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.
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
“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.
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
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.
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.
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
Let’s be naive for a moment and view the debate as if we were
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.
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
Now, this is the central point. Only here the debate can be
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.
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
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.
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
The writer is a journalist from the Netherlands presently
staying at Tel Aviv.