We were watching the unraveling of Israel and despairing about whether or not it can be saved.
– A distraught email received last week from a prominent pro-Israel activist
I see Israel as a lost polity, one full of talent, energy and resolve but lacking direction.
– Daniel Pipes, “Israel’s Strategic Incompetence,” January 2009
Time is running out for Israel. Don’t let the soaring skyscrapers, plush offices and luxurious penthouses that make up its rapidly changing urban sky-line fool you. Something is gravely amiss with the direction in which the nation is drifting.Devoid of direction and destination
“Drifting” is the operative word. For there is an overwhelming sense of “rudderlessness,” of lack of leadership, or, at least, of elected incumbents devoid of commitment to any charted direction, much less an envisioned destination. Perhaps the starkest illustration of the syndrome of aimlessness was the fact that the dominant faction in the ruling coalition, Likud Beytenu, felt it appropriate to compete in the last election without even presenting a platform.
This amounts to asking for voters’ support without informing them of what they were being asked to support.
Dismissing the importance of notifying the public of his faction’s intended policies, Gilad Erdan, then-environmental protection minister, who together with then-education minister Gideon Sa’ar, was largely responsible for the Likud campaign, scoffed, “Asking a ruling party what its platform is, [is] a bit petty.”
With disturbing disdain for electoral pledges, Erdan belittled their value: “At times, any connection between the platform and reality is purely coincidental.”
This attitude might explain, at least partially, why the Likud fared so poorly in the election. After all, you can’t reach your destination if don’t have one, and if you don’t have one, there is little reason to expect voters to “get on board” without knowing where they are bound.Normal standards don’t apply
Of course, by normal standards, Israeli governments have been remarkably successful.
Since its inception Israel has achieved staggering successes, against daunting odds, in virtually every field of human endeavor – agricultural, scientific, economic, social, cultural and military.
Clearly, the credit for all these accumulated accomplishments must in part be ascribed to the quality of the country’s governance.
Yet despite the undeniable achievement in face of great adversity, there is a feeling that something has gone – or at least, is going – badly awry. The burgeoning GDP per capita, the vast newly found energy resources, the amazing technology of the IDF armaments cannot disperse a sense of foreboding that afflicts growing circles of the public.
Israel is not like other nations. It faces a range of existential threats of intensity and immediacy, unlike any other industrial nation. Accordingly, the Israeli leadership cannot be judged by normal standards – because they simply do not apply.
Given the abnormal challenges that confront the country, economic prosperity and technological advancement, on their own, cannot ensure survival.
Paradoxically, they may even jeopardize it by allowing success to lull it into a deceptive illusion of normalcy, and dull the sense of urgency needed to contend with the ever-accumulating threats to the nation’s existence.Management instead of leadership
The sentiments expressed earlier by Gilad Erdan, deriding the need for enunciating clear policy prescriptions and objectives, indicate that elected incumbents tend to view their role far more in terms of management, than in terms of leadership.
But management, however talented, will not cut the mustard when imaginative leadership is called for. Managing, even optimizing, prevailing realities, will not suffice when generating new ones is what is required.
Political leadership, as opposed to managerial technocrats, must give the nation a sense of direction, and destiny. It must provide it with an idea of where it is headed and how it intends to get there. It must look for solutions to problems, not merely play for time, employing stop-gap measures for containing them.
It is difficult to overstate how formidable the hazards that Israel needs to contend with are. Yet increasingly, the measures adopted to deal with them seem ever-more out of kilter with their severity. There are growing signs that the Israeli leadership has despaired of formulating a solutionoriented approach, and has retreated from a leadership role into a managerial one.Conflict management as a cop-out
This state of mind is reflected in the growing prevalence of the “conflict-management” school of thought in the public discourse – arising from the purportedly lucid and sober recognition that if conflicts cannot be resolved they must be managed.
Typically, this approach has been applied to the seemingly intractable conflict with the Palestinians – arguably the gravest item on Israel’s national agenda, particularly as it has engendered the accelerating and expanding campaign of international delegitimization, not only of Israel, but increasingly, of the conceptual validity of a Jewish nation state.
A cursory glance at events over the past two decades will quickly reveal how ineffectual such an endeavor has proved, and how severe an erosion of Israeli positions it has resulted in. Conflict management is little more than an evasive cop-out to avoid serious confrontation with root causes.
For a vivid illustration of the futility of conflict-management, take for example the last address by Yitzhak Rabin in the Knesset on October 5, 1995, a month before his assassination, in which he sought parliamentary ratification for the Oslo II Accords.
In it, Rabin detailed his vision of the permanent resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. In the positions he set out, he rejected full statehood for the Palestinians; endorsed a united Jerusalem (including the “settlements” of Gilo and Ma’aleh Adumim) under Israeli sovereignty as the nation’s capital; stipulated the Jordan Valley, “in the broadest meaning of that term,” as Israel’s security border; called for the inclusion of existing settlements (or as he put it, “communities”) including Efrat, Betar Illit and Gush Etzion within the final frontiers of Israel; and urged “the establishment of [new] blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif,” later destroyed by Ariel Sharon in the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.
