many of its schools, including those funded by the state. Even if their epic birthrate slows down the Haredim will level off at a third of the population; if few of them know math and science, it will be Start-Up Nation out, Hand-Out Nation in.
The secular right depends on the Haredim for its majority and so is paralyzed on this.
The opposition is too timid here as well. They know Haredim won’t vote for them but are hoping the Haredi parties will join them after a victory so they will not depend on the Arab parties (that will have made victory possible in any plausible scenario). It’s sad to see.
(The exception has been Yair Lapid, who launched his political career as a Haredi-basher but is now somewhat muzzled under the Blue and White banner by his ex-military cohort.)
Blue and White did not invent this timidity; it is many election cycles old. The opposition puts itself in this undignified position because it has abandoned hope that its true policies can muster a majority.
And true enough, a full three military chiefs could not sufficiently leverage three pending counts of corruption against Netanyahu in April. They moved just over 1% of the vote from right to left – far less than the 5% or so that was needed.
I’m not saying that an aggressive and truthful campaign could have done much better in moving voters. People would rather drill a hole in their head than admit error or change their ways.
No, my analysis is that many votes were forfeited through the non-participation of dovish and secular people who despaired of change on account of the uninspired campaign. And the same can be said of the Israeli Arabs, who could by themselves produce victory for the left if they turned out en masse – but whose participation level fell under 50% in the last election, partly because the opposition appeared to also disdain them.
And so I am advising the opposition, on these pages and in person, to tell the truth without filters. The issues are complicated, but there is a way.
On the Palestinians, one must concede there is a problem: Israel without the West Bank is too narrow and vulnerable for comfort; the voters, even those who can barely find the country on a map of the country, can sense it. The distance from the Mediterranean beach at Netanya to the pre-1967 Green Line near Tulkarem is barely 10 miles (15 kilometers). The thought of Hamas (or Islamic State) occupying the highland is not a happy one.
This problem is not enough to justify keeping the territories. That is because in Israel plus the areas it occupied in 1967 (the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza) there are about 13 million people of which only half are Jews. (The 2005 pullout from Gaza with its 2 million Palestinians changed the numbers but not the essence.)
It is OK to have a bi- or multi-national state. Switzerland and Belgium are this way, and the United States as well. If that’s what the Likud plans and the voters understand, perhaps it’s for the best.
But more likely the Israeli right thinks Israel can forever rule the West Bank without giving the Palestinians the right to vote, keeping them out of sight and mind behind a security barrier that exists for them but not for their Jewish settler neighbors, who can cross it at will. Some plainly hope most Palestinians will leave.
This is a clearly unsustainable and wrong but the Israeli public is confused: the Oslo Accords created such a bizarre situation on the ground that few understand what’s going on and many actually believe the Palestinians already have all they need.
So as a public service I will explain: the Palestinian authority has mostly municipal powers and the true government of the Palestinians in the West Bank (controlling their movements and resources and freedom) is the Israeli one which they cannot vote for. This has been going on for 52 years which is why people use the word “apartheid”; indignation and quibbles about the South Africa analogy will not prevent a rapid decline once Donald Trump is gone.
Another problem is that the Palestinians’ apparent price for a peace deal is too high, even beyond the territorial issue. They insist on sharing Jerusalem, which would be a new type of entity on the world stage and create a security morass. And they in theory continue to insist on the rights of millions of descendants of 1948 refugees from what is now Israel to move back.
There may be no total solution right now, but there is a far more reasonable path:
- Establish the principle of unilateralism. Israel will not give the Palestinians veto power over its salvation.
- Ringfence a reasonable majority of the West Bank as territory Israel has no claim over. A good start is the security fence line, attaching to Israel land near the Green Line anyway. The town of Ariel deep inside is a complication; in life, there is always a complication.
- Withdraw all the settlers from beyond that line without further ado; that’s about 100,000 people who should be given the choice of accepting billions in compensation, or something much less attractive.
- Beyond that line, maintain the military occupation (Israelis adorably like to call it “security control”) for now. Until a better solution comes along it is defensible if there is no colonial aspect.
- Hold a news conference and invite NATO, the United States, Russia, China and Mars to figure out a better idea. Make clear that you are serious in understanding the military occupation is not a good thing.
- Be creative about the Old City of Jerusalem. Invite Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the Vatican to help administer it. Call it something like “The Special Protectorate of The Old City of Jerusalem.” Bureaucratic labels can calm people down.
- Stop messing the Arabs of East Jerusalem about. The few who dare apply for citizenship are generally jerked around with quibbles that would warm the heart of a Ben Gurion Airport security questioner. You broke it — you own it. You annexed it — they’re citizens. How Israel shoots itself in the foot even here is simply astounding.
- Gaza’s a mess, but let’s agree that the policy of blockading its miserable people until they overthrow the Hamas gang has failed. I have access to intelligence information explaining why: the thugs have all the guns. Offer instead an end to the blockade and massive aid in exchange for disarmament and a return of the Palestinian Authority. This has not been offered to date because Israel’s misguided leaders want Hamas in power, in order to weaken the PA.
Do these things and Israel’s position will be much improved. But will announcing them now help or hinder the opposition’s campaign?
I’ll answer that question with a question: Does anyone think that without projecting vision and leadership the opposition will win this time?
The truth is that some people do. They calculate that the settler and nationalist Avigdor Lieberman has in effect joined the opposition. They hope that with his shock decision to deny Netanyahu the prime ministership a few months ago he has permanently divorced from the right. If so, the polls say that together with Liberman’s rogues’ gallery of a party the opposition may well have a majority.
It’s a gamble, and a weak-kneed one. And it makes a mockery of the righteous anger at Netanyahu’s corruption: Lieberman is the one who avoided prosecution for the millions that mysteriously ended up in foreign accounts after witnesses recanted and died.
But then again he is also the only one talking about problem number two. Thanks to Lieberman I don’t have to elaborate on the obvious, as on the Palestinian issue, and can merely summarize: force a core curriculum in all schools funded by the state; allow civil marriages as in any civilized country on Earth; allow commerce and public transport on the Sabbath except in learly religious neighborhoods.
I say that Lieberman will do what Lieberman will do. The others need to understand that timidity is not leadership. Without leadership you cannot lead.