It has become common wisdom in Israel to believe that the lines between the political Left and Right have been blurred. The Right, under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state, something even Yitzhak Rabin never expressed.
The Left under Shelly Yacimovich fears to hoist the peace flag, as it seems unpopular.
So where is the difference, some ask.
This is a simplistic and superficial analysis, by those who believe anyway that a peace process is not realistic, or that there is no Palestinian partner.
Yet now that the peace process has been relaunched, there is a need to look at the attitude of Israelis and their leaders in relation to peace with our Palestinian neighbors. Views of peace are embedded in deeper perceptions and values of society and country. In this, there is still a profound abyss between Left and Right.
The Right believes in the importance of strength to achieve goals – the stronger you are, the more superior you are – a society that functions by hierarchy, without any recognition of equality.
Those who speak in the name of the nation, the elite, and God, those with the “right” background, hold the keys to the “national interest.” Others are second class, be they Arab, women, leftist or Ethiopian.
The Left, on the contrary, believes that society is best served by equality for all.
Equality is at the very foundation of human life, as all are equal at birth, irrespective of nationality, race, religion and gender. Based on this view of equality for all, the Left believes in respecting the civil and human rights of all, as well as in nations’ equal right to self-determination.
This dichotomy of views and values leads to very different outlooks on basic policy. The Left sees the Palestinians as human beings with equal rights; it believes that a Palestinian state is not just a demographic necessity, but a moral duty, ridding ourselves of a corrupting occupation.
Security in the eyes of the Left is gained both by strength and deterrence, and not less so by good, peaceful relations.
The Left is by definition also more internationalist, believing in the family of nations, united by universal humanitarian values. In this view, Israel’s respected place among the nations is critical for our well-being, security and economy.
Contradicting basic liberal values, and opting for a form of outdated colonialism, will isolate Israel as a pariah state.
The aim of these left-wing truisms is to put an end to the occupation and to the settlements on foreign land. When the Left speaks of a two-state solution, unlike the Right, it means our return to a sovereign Israel along the 1967 lines.
Israel will acquire more power by wisdom and morality.
The right-wing perceptions lead to very different policy conclusions. Our international relations lie in between us being “a light unto the nations” and our perception that “the whole world is against us.” Xenophobia and paranoia replace foreign relations.
It is worse when it comes to our next door neighbors the Palestinians. They are not viewed as humans, but as latent terrorists devoted in this generation, as in others before, to annihilate us. Only Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” or Netanyahu’s security fence can protect us. A two-state solution in the view of most of the right wing is a mere slogan for international popularity, or for the creation of a small, nonviable Palestinian state in some parts of the West Bank, while in reality maintaining Israel’s security and economic control over the areas. A two-state solution can mean different things.
In between the Right and the Left, there is the government of the day that has to face reality. A reality in which the Palestinians will not take the occupation lying down, and in which the international community is committed to bringing about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, along the 1967 lines, in which the United States sees a realistic two-state solution as part of its strategic interests in the region.
Today Netanyahu is torn between his right-wing homemade ideology and the reality in which Israel finds itself, regionally and internationally. He probably knows in his heart of hearts that evading a realistic two-state solution will not only risk our identity as a Jewish democracy, but will isolate us internationally, endangering our economic well-being, as well as exposing us to unprecedented security challenges.
Reality should convince the prime minister to opt for policies that can lead to a historic compromise with the future Palestinian state, a position that was previously adopted only by the ideological Left. Netanyahu, like other right-wing leaders in the past, would be best suited to lead Israel in the right direction.
Will he do it? It’s very doubtful. He is probably not a historic figure, with the necessary character to make difficult historic decisions. Yet he is a connoisseur of public opinion, and might listen to it. This is where the various political camps in public opinion have a role, in between the ideological Right and Left, and the pragmatic Center.
As for the Right, among all the camps in Israel, it has the highest degree of commitment. The secular Right is today more motivated by suspicion than by ideology. The religious Right is moved by both xenophobia and the vision of Greater Israel. The energy is on their side. Like most Right worldviews, it believes in the power of propaganda – if you repeat something enough times, it will be believed. Their ministers of propaganda are active around the clock spreading their gospel. The settlers don’t miss an opportunity, nor do their many representative in the Knesset, to pronounce strong, short slogans. Their greatest ally is fear, which they spread scrupulously.
Naftali Bennett is an effective leader of this disciplined choice: “Terrorists should be killed, not released,” he said in reaction to Netanyahu’s latest decision.
“I killed many Arabs,” he added with pride, insinuating that every Arab is a terrorist and that “a good Arab is a dead Arab.” This is atrocious, but unfortunately effective with certain sections of public opinion.
The readiness of the Right to take to the streets of Israel, as it did throughout the Oslo process, intimidates any government from making concessions for peace – a dangerous intimidation after the assassination of Rabin. The conduct of their campaigns is despicable, often racist, yet their conviction and energy behind it knows no equal.
The Left, on the other hand, shies away from populism – it is elitist by nature. It has let itself be outmaneuvered by the Right, into a position tagged as non-patriotic. Peace, the view of many in its camp, has been transitioned from a banner to a social embarrassment.
The left-wing demonstrators of the Rothschild Boulevard protest movement of 2011 were scared to their bones into not mentioning the word “peace” or the great waste of settlement construction, in favor of a nonexistent national consensus.
The head of the opposition, Shelly Yacimovich, walked in their footsteps during the last election campaign, distancing herself from peace with the Palestinians as if from fire.
Many of the followers in the Left camp are passive, intimidated and guiltridden.
They find it hard to combine the love for the country and criticism of it. In any sherut (communal taxi) drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv – when a political discussion erupts, the rightwingers have the upper hand and voice, while the leftists tend to read newspapers or sleep.
In the Lapid-led Center – mostly in Tel Aviv – the mood is one of pragmatism, but also of escapism – escaping the difficult choices one needs to make to turn a peace process serious. Yet this Center can give a decision for a peace settlement the necessary majority.
If this triangle of public opinion sustains its attitude, the Right will win the public battle on peace and war, with disastrous repercussions for the country.
What does the country need in this critical, historic crossroads, given the crossroads between Right, Left and Center? It needs an effective and courageous peace policy to be carried out with full determination. In other words, a left-wing policy, with a right-wing commitment and energy level to implement it, with a pragmatic Center ensuring a majority.
It happened before, actually in almost every turning point for peace – Menachem Begin, by withdrawing to the 1967 lines with Egypt; Arik Sharon with the disengagement from Gaza; and Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni in their respective peace negotiations, all converted right-wingers. Will Netanyahu join their ranks? Not before a significant shift in public opinion.
The peace camp – the Left – has to wake up in time with an effective public campaign, learning from the Right how to act and uniting with the Center. It has to add the blue and the white to its traditional red, speak out loud and en masse, and stop being defeatist. Historically, I believe, the Right rarely wins; it is the Left that loses. This time, the country cannot afford it.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.