In a grim political reality, with the Arab world in turmoil and both the President of the United States and Israel’s Prime Minister about to make major addresses on the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, it is a good time – for Israelis and Jews everywhere – to step back and reflect on how we got to where we are. I would acknowledge, on both the right and the left, that the respective camps were wrong on most everything.
Let’s begin with the left – the camp with which I identify.
On the left, I would argue that we assumed that the Palestinian extremism would give way to Palestinian moderation and that voices of sanity would predominate on the Palestinian side. It didn’t happen. Abbas is a basically reasonable man surrounded by mostly unreasonable voices, with Hamas now part of the mix. The Palestinians do not seem ready for peace at all.
On the left we assumed that if only the Israelis were to take one big step for peace, the Palestinians would respond. It didn’t happen. Israel took many such steps – Oslo, for example – but the breakthrough never came.
On the left we assumed that in the post-Holocaust era, the international community could be counted on to protest vigorously when missiles rained down on Israeli citizens and to judge Israel and the Palestinians by a single standard. It didn’t happen. We remember Sderot and Goldstone.
On the left we assumed that if Israel built a security fence, it would generate calm and set the stage for political progress. The fence was built and it did far more good than harm, but it did not bring peace.
But, in my opinion, the record of the right is no better.
On the right, I argue that it was assumed that Israel could proclaim its support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel while taking actions – especially settlement building outside the major settlement blocks – that specifically undermine its stated intention. The result: widespread skepticism that Israel means what it says.
On the right it was assumed that Israel could trumpet its democratic values while leaving vague the question of how Israel was to remain both a democratic and a Jewish state. It didn’t work. Israel’s friends, Jews everywhere, and Israelis themselves are no longer satisfied with ambiguity on a question so fundamental.
On the right it was assumed that a hostile world could be ignored and unquestioning American support could always be taken for granted. This was always foolish; support for Israel is precious and vital, and must be carefully cultivated and won.
On the right it was assumed that the support of Evangelicals in the United States was an acceptable substitute for support across the political spectrum that Israel had always enjoyed. Such a view, in my opinion, is a disaster; broad, inclusive, bi-partisan political support has always been the premise of pro-Israel advocacy in the United States, and it must remain so.
Is this a time for despair? Not at all. There are many things that Israel can do, including taking steps to separate from the Palestinians and making clear that its support for a Palestinian state is real and not rhetorical. But this will require humility from Israel’s right and left, a willingness to work together in a time of crisis, and a frank recognition by both sides that its most cherished assumptions have been fatally flawed.