The paradox of Israeli politics
In poll after poll, two out of every three Israelis say that they favor
a two-state solution. Yet many of them will probably vote for parties
that stand against such an idea.
An IDF soldier votes early in Ashdod, January 20, 2013. Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen
People who know something about Israel and Israelis are often puzzled by this
paradox: How come a country titled the “Start-up Nation,” famous for its
innovative spirit, is so conservative when it comes to making peace with the
Recently, the world – through the UN General Assembly – expressed
in no uncertain terms its support for a Palestinian state. In objecting to the
move, Israel, together with its unwavering American ally, managed to mobilize
the support of only a handful of small countries. Yet it was the same Binyamin
Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who denounced the UN resolution, who in
his speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009 had expressed his consent to a
Furthermore, in poll after poll, two out of every
three Israelis say that they favor a two-state solution. Yet many of them will
probably vote for parties that stand against such an idea.
Israelis wish there was a Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel, and
at the same time they will soon bring to power a right-wing government that will
build more settlements, thus making the realization of such a Palestinian state
impossible. How can this be explained?
THE ANSWER lies in the Israeli DNA. You
have to be careful, Israelis learn the hard way from early childhood, because so
much is at stake. With all due respect to what the world thinks, they truly
believe that their case is a special one, not to be compared with
For example, over seven decades France was attacked by the
Germans three times, the last attack followed by a cruel occupation. Yet the
French, even in their darkest hour, never thought that France itself was lost
Indeed, in 1944, it was liberated by the Allies, and in
perspective, the German occupation, somber as it was, became just another
chapter in the long history of France.
Not so with Israel.
WITHOUT the perpetual memory of the Holocaust, ever present in the back of the
mind of every Israeli Jew, the feeling here is that you just can’t have the
luxury of gambling on your future, because one misguided decision might doom the
whole Zionist enterprise. Nothing less.
Is this a gross exaggeration?
Sheer paranoia? Can a small, demilitarized, Palestinian state really pose a
mortal threat to the mighty Israel? Israelis don’t know for sure. They have
their doubts, and when in doubt, they prefer to stick to their guns. The threat,
in their minds, is not a military one only. A Palestinian state in the pre-’67
borders, they suspect, is only a threshold for further Palestinian demands to
return to pre-’48 Haifa and Jaffa, and flood Israel with millions of Palestinian
refugees. The end of the Jewish state, in short.
The Israelis, then, seem
to be paying lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state while in practice
they are undermining it. To their credit, though, it should be remembered that
reality has taught them some hard lessons.
IN 2005, Israel pulled out of
Gaza, with the hope that once Palestinians were free to rule themselves, they
would start laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state which would live
peacefully next to Israel, and would prosper thanks to the unlimited economic
potential of the region. Instead, Israelis were rewarded by a barrage of rockets
on their southern cities. Can they be blamed for not being keen to see the same
rockets fired on Jerusalem from a Palestinian state in the West Bank? Israelis,
then, theorize and hypothesize about a Palestinian state, and even support it in
principle, but on Election Day, when it comes to the hard decisions, when they
feel that if such a state existed, it might have threatened their future and the
future of their children, they are instinctively against it.
is that by not endorsing a Palestinian state, the Israelis are making an even
more dangerous gamble on their future.
Some day, between the Jordan River
and the Mediterranean Sea, there will be more Arabs than Jews. If there is no
Palestinian state to funnel the national aspirations of the Arabs, and accept
some of the refugees, then there will eventually be one state which will either
lose its Jewish identity or stop being a democracy, whichever is
Only a strong and reliable leader could bridge the gap between the
dreams of the Israelis and their concerns, and move them to overcome their
doubts and support a Palestinian state. Yitzhak Rabin tried and was
assassinated; Ariel Sharon tried but fell into a coma; and Ehud Olmert tried as
well, but resigned because of corruption charges.
Assuming that Netanyahu
is re-elected as prime minister, it remains to be seen whether he chooses to
cultivate among Israelis their hopes or their fears.
The author writes a
column about Israeli affairs for The Miami Herald and is a former director of
the GPO. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. (MCT)