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Politics of fear, politics of hope, politics of sand

Seeking a leadership that treats the Israeli public as adults

Almost 40 percent of the Israeli electorate is said to be unsatisfied with the choice of candidates in the upcoming elections. This is an astounding figure considering the large number of political parties in Israel and the wide range of views they espouse.

For better or worse, I fall into that 40 percent. In spite of all of the choices we supposedly have been given, there is not, in fact, any single party with “realistic” beliefs running in the upcoming election. So, our voting options seem to be limited to three main schools of thought. The first, the “Politics of Fear” platform (the fear that the Arabs/Palestinians only seek our destruction and that this destruction is just around the corner – unless, of course, the “Politics of Fear” politicians are voted into office to protect us) describes the positions of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties.

Second is the “Politics of Hope” as reflected by Tzippi Livni’s campaign messaging. She claims that a vote for Prime Minister Netanyahu is equivalent to a vote for international isolation, while her election will result in a peace agreement. The Meretz party’s strategy is complementary to Livni’s though they approach the problem slightly differently, i.e., “We can reach an agreement if we only…”)

Lastly, there is the “Politics of Sand” (and here I’m referring to the stuff you bury your head in). This posture is reflected in the campaigns of Lapid and Yachimovich, whose refrain has gone something like this: “We’ve spent too much time discussing our conflict with the Arabs over the past half century. So, let’s ignore that and concentrate on the other, really important issues.”

Regrettably, each of those approaches is disconnected from today’s reality.

Let’s start with the “Politics of Hope.” The reason the support for the left has decreased so dramatically in the past few years is simple. Most Israelis do not believe that the Palestinians are willing to make peace. They have ample empiric evidence supporting that belief: the Second Intifada and the thousands of rockets from Gaza.

The impact of the Second Intifada cannot be overemphasized. Bombs exploded indiscriminately in major cities and on buses throughout the country. The period beginning in 2000 and lasting five years was a time of pervasive fear throughout the country. Scholars may question why today’s soldiers and their older siblings hold more right-wing views than their parents’ generation. I believe the answer is because they grew up during the Intifada – a period of terror. It is not lost on these young voters the violent uprising that haunted their youth took place after Israel had signed the Oslo Accords. The underlying principle of the Oslo agreement was that armed conflict would end. Any future disagreements were to be decided by negotiations and not by violence. Instead, Israelis were met with most barbaric warfare they had ever encountered. Many paid with their lives. All were impacted, directly or indirectly. As a result, the number of Israelis who believe it possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians plummeted.

Recently, a report circulated about how American Jews are more optimistic than Israelis on the possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The article was written with a kind of breathless excitement, as if there were real news in that revelation. The explanation is very simple. American Jews did not live in a place where bus bombings were a daily event. Think about this: how many Americans who were in lower Manhattan on September 11th 2001 believe an agreement could ever be reached with Al Qaeda?

Any further questions regarding the chances for Arab-Israeli peace were seemingly answered when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. Instead of a period of peace, or even quiet, Israelis were greeted with constant barrages of rockets. Furthermore, when Israel finally responded, it was accused of employing disproportional force. What dreams of peace are Israelis suppose to believe in? All of these facts on the ground make it very difficult to support those who believe in the politics of hope

So let’s look at the politics of fear. The fear-mongers can be divided into two categories: those who use fear to promote their ideology, and those whose fear is their ideology. The first category is made up of those committed to “Eretz Yisrael Ha’shleima” (the belief we must hold on to the complete Land of Israel). Whether out of Revisionist ideology, or religious belief, for this group, fear of the Arabs is a tool to convince the rest of us that any and all concessions are dangerous. According to this view we can never reach peace. In addition, giving up any part of the Land of Israel is unthinkable since that will only serve to endanger us. Then, there are those who are not ideologically motivated, but believe that if Israel is not strong, it will not survive in the Middle East. This also translates into “it is dangerous to make concessions.” This, they say, is even more strongly true in the Middle East of today.

You may ask: what is wrong with the approach of the fear-mongers? Their fears are certainly based on reality. Their solutions, however, are as detached from the reality of 2013 as those who believe peace is about to break out in the greater Middle East next week. Listen to the proposals of the Jewish Home party. Its leaders call for the immediate annexation of the “C Zone” of the West Bank. Their contention is that since the UN doesn’t like us anyway, we can ignore the outcry that we will hear there from such a unilateral action. Of course, they do not discuss what the reaction of the United States is likely to be. More importantly, the Jewish Home and their supporters act as if we do not need the support of any part of the world. They claim that we are totally self-sufficient — that our economy looks like the supposedly independent economy of North Korea; or they claim the world is so dependent on our technology, that it cannot afford to cut us off from the family of nations.

The Jewish Home party conveniently forgets the problem of Iran’s growing nuclear program, believing, I surmise, that we can single-handedly wipe out Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, neither The Jewish Home nor the Likud have put forth any strategic plan that deals with the demographic threats threatening our long-term survival as a democratic and Jewish state. Perhaps if we continue to encourage families in the Haredi sector to have 20 kids, we might be able to compete in the demographic race. But based solely on the stated positions of the two main right-wing parties, there is no plan that will serve to provide for a peaceful Jewish Democratic state (unless, perhaps, they expect six million American Jews to move to Israel?)

The Jewish Home party completely ignores the support we will need from the world in the coming years, both to overcome the Iranian threat and to survive the long-term impact of the rapidly-changing Arab world. We are not an island, surrounded by sea. We are a small country surrounded, at best, by countries that do not like us, and at worst, by regimes who plot our destruction. To deal with these challenges, we need the support of at some of the world’s nations.

