Election equations

Agenda-driven media outlets claim Israel holds nearly all diplomatic cards.

February 11, 2009 09:19
3 minute read.
Election equations

world newspapers 298.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

Israeli election results are bewildering even for those who think they understand the political lay of the land, partly because it will likely take weeks for a governing coalition to take shape. Advocacy journalists and agenda-driven media outlets are confusing the situation even further for those abroad by claiming that Israel holds virtually all of the cards in Arab-Israel peace-making. The importance of Tuesday's results notwithstanding, what Israel does - or fails to do - comprises only part of the peace-making equation. CNN's Ben Wedeman's point of departure, ahead of our elections, was the bogeyman of "Palestinian despair." Having "just been tear-gassed" by Israeli soldiers while covering riots near the security barrier - where Israeli settlements have "increasingly encroached" on Arab farmland - Wedeman implies that Israel does not, really, want a two-state solution. The Palestinians are being offered "an ever smaller, ever more economically unviable territory," Wedeman reports. And so they are left to seek a "one-state solution" in which an eventual Arab majority will demographically overwhelm the Jews. The magnanimous, arguably reckless, territorial concessions Ehud Olmert has just offered Mahmoud Abbas count for nothing. IF YOU can get innocents abroad to believe that Israel has refused to offer the Palestinians a viable two-state solution, you can also insinuate that Israelis will reap what they sow. The new prime minister, London's Daily Telegraph informs, "will face one unavoidable reality: the area between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean will soon have more Arabs than Jews." No one champions the idea of 3.5 million or so hostile Palestinians living under the jurisdiction of five million Jews. The demographic clock is ticking, but not quite as fast as the Telegraph would have its readers think. Pity those who lack the back-story: The Arabs have been rejecting a two-state solution since the UN's 1947 Partition Plan, and that rejection created the refugee problem. The Palestinians have also consistently rejected exchanging land for peace, and that rejection created the settlement problem. Perceptions are further skewed when the idea is implanted that the onus of peace-making is entirely on Israel. Sky News said our elections "will shape the future of peace in the Middle East." At stake was Israel's "final borders," Asia News opined. The Times of India reported that Palestinians hope "President Barack Obama will help ensure that whoever becomes prime minister does not bury the already teetering peace process." It's as if there were no Arab interlocutors to "shape" or "bury" events. But there are. Diminishing their responsibilities presents only half the equation. Over-simplification is another way to guarantee skewed perceptions. In 1977, the foreign media practically lynched Menachem Begin as an enemy of peace. Yet he became the first Israeli premier to sign a peace treaty with an Arab state. Similarly, Binyamin Netanyahu has been pigeonholed as "hawkish." And while it is true that Tzipi Livni is a "centrist," Israel's entire political spectrum has shifted rightward in reaction to years of Palestinian intransigence. Avigdor Lieberman is all too simplistically tagged as being on the "far Right." Reuters prefers "ultra-rightist." But the Lieberman phenomenon needs context. Voters susceptible to populist or demagogic appeals do, from time to time, catapult protest parties to power, only to abandon them when the magic wears off - witness the Pensioners and Shinui. Isn't the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland oversimplifying in claiming that Netanyahu rules out "any compromise" on Jerusalem, and is "still refusing" to accept a Palestinian state? Is it not a gross exaggeration to claim, as an Associated Press dispatch did, that Netanyahu "opposes giving up land for peace"? Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post that he would be delighted to find a formula that allows the Palestinians to govern themselves and Israel to live in security. Regardless of whether our next prime minister is called Livni or Netanyahu, Israel needs an Arab partner with whom to make peace. Ultimately, of course, a deal is dependent on what happens in both polities. That said, Israel must not shirk its half of the conflict resolution equation. Our next premier must ensure that all coalition partners in the new government are committed to what, is after all, a strategic imperative for Israel - peace.

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