Grumpy Old Man: And now, Isrexit

Just as Brexit cut across party lines, the Israeli electorate’s rightward crawl does not indicate a monolithic stance on the West Bank.

July 2, 2016 00:22
4 minute read.
A WOMAN hands out leaflets last month, campaigning to stay in Europe for the Brexit vote, in London.

A WOMAN hands out leaflets last month, campaigning to stay in Europe for the Brexit vote, in London.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Lots of people like to point out that in recent years, the Israeli electorate has moved to the right. Just look at today’s Knesset: Considering the gamut of Zionist parties and the number of seats they control, starting with Meretz (hold the laughter) and ending with Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu, there’s little chance we’ll be seeing anytime soon a prime minister who’s farther to the left than a Netanyahu (or perhaps an ex-senior Likudnik out for revenge).

But that doesn’t shut the door on a withdrawal from the West Bank, at least when the decision is in the hands of the electorate. Note, if you will, what just happened in the UK, where 52 percent of citizens voting in last week’s Brexit referendum favored leaving the European Union, compared to 48% who said stay.

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At close to 72%, voter turnout was the highest since the 1992 UK general election, meaning a referendum got more people out of the house than any parliamentary contest did in a quarter of a century. The sides people took clearly cut across party lines. You’d think those wanting to leave the EU would be from the Right, and those wanting to remain would come from the Left, but it’s estimated that 40% of those who voted Conservative in the last general election chose to stay, and over a third who voted Labour chose to leave.

Even lawmakers themselves scattered – how often do you see someone like button-down, pro-business David Cameron standing shoulder to shoulder with shlumpy socialist Jeremy Corbyn? Forget for a moment the slim margin of the outcome. Of the 650 MPs in the House of Commons, 637 took a public stand before the vote, and just over 75% said the UK should stay. The voices of lawmakers serving in any democratically elected legislative body are said to represent those of the people, but with Brexit, this clearly wasn’t the case.

THE CONSEQUENCES for the Brits could be far-reaching. There’s a good chance that while they regain much of the “sovereignty” so many were talking about, particularly regarding immigration, their economy might suffer in ways unseen in years. That’s a pretty stiff trade-off.

By way of comparison, the consequences of a referendum on the future of the West Bank would affect far more than just Israeli sovereignty or the country’s economy.

Leaving the West Bank would mean giving up territory that could buffer us from growing threats from the east, be they tanks from a Jordan that, let’s face it, will sooner or later fall to people far more hostile than King Abdullah II, or shoulder-launched missiles fired on planes at Ben-Gurion Airport from rocky outcroppings held by Hamas in the Samarian foothills. Or both. Or a lot more things that are far nastier.

Still, holding that buffer comes at a price, most notably because people live there who do not want to be under our control, and many are ready to express their displeasure in ways that go far beyond the singular attack on British Labour MP Jo Cox, who was gunned down and stabbed to death at the height of the Brexit campaign.

And that price is steep. It’s steep in treasure, because the walls we build and the weapons we buy cost a lot of money.

It’s steep, too, in manpower, because we must fill the ranks of the troops we deploy in the territories on a 24/7 basis.

Of course, the walls, weapons and a lot of the manpower would be necessary even without the West Bank, so where the price really soars is in our moral standing, as the occupation can and does squeeze the very decency out of the young people we send there, where they must confront fellow human beings as victor over vanquished, conqueror over conquered – statuses that can’t help but encourage a certain callousness that stays with them. The price also soars regarding our standing in the world.

True, to many Israelis, the West Bank is not merely a buffer. It’s the heartland of the real estate promised to us by God, and the people who feel this way are generally not ready to do a cost-benefit analysis. But studies have shown them to be just a small minority. The majority in this country refers to the ledger on a regular basis, noting the expenditure column and wondering whether holding on to the territories is really worth the price.

These days, of course, it doesn’t seem like there’s anyone to talk to on the Palestinian side. But that doesn’t rule out tomorrow. And there’s a sizable and growing segment of the population that is so fed up, it’s willing to turn to unilateral moves just to be rid of the problem.

THIS MIGHT not be the time to call a referendum, but it’s nothing that should frighten us. In fact, we should embrace the idea because, unlike with general elections, it pares down the issues to the core of the matter at hand. Call it Isrexit.

And we’re a lot smarter than Mandi Suthi, the young lady – not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed – whose sentiments went bitingly viral when she told a TV interviewer the morning after the British vote that she and her family had chosen Brexit, but had now changed their mind.

“The facts are coming in now,” she told the interviewer, “and our eyes are actually open. We’re actually seeing what’s happening.”

I have a lot more faith in the citizens of Israel, who won’t wait until the morning after to open their eyes. Now if only we had a leader who cared more about the will of the people than the trappings of his office.

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