So Many Forks in the Road

“When you arrive at a fork in the road, the only thing left to do is take it…” This favorite saying of my Dad appears to sum up the current landscape facing Israel.

This last round of fighting with Hamas has exposed some fundamental choices or “forks in the road” that now must be confronted. The forks appear to be everywhere and there is no choice but to take them. Toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube just like denying what has been exposed during this last conflict can’t lead us back to the status quo. Inaction is no longer an option.

Operation Protective Edge has exposed six fundamental forks in the road. These six forks will shape the future of Israel and the Middle East.

Fork #1

A short three months ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu branded Abu Mazen, the Chairman of the PLO and Head of the West Bank Fatah Party, a political enemy. Today Abu Mazen’s forces are counted on to stem the flow of arms into Gaza and be part of the solution to weaken Hamas. Bibi goes back and forth between working with or shunning Abu Mazen, who follows a relatively moderate non-violent approach towards Palestinian objectives. Is the Israeli government’s policy to weaken or empower the moderate Palestinian leadership?

Yes, Abu Mazen’s non-sensical efforts to prosecute and isolate Israel internationally are infuriating, counter productive and strike a deep cord in Israel. However, the alternatives to Abu Mazen have never been clearer. Without Fatah and Abu Mazen, Hamas will take over the West Bank and there will be Islamic rule. A strong IDF and Palestinian security cooperation are the only two things preventing this.

Bibi’s fork leads in two directions. He can continue weakening Abu Mazen, creating space for Hamas in the West bank or present a vision outlining Israel’s path to secure Her borders and population vis a vis the Palestinians. As Ari Shavit recently pointed out: the Palestinians are currently not strong enough to receive a State of their own. The traditional Peace Process is dead. There will be no handshakes or ceremonies. Rather, a long-term process of empowering moderate Palestinian leadership, thus allowing them to confront Hamas and advance Palestinian society. This is critical for Israel to separate from the Palestinian population. The alternative to this has never been clearer for all to see.

Some will argue that the Islamic fundamentalists are at every Israeli boarder, which is true. Yet, continued inaction will only give these forces time and space to maneuver in order to take advantage of weak Palestinian leadership and take hold of the West Bank. It is now time for the Prime Minister to lay out a path to secure Israel and fight for this path in the International Community. Otherwise, fighting Hamas in Gaza every couple of years is just a foreshadowing of the situation in the West Bank.

Fork #2

This last war with Hamas saw the hypocrisy of the international community reach new heights. The IDF is the most moral and ethical fighting force in the world. No other Army has to contend with the conditions Israel itself and the international community impose.

Israel’s enemies are the same as those threatening the rest of the Western world. The ethical dilemmas Israel encounters on the battlefield are the same all Western countries will grapple with, while confronting this new form of modern warfare.

Singling out Israel by the international community cannot be defended any further. Democracy, freedom of press and morality are among Israel’s greatest strengths. These strengths are used against Israel like never before. As the world embarks on extensive air strikes across Syria, Iraq, Libya Yemen and Somalia, is anyone asking how many advances warnings, leaflets, text messages and warning shots were fired in advance? What are the civilian casualties or collateral damage?

The fork in the road for the international community is to determine at what expense they are willing to criticize Israel for fighting their same enemies much more effectively and ethically than they themselves can. Will they chose the road of isolation or will they allow Israel her right as a sovereign State to defend Her citizens. Isolation and prosecution of Israel will only embolden these common enemies and make it that much harder for everyone to defeat them.

Fork #3

The IDF could have destroyed the entire Hamas leadership without a widespread invasion or re-occupying Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu decided in favor of a “weak Hamas” over a potential power vacuum.

However, it is now clear that even a weak Hamas will never abandon their goals of destroying and fighting Israel. Hamas is not a Palestinian liberation movement, as they have not advanced Palestinian society or security one iota. Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic terror group that rejects the West, Jews, homosexuality, democracy, women’s rights, civil rights, education, secularism, dancing in public and protesting. Weakening Hamas only serves a short-term interest until they rearm for the next round.

This last round of fighting was exactly that, the last round, before the next round and two years after the one before that. The West and Israel will have to decide if the continued engagement and weakening of Hamas is better or worse than the power vacuum that may follow them. What will happen when the rockets start falling again, which they will?

