A secular and religious Jew walk arm in arm as a celebration of Jewish unity.
(photo credit: KAREN ABRAMSON)
The next government must work overtime to ensure Israeli cohesion, and as a result refrain from either unilateral withdrawals or annexation that goes beyond the national consensus, according to a policy paper drawn up by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS).
This cohesion, said Eran Lerman, the think tank’s vice president and one of the paper’s authors, is essential for Israel to withstand the coming challenges. He differentiated between cohesion – something he said was evident at the mass funeral for Texas-born lone soldier Sean Carmeli in 2014 – and unity, which is more of a political concept.
The paper, titled “Might at a Critical Moment: National Security Policy for Israel’s New Government,” is to be presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he forms the new government. Its eight chapters deal with everything from recommendations on the judicious use of force, to how to best counter Iran, how to respond to US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” and how to exact a price for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s provocations.
Asked to define the thrust of the paper, Lerman – former deputy head of the National Security Council – said there were “three interconnected things.”
“One is the absolute primacy of the Iranian challenge,” he said. “Interlinked with that is the need to strengthen our national cohesion to sustain the capacity of Israeli society to face what may be coming. And the third element is that conflict management of the Palestinian issue is not – as often portrayed – a default option because we don’t have any better ideas right now, or don’t want to make difficult decisions. Under the circumstances it is a logical concept to pursue as a strategy for the intermediate future.”
Regarding the national cohesion, Lerman said JISS “thinks that all notions for unilateral solutions are wrong when they come from the left, and wrong when they come from the right.” This includes proposals for unilateral withdrawals on one side, and annexation beyond the consensus of Israeli opinion on the other.
If there is a total diplomatic breakdown, then the time may come for limited Israeli unilateral action, he said, but “even that should stay very close to the Israeli consensus. Tearing apart the fabric of Israeli society for the sake of promoting the agenda of one camp, at a time when we face immense challenges, is irresponsible,” he asserted.
The paper states that to strengthen national cohesion, the government must “exercise restraint in public discourse and avoid demonizing political opponents.”
Expanding on the paper’s outline, Lerman said that “The first duty of a government, once it is put together, is to put this very divisive election campaign very much behind us, put an end to demonizing and marginalizing of others.” He said that his think tank does not buy into the notion that Israel is now a nation of four separate tribes: secular, religious, haredi and Arab.
Rather, he said, their belief is that what the country witnessed at the funeral of Carmeli during Operation Protective Edge – when 20,000 Israelis of all stripes paid final respects to an American-born soldier they did not know – “told us that when challenged, this nation stands together. The duty of the incoming government is to bring these aspects of the Israeli spirit back into focus given everything that is at stake.”
Regarding the Palestinian issue, the paper advocated “managing the conflict” as a preferred – not necessarily a fall back – option.
“The basic premise of this policy is that the Palestinian national movement is not ready for a historic compromise with Zionism because of the gap between the two national movements and the division between the rival Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza,” the paper read. “Under these circumstances, the realistic goal to be pursued is to reduce the level of violence to a minimum, and to wait patiently for systemic changes.”
The paper complimented the Trump administration for “rethinking the basic components” of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and for striving to secure an “Arab umbrella” for the plan in terms of massive economic aid to the Palestinians.
The government should agree to discuss the American plan, even if it does not meet all Israeli security and settlement demands, the paper said, advocating Israel take a “yes, but” approach to the plan.
“‘Yes’ is important for nurturing special relations with the US, especially with the Trump administration, and a positive answer will also be welcomed in the Arab countries and the international community,” according to the paper.
In addition, a “yes, but” answer is also important domestically, because peace plans – according to the paper – “reinforce social cohesion,” and it is vital that the government not be seen internally as a “peace refusknik.”
The JISS is headed by Efraim Inbar, and counts former National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror and former deputy chief of staff Yair Golan among its senior fellows.
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