If you listen attentively to the rhetoric of the election campaign, you’ll hear a broken dialogue. It’s what once used to be the dialogue among Zionists. It broke down a generation ago, and no one has a plan to fix it.

Many citizens seem to have no illusions about the elections, and are just waiting for time and outside pressure to decide who wins: the settlers or the “diplomats” who believe in compromise.

But what if Israel needs both the ardor of the settlers and the diplomacy of their critics? What if it needs both at the same time, and as part of one strategy? Then we have to mend the dialogue.

“The authentic Zionist project today is the dismantlement of the settlements,” wrote author Gershom Goremberg. Recently, Daniel Gordis argued in this paper that the settlements are the only solution available: a different road does not exist. Gordis and Goremberg are both Zionists.

Both made aliya and threw their lot in with the nation’s. But they have no common language. They are strangers.

In the current campaign both the Right and the Center-Left propose unconvincing plans for the future of the state.

The Right, if its audacious project of settlement is to succeed, badly needs a lesson in diplomacy, and the parties of the Center-Left desperately need the realism of the Right in their diplomacy.

Both projects are lacking in sophistication and long-term strategy. That’s why the breakdown of dialogue matters.

SURPRISINGLY, THIS political season the participants do not seem to be aware of the problem. Many of the “diplomats” of the Center-Left seem to honestly believe that if they only had a majority their ship would sail.

They only need 61 seats! Then they’ll make an agreement and change the game forever. They believe they can move the state without the other half of the Zionists.

The settlers are no different. They think they shall never need “those doubters from Tel Aviv.” “Our fourdecade- long settlement endeavor is both just and wise,” the head of the Yesha Council, Danny Dayan, declared in The New York Times in July.

Both the settlers and their critics seem to long for an Israel that doesn’t include their opponents. But Israel needs cooperation among Zionists.

Without it the state cannot move: it cannot take real steps, either to the Left or to the Right.

A typical statement of the settlers’ view reads like this: “Between the river and the sea there shall never be a political border” (Danny Dayan, Summer 2012). Defiant, definitive, that’s the style.

Compare that to a statement that diplomats shall all agree to: “If the land is not partitioned, the dream of a democratic Jewish state has to come to an end” (Assaf David of Hebrew University, Fall 2012). The style is depressed, but equally definitive. Note how the two statements exclude each other mathematically. There is no overlap.

Let’s be naive for a moment and view the debate as if we were not disgruntled.

Among Zionists, there must be common ground. And there is. Only both sides have stopped looking for it.

An attempt to summarize the debate: • There is a symmetry between the motives of many settlers and most of their critics that is quite remarkable.

Both are genuinely and seriously worried about the future of the state. Both think that the project of the other side might mean the end of the state.

• One cause of the breakdown of dialogue is their conflicting vision of the state. For the Center-Left the state is finished as it is; the settlers say 2015 is not essentially different from 1935 – it’s still the building stage. Gershom Goremberg has shown this in his book, The Unmaking of Israel.

• Both sides try to define Zionism in such a way that the other side is excluded. This is not acceptable. The renewal of a debate must start with the recognition of the legitimacy of the others – as Zionists.

THE APOLOGISTS of the settlements and the ideologists of justice and compromise have different strategies. But both share a patriotic goal: the preservation of the state.

Now, this is the central point. Only here the debate can be renewed.

Don’t talk justice (the favorite subject of the Left): Settlers say that justice for the Arabs now will leave the state unable to defend itself. So when Tzipi Livni or Zahava Gal-On cry “injustice!” they find unreceptive ears. Nor can the debate start with the land and the Jewish entitlement to it (the favorite subject of the Right). The diplomats may agree, but they see this vision as unattainable and therefore dangerous.

Starting from the common concern about the future of the state, each side should answer the questions of the other side with seriousness.

The settlers must explain: When will the policy of facts on the ground be turned around toward a stable arrangement? How? Or shall there always be conflict? The public debate has proven quite inadequate on this point. Most importantly, have they forgotten that one day all they have won will have to be defended? Then they’ll need the other half of the Zionists, and may find themselves to be leaders without followers.

The opposition also has some questions to answer: What is the real meaning of an agreement with Ramallah? This is the obvious question, but there is more. A thorough review of the mistakes made during 20 years of peace experiments and withdrawals is needed.

The “diplomats” must investigate their own past trajectory: What went wrong in the ‘90s, and what did they do wrong themselves? They must show they have prepared for the reactions of the extremes of both sides.

Their plans must be robust and need trustworthy majorities. What coalition do they propose? Sixty-one seats are not enough for fateful steps – not only because of legitimacy, but also because of sabotage.

Even with a large majority they would still need to convince at least some key figures among the settlers to realistically expect an agreement to hold.

If a renewal of the debate were possible, one might hope the parties would restate their policies so as to take into account the well-founded worries of the “other half” of the populace. The result would not be agreement, or compromise, but an enhancement of the quality of both proposals.

The citizens still choose, but they would then choose from among more realistic options The settlers and the diplomats need each other. Not to compromise, but for any project to be able to succeed.

The writer is a journalist from the Netherlands presently staying at Tel Aviv.


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