Israelis will elect a conservative government this week because they think it
prudent to do so, not because they are “turning inwards” or backwards or
developing antidemocratic tendencies. They want Binyamin Netanyahu, not Tzipi
Livni (or Shimon Peres, or any other candidate of the Left), to lead the
country, because caution – not hollow and unsubstantiated hope – is the
It’s important to say these things, because in the
global punditocracy there is an inaccurate narrative taking root, to wit
Netanyahu’s reelection means that Israel being overrun by Right-wing and
religious fanatics, and that it is choosing isolationism over opportunities for
In fact, clever pundits like David Remnick of The New Yorker and
Ari Shavit of Haaretz have tried to portray the current Israeli election
campaign as a historic choice between two competing narratives: that of the
isolationist-nationalist Israeli Right, and the liberal-democratic-peace-seeking
But these brainy journalists are all-too- slick and only
superficially sophisticated. The dichotomous moment they have summoned-forth is
false, and their reading of Israeli society and polity is terribly
Very few Israelis see things the way Remnick and Shavit
ISRAELIS DON’T see themselves as standing at a historic juncture.
They don’t believe that Middle East circumstances are ripe for peace. Given
Oslo’s sorry 20-year record, they are indeed wary of Palestinian
They know that withdrawal from the West Bank at present would
be suicide, given the Islamic blitzkrieg across the Mideast, along with Abbas’
weakness and Hamas’ ascendency in the Palestinian arena.
They still pine
for peace, but given the situation in Sinai, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran
(and Ramallah), sadly they expect conflict.
And so, the Israeli public
overwhelmingly does not buy the wellworn argument, advanced obstinately by the
Left and the international community, that the peace process is stuck because of
settlements or lack of Israeli diplomatic flexibility. They simply feel that
caution militates against dramatic diplomatic moves at this time. They are
waiting-out the Arab Spring and other storms, taking no irresponsible risks, and
voting for steady hands at the helm of state.
That is why Tzipi Livni’s
“I can bring the peace” messaging never took hold during the current
It is important to reiterate that Israelis are not becoming
callously defiant of the world and the Palestinians, nor wildly
They are not making a grand choice this week between
good and evil, between peace and war, between liberalism and fascism. They are
simply choosing responsible government.
And what they assume will emerge
from the election is a go-slow Netanyahu government with parties of both the
Zionist Right and Left; another complicated coalition government, with built-in
checks and balances.
One thing is for sure: Israelis don’t buy the
doomsday scenarios drawn by Remnick and Shavit, or by some Diaspora Jewish
leaders like Eric Yoffie of the Reform movement or Daniel Sokatch of the New
Israel Fund, about Israel forfeiting its democracy, becoming a Spartacus state,
or losing its global friends.
SO WHY the apocalyptic analyses?
Unfortunately, I sense that the Israeli and American-Jewish ideological Left has
gone stir-crazy with Netanyahu hatred. They can’t accept the fact that the
political Left’s 20-year-long crusade for Palestinian statehood has been proven
bankrupt; they can’t stand the fact Netanyahu is going to be reelected; and they
are setting a trap in which to bring him crashing down.
By positing that
Israel is at an apocalyptic crossroads, and that Israel is pig-headedly making
wrong and dangerous choices, the stage is set for “wiser” actors to intervene
“to save Israel in spite of itself.” This is the upshot of Jeffrey Goldberg’s
celebrated Bloomberg News column, in which he describes the lack of trust and
frustration in the White House concerning Netanyahu. Netanyahu just “doesn’t
understand what Israel’s best interests are,” Goldberg has Obama saying, and
“his conduct will drive Israel into grave international isolation.”
such isolation, even from the United States, Israel won’t survive, Goldberg (or
Obama) opines. “Israel’s own behavior poses a long-term threat to its
existence.” Therefore, real friends have to step in to save Israel from itself,
by imposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which is the swift
establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state. For Israel’s own good, of
Like Peter Beinart before him, Goldberg says that Obama is not
going to directly pressure Israel on this matter, and this seems
Instead, Obama has outsourced the Palestinian issue to the
Europe is going to take the lead in wedging Israel into a
corner against its own self-perceived interests (but in reality “for its own
good”) – with Obama “leading from behind.” This explains the overwhelming
European vote at UN in November in favor of upgrading the status of “Palestine,”
even though Washington was opposed (at least in public) to the move and voted
Nevertheless, Obama didn’t seem too upset with the Europeans
for voting against Israel and the US. Like I said, it’s called outsourcing the
pressure on Israel to Europe.
THE NEXT European move (with Obama “leading
from behind”) will be an attempt to impose an internationalized framework for
Israeli- Palestinian talks with terms of reference that basically settle
everything in advance in favor of the Palestinians (1967 lines, etc.) The
Palestinians will be forgiven for their unwillingness to enter direct and
unconditional negotiations with Israel. Europe will dispense with insistence on
that venerable principle of the peace process. After all, they no longer trust
Israel to do what is in its own best interests (to withdraw), even if there were
So best just get on with it and impose the outlines of a
“settlement” in indirect consultations or an international forum.
besides, the main point of the process will not be real negotiations or true
peace, but the dethroning of Netanyahu.
The author is director of public
affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and blogs at