The fork in the road will be deciding if the only approach left is to destroy the leadership of these groups or continue weakening them to maintain the status quo.

Fork #4

The Anti Semitism exposed during this last conflict has deeply shaken many Jewish Communities across Europe. Supposed protest against Israel has revealed deep seeded hatred towards Jews throughout Europe. Jews are targets of Anti-Semitic attacks not only because of Israeli policies, but also because they are Jews during Israel’s existence. The roots of this lay in the combination of the radicalized Muslim population that flowed into Europe over decades converging with the emergence of extreme right wing European political parties.

European Jewish communities have now been exposed to what lays ahead, which reminds them of what they thought was behind. They can’t deny what they have seen thus preventing the return to the status quo.

While the majority of European Governments are taking strong stands against this Anti-Semitism, you can’t change the European Muslim demographics, lack of assimilation of this vast population across Europe and openness to this ugly hatred laying right under the surface.

The fork in the road for the European Jewish Community is whether they continue living ever quieter, uncomfortable and apprehensive Jewish lives in Europe or start moving to communities where they can live openly and proudly as Jews.

Fork #5

Outside of Israel, the US Jewish community is the largest, most Liberal and influential Diaspora community in the world. While there is wide spread wartime support for Israel, in the long term, the relationship and commitment to Israel may be tested.

The main strategy of modern Anti Semitism is to isolate and delegitimize Israel. Questioning Israel’s legitimacy or right to exist allows Anti-Semites to supposedly embrace Jews on the one hand and damage Israel on the other. This has presented itself in the virulent Anti-Semitism disguised in the Anti-Israel /Zionist movements.

This sophisticated strategy will force American Jews to chose where they stand with regard to Israel.

This may be a tougher choice for large portions of American Jews. The right wing in Israel is in firm control with no alternatives on the horizon. Some policies of a right wing Netanyahu government do not sit well with wide swaths of Liberal American Jews, mainly settlements and the nature of Jewish life in Israel. Will a wedge be driven in-between Israel and Jewish communities in the largest Diaspora in the world? This would be a huge victory for Anti-Semitism and a blow to Israel.

The ability of American Jews to distinguish their uneasiness with some of Israel’s policies from the sophisticated attempts to isolate and question Israel’s existence under the pretext of “criticism”, will be the fork in the road for American Jews. Will the appropriate avenue be found to voice concern with some of Israel’s policies without giving legitimacy to this modern day Anti-Semitism disguised as Anti Zionism. More importantly, will they continue fighting politically and economically for Israel’s rights and against the hypocrisy? US Jewry’s ability to draw the line in the sand and vigorously combat this Anti-Semitism and de-legitimization will be their fork in the road.

Fork #6

For a long time, I have heard there is no alternative to Bibi. Polls seem to prove this correct. No matter how low Bibi’s numbers get, the next possible contender is far behind in the polls.

The combination of an absence of term limits and threats facing Israel have created the situation where the center Israeli silent majority cannot mobilize to create an alternative to Prime Minister Netanyahu. I continue to hear in Israel there is no one else to vote for who appears up to the task of Prime Minister. After naming a couple of other party heads, I inevitably get the giant eye roll and default back to Bibi. To make matters worse, Bibi’s ability to manage any single crisis effectively somehow reassures everyone just enough that they can’t bring themselves to take a chance on anyone else.

However, Bibi’s inability to advance a vision or path forward for the country is now starting to be clear to the majority of Israelis and is having consequences. The manner in which this last war ended was difficult but no doubt reasonable. Yet, it also showed the population that managing a war well is one thing, but coming up with a plan to stop the next round in two years, the third in 7 years is something else.

The fork in the road for the 70% silent majority of Israeli voters will be to either continue endorsing Bibi’s inability to present and execute a vision for the country or get involved to rally behind an alternative leader/party, no matter who they may be.

How these six forks are handled will have a profound impact on the future of the Middle East and Israel. We should be reassured that there are forks in the road and not dead ends.

About the Author
Mark Silberstein was born in Cape Town, South Africa and currently resides in La Jolla, California. He studied at Tel Aviv University and worked as a Public Relations Director at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles 1999/2000. More recently, he and his wife spent 18 months in their home in Zichron Yaacov and they have plans to return in the near future.