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Israel’s Election – as Seen from America

How can voters keep choosing leaders who offer no vision for a peaceful future?

WASHINGTON – There’s an old Israeli song by Matti Caspi, sung memorably by Yehudit Ravitz, that sums up exactly my view of the upcoming Israeli election:

“You took my hand in your hand and said to me,

‘Let’s go down to the garden.’

You took my hand in your hand and said to me,

‘Things that you see from there -
you can’t see from here’.”

Of course, I understand that this is solely the choice of Israeli citizens living in Israel to make and those like myself who make our homes outside the country do not have the right to vote. This is your election and I’m not trying to intervene. But still, like the lovers in the the song, our hands are linked and those of us in the Diaspora who love Israel have a vital and passionate interest in the path Israel chooses to take.

Perhaps the physical and psychological distance of living 6,000 miles away cuts me off from Israeli realities – or maybe it gives me perspective that those caught up in the hurly-burly of daily life there have lost. But when I look at the Israeli election, there are many things I cannot see and cannot understand

How is it that Likud threw out some of their most moderate voices – people like Dan Meridor and Benny Begin – and replaced them with the likes of Moshe Feiglin?

How is it that the face of comparative reason in the otherwise militant “Yisrael Beitenu,” Danny Ayalon, was summarily dumped?

What exactly is the appeal of “Habayit HaYehudi,” a party with a platform of immediately annexing almost two thirds of the West Bank? What kind of future do its supporters imagine it will bring?

Why can’t the Labor Party muster any kind of argument on the two-state solution?

Why do Israeli voters, time and again, back untested new parties and leaders like D’ash in 1977 and Tommy Lapid in 2003 and this year Yair Lapid, only to invariably be disappointed once they reach power?

Why is the government continuing to announce new settlement after new settlement? Don’t they realize they are casting Israel into almost total diplomatic isolation and making it difficult for its last remaining friend and ally, the United States, to continue defending its behavior?

Of course, there are many things I do understand. I have family living near Beersheba so I understand (a little) what it’s like to listen to air raid sirens and rush to take cover.

I understand that the experience of living through the Second Intifada, with its endless suicide bombings and terrorist attacks, was deeply traumatic and that nobody wants to return to those days.

I get it when people tell me that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza brought Israel no peace and no quiet but only Hamas and rockets.

I know that many Israelis no longer believe that giving up more land will bring peace.

I also understand that Hezbollah has 40,000 rockets and missiles lined up along the northern border ready to fire off at Israel.

I know that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran alarms many if not all Israelis.

I see that the strategic threats to Israel from its neighbors have grown with Egypt turning to Islamists and Syria plunged into a destabilizing civil war that could bring heaven knows what new threats in its wake.

I know that the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas has been far from a perfect partner and that Palestinian media still occasionally resort to anti-Semitic stereotypes and images.

But what is baffling to me is how the conclusions I draw from this set of agreed facts are so different from those being drawn by the Israeli electorate, if one believes the public opinion polls.

I believe that making peace with the Palestinians in a two-state solution will strengthen Israel internationally and domestically and help preserve Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority. I believe with goodwill on both sides that Israeli security can be maintained and that the two people can live together as good neighbors.

It follows that Israel should try to reach out to its partners instead of constantly belittling, weakening and humiliating them. It should nurture moderate voices instead of sidelining them. It should look for chance to cooperate instead of always being ready to ratchet up tensions. It should stop the destructive tit-for-tat with the Palestinian Authority that hurts both sides. It should think of another word to say instead of “no” all the time.

The settlements remain inexplicable to me from a government that officially espouses a two-state solution. Why build on land that will eventually be evacuated – unless there is no true intention of ever relinquishing the territory?

Above all, I don’t understand why Israeli voters put up with a set of leaders and political parties that offer them no vision for a peaceful future.

How exactly do these leaders imagine Israel’s future to be? What do they offer except constant conflict, endless wars and military operations, children and grandchildren and great grandchildren forever marching off to fight?

Do they imagine their visions have any chance of preserving a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority?  If so, they should explain how.

As the song says, “Things that you see from there -
you can’t see from here.”

About the Author
Alan Elsner, a former Reuters journalist and author, is Vice President for Communications at J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group. He is the author of four books including two novels. Elsner is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who lives in Rockville Maryland. His posts at Reuters included Jerusalem correspondent, Chief Nordic Correspondent, State Dept. correspondent, chief U.S. political correspondent and U.S. national correspondent.