There is a peculiar if disheartening correlation in Israeli politics: Israelis only start paying attention to matters of war and peace when they are at war.
It took the disastrous Yom Kippur war to jump-start the Israeli-Egyptian peace process that eventually led to peace on roughly the same terms as the ones Israel had rejected a couple of years earlier.
On the Palestinian front, the PLO had been ready to negotiate since at least 1988, but Israel made a serious move only after the First Intifada had begun.
The support for the two-state solution greatly increased during the worst years of the Second Intifada and then slid back after the calm had been restored. It shot up again in the wake of the Second Lebanon War and stayed at its highest until well after the 2008 Gaza war.
Admittedly, it is an oversimplification. The correlation is not perfect, and multiple factors are at play. But it gives you something to think about. How else can you explain the longest and steadiest ever decline in the support for the two-state solution that has been happening since 2009?
After its crushing defeat in the Second Intifada, the Palestinian Authority under its new leadership chose the non-violent path and has stayed on it ever since. Hamas-led Gaza has been more prone to violence, but it is nothing compared to the worst days of the past. Periods of almost total calm now last for years. Security-wise, Israelis are having the time of their lives. And yet, they are now less willing to achieve a just peace, not more.
Obviously, Netanyahu’s deliberate policy of fearmongering and demonizing the Left has contributed to this dynamic. But he is not the only one to blame. Let us look at the platforms that major parties presented for the upcoming elections.
Likud has not published a platform since 2018, and in that old one, economy and crime took precedence over foreign policy matters.
Likud’s main rival, Yesh Atid, placed “Security and foreign policy” (because the word “peace” has become an anathema in Israel) in the sixth position, with the “War on governmental corruption” in the lead. Apparently, it is a far more pressing issue than ending the 53-year-old occupation and bringing peace to the people of Israel.
The next contender, Gideon Saar’s New Hope, has a list of 31 single-issue “programs”. The “Security and foreign policy” section is neatly tucked in the 23rd place.
But the absolute champion is Naftali Bennet. It seems that his party Yemina has not launched a website or published a program for these elections, but there is an up-to-date Bennet’s personal website with a long list of problems he totally knows how to solve. Lo and behold, the Israeli-Palestinian relations are not on the list! I guess this problem has ceased to exist. It is amusing since Bennet’s party is literally called “Rightwards”. If there is no Palestinian issue anymore, where is “right”?
When a party does shed a few words on the Palestinian problem, these are mostly a nod to the Israeli cult of power. We will crush terror with an iron fist! We will drag Palestinians to the negotiation table and, with a little help from our new Arab friends, will extract tons of concessions from them! Empty saber-rattling devoid of any substance, any moral message, any serious desire to make peace, and aimed at an audience that wants to hear just that.
Listen to the chatter on social networks. Watch Israeli TV. Talk to Israelis. The Palestinian issue is not on their minds. It has become unimportant, stale, unexciting. Who are these Palestinians anyway? We are barely aware of their existence.
Politics shape minds and vice versa. Words create a reality which in turn affects words. If politicians do not speak of peace, it becomes irrelevant. A jolt that can break this vicious circle may come from the outside – the Biden administration and Europe. Sadly, a reminder is needed that millions of Palestinians are still suffering under the Israeli military rule, while Israelis themselves clamor over the paramount issues of helping small businesses and revamping the transportation system.