Finally, let us look at those with their heads in the sand. Their take on our situation is that since we are not going to reach a peace agreement any time soon, we need to concentrate on economic and/or governance problems. While many of the individually stated goals of those parties are worthy, they completely ignore the problems of our geography and our future in this part of the world. If you listen to speeches by these parties’ leaders (primarily those of Yesh Atid and Labor) nothing special has taken place in Egypt in the past year, the Iranian threat does not exist, and demography is merely a theoretical subject left to academics. If you subscribe to this approach, you believe we can fix our social/economic problems while maintaining our current defense budget and possibly prosecute a war with Iran. They insist that issues of war and peace are not worth discussing in an election, since we cannot do anything about it and we should just trust our politicians to deal with it.

So, what sort of party would I be willing to support? A realist party that is willing to treat the Israeli public as adults. A party that would leave tired slogans and over-the-hill American political consultants behind, and talk truthfully and honestly to the Israeli people about the challenges and dangers we face, and then detail how we could navigate safely through these perilous waters.

Here is the speech I wish I would hear (albeit in Hebrew) from a leader of one of our parties:

My fellow citizens –

Since the 1930’s, the Zionist movement has agreed to the partition of our land. We realized, back then, that despite the fact that we have a right to the whole land, there was another people living here as well, and we would have to compromise. Unfortunately, the other side consistently refused to compromise.

If the other side had agreed to compromise in 1936, we might have had a much smaller country, but a significant number of the Jews of Europe might have been saved from the Nazis. If the other side would have agreed to compromise in 1947, when the UN presented the Partition Plan, we would have had a small land, but we would not have lost all those who fell in the War of Independence and the subsequent wars. If, after 1967, the Arab States had not responded with “THE THREE NOs” of Khartoum, we would not have expanded the settlements in the West Bank, but we would have had peace.

Since 1967, we have reached a peace agreement with the Egyptians and the Jordanians. We even signed some agreements with the Palestinians. However, since 1967 it has also become clear that reaching a final agreement to end our conflict with the Palestinians will be extremely difficult. In fact, it may prove impossible – as a large percentage of Palestinians remain unwilling to ever agree to the partition of the land, or accept the fact that Palestine was meant to be divided between a Jewish State and an Arab one. Because we trusted in the possibility of peace with the Palestinians, we were rewarded with the Second Intifada. And, after we withdrew from Gaza, missiles were fired at our cities by the Gaza terrorists. The events over the course of the past year in the Arab world (i.e. the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the increasingly Islamist strength in other Arab states), has made reaching an agreement with the Arab world more unlikely than ever.

Despite all of the evidence, and despite the fact that I do not believe it will be possible to reach an agreement, if elected I will spare no effort –– and leave no stone unturned –– to try to reach a peace agreement.

My resolve to tirelessly fight for peace stems from the following three reasons:

First, me must pursue peace for the sake of our children and grandchildren. We need to be able to look them straight in the eye and say that we tried everything in our power. If they are forced to fight wars in the future, it will not because we failed to pursue peace. Never let it be said that we gave up, or pursued a strategy that made peace less likely.

Second, we are a country that is dependent on other nations in the world, more so than most. We need the diplomatic, economic and sometimes technological support of the United States. In addition, while our economy is strong, it is highly dependent on both international investments and exports that have fueled our economic growth over the last decades. It is true that our intellectual capital is in high demand. However, the only way to maintain that interest, and keep our economy strong is by making sure we sustain rock-solid ties to key countries in the world. Those strong ties will only be maintained if those countries believe we are doing our utmost to bring about peace.

The governments of the world are, by and large, not naïve. They do not believe that peace is about the break out in the Middle East. Most of them know that it has consistently been the Arabs who have turned down compromise offers—one after the next– that could have resulted in peace. However, often these countries (or more importantly, the public which they represent) possess fleeting short-term memories. And their age-old fiery devotion to anti-Semitism – temporarily pushed beneath the surface after World War II — has again surfaced in many parts of the world.

We must always be seen as the party that is willing to go the extra mile to reach peace. Then, when our efforts to reach peace are unsuccessful, (which is the most likely outcome), the world will know we are not the stumbling block. There will always be people who blame us – after all, we are a nation of Jews, and some people in the world will always blame us, no matter what – but we must keep trying.

If elected, year in and year out, I will go to the UN and present our Peace Plan. The Palestinians or the Muslim Brotherhood will not accept our plan. Regardless, it is essential that we show who is the willing partner in the pursuit of compromise. This will be all the more important in the coming years, when we face both the Iranian threat, and unknown threats from the rest of the Middle East that has become more Islamic and more radical.

Finally, we must fight for peace because it is the right thing to do. We have been occupying part of the West Bank for 45 years. Yes, it may not legally be “an occupation”… and while we may have the moral right to the land, there are other people living there who clearly do not agree. They do not vote in our elections and they are not, for the most part, our citizens. We have not found a way of unburdening ourselves from them, nor have we found a way to prevent our youngsters from turning into policeman with assault rifles for part of their army service. We must keep trying – for the sake of the Palestinians, and for the sake of our children in uniform who must act in ways that are unhealthy for them, and unhealthy for our society.

My fellow citizens, I cannot promise you the proverbial “garden of roses”. I can only share the reality that we face unprecedented challenges. However, I can promise you that I will work tirelessly to navigate the treacherous shoals ahead. I will try to do it without resorting to the tired slogans of the past. I promise you I will be flexible and creative. Together there may be a small chance that we will bring about peace in this land. Though in the event that we fail, we will know it will not be for lack of trying.

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of Historycentral.com -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary. He is the publisher of an economic news App about Israel called DigitOne