Remember, this address was given after Rabin was awarded the Noble Peace Prize, and after he was hailed as a valiant warrior for peace. Remember that at the time this proposal was harshly condemned by the Likud, and roughly half the Israeli public, as craven capitulation and betrayal of Zionist ideals.
Yet today, if any Israeli leader were to embrace Rabin’s final vision of a permanent solution, he/she would be dismissed as an unrealistic extremist.
So much for “conflict management!”Politics abhors a vacuum
Much like Nature, politics abhors a vacuum – and the ideo-intellectual vacuum left by the aversion of successive (mainly Likud-led) governments to fashion a durable Zionist-compliant blueprint for an end to the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs, is now being filled by perilous prescriptions advanced by civil society activists, from both Left and Right.
Both would irretrievably undermine the ability of Israel to survive as the nation state of the Jewish people. Both would herald the eventual end of the era of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Both seem oblivious to sea-changes in Israel’s geopolitical environment that invalidate their core rationale. The one would make Israel untenable geographically; the other, untenable demographically.
As I mentioned in recent columns, on the Left a two-prong attack is being made on public opinion and on decision-makers’ attention. The one is to advance the Arab Peace Initiative calling for a return to the indefensible pre-1967 lines (with minor insignificant adjustments), the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the transfer of the Golan to Syria (really?), as “a basis for negotiation.”
The other advocates that irrespective of the outcome of negotiations, Israel should renounce any claims to sovereignty across the pre-1967 line in Judea-Samaria, and unilaterally withdraw to a line that approximates the present route of the security barrier – compensating the Jewish residents for their evacuation to locations within pre-1967 Israel.
On the Right, a plan is being advanced to annex all of Judea-Samaria and grant citizenship to the Arab residents of the area, under varying restrictions and reservations.
In this case, the proponents are more or less “betting the farm” on optimistic – albeit plausible – demographic assessments, but ignoring the devastating socioeconomic and cultural impact such a measure would likely entail, even if a sizable Jewish majority could be maintained.Danger from the Left
As I have frequently pointed out, the proposal from the Left would, in all likelihood, result in the establishment of a mega-Gaza with a 400-km. front on the fringes of Israel’s most populous region, overlooking its only international airport, major sea ports, vital infrastructure installations/ systems (including power generation/ transmission, water supply and communications), and abutting the Trans- Israel Highway (Highway 6).
Demilitarization of this area would mean little, since even without modern artillery, armor and airpower, renegade elements, armed only with light short-range weapons of the kind that abound in Gaza, could totally disrupt the socioeconomic routine and cripple the commercial hub of the country.
Given the precedents in which territory ceded to Arab regimes have invariably become launching pads to attack Israel, the working assumption must be that such a scenario is highly probable.
Given recent events in the Arab world, the instability and the blood-curdling brutality, it seems almost inconceivable that any allegedly loyal Israeli would advocate such a hazardous course, without being able to provide iron-clad assurances that what has happened in the past will not happen in the future. Clearly they cannot.Danger from the Right
As I pointed out last week, even if the optimistic demographic assessments are correct, the proposal from the Right would result in more than doubling the enfranchised Muslim population in Israel – bringing the total to anywhere between 30 and 40 percent, depending on whose statistics one prefers to believe.
It seems almost beyond belief that the advocates of this approach could suggest one can make a dramatic change in one societal parameter, without inducing commensurately dramatic changes in other societal parameters, which would gravely undermine the ability to preserve the Jewish character of the state.
For anyone who might doubt the effect of an emboldened and enlarged Muslim presence might have on the socio-cultural attributes of a modern host society, the examples of the Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia, the UK and France should provide sobering case studies, where more and more indigenous Europeans are choosing to emigrate because of ever-more assertive Muslim minorities, considerably smaller than that envisaged in Israel.
Even if one assumes that Israel’s approach might be somewhat more muscular than that of the Europeans, it is clearly improbable that such a sizable enfranchised minority would not become increasingly dominant in determining the socio-cultural fabric of the country. And I can’t put it any more delicately than that.Why Israel is lost
The future of Israel is being forfeited by a determined Left refusing to relinquish a disproven delusion of two states; and by a despairing Right embracing a fanciful formula for one-state. With US foreign policy everywhere beleaguered by failure and paralysis, the only hope of any foreign success for the administration is by pressuring a pliant Israel on the Palestinian issue.
In the absence of a firm, imaginative Zionist-compliant initiative from the elected leadership (don’t hold your breath) , these two detrimental proposals will define the debate on the fate of Judea- Samaria.
Although I have only touched briefly on the harm they will wreak upon Israeli society, it should be clear that the implementation of either would make Jewish existence in the Land of Israel increasingly tenuous and difficult to sustain.
Unless the nation can produce leadership that can formulate a policy that will ensure that the country can be viable both geographically and demographically, Israel will be lost.Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org)