The Region: A consensus has arisen

A greater majority is about to vote for parties close to centrist positions than at any time in history.

By BARRY RUBIN
February 9, 2009 21:54
4 minute read.
The Region: A consensus has arisen

barry rubin new 88. (photo credit: )

Many people don't understand what's happening now in Israeli politics, so here's a brief, and non-partisan, appreciation. Compared to the past, there's far less difference between the three main parties. This is largely due to the objective situation, which is rather inflexible. It is easy to characterize some as rabid right-wingers who throw away chances for peace and others as rabid left-wingers who are ready to make too many concessions. Neither argument is correct except for the fringes. I am tempted to add that abroad, the Left thinks we're evil, while the Right thinks we're stupid. All of this has little to do with reality. The dominant theme in international media coverage is to say Israelis are moving toward the Right. Yet this is both misleading and misinterpreted. The real move has been toward the center, which is represented not only by Kadima and Likud but also by Labor. A greater majority is about to vote for parties close to centrist positions than at any time in history. THE LEFT-WING MANTRA is peace, though how we can reach peace with Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah is rather hard to see. With the PA the situation is more complex but, briefly, it doesn't control Gaza, is still full of radical elements and has weak leadership. The PA is nowhere near being able to make peace on a realistic basis. Everyone in the PA and in Israel's leadership knows this; few in the Western media and academia seem close to comprehending it. A lot of governments understand the situation privately but talk quite differently in public. The right-wing mantra is victory, though how Israel is going to replace the Iranian and Syrian governments, or destroy Hamas and Hizbullah is equally hard to see. The country has minimal to no international support for these goals. WHAT HAVE PEOPLE learned over the past decade that shapes their thinking? We discovered that Palestinians and Syrians are unwilling and unable to make peace. We saw that Fatah is still full of extremism and its leadership is too weak and too hard-line itself to make a comprehensive peace agreement. We viewed the rise of Hamas as a group dedicated to permanent war and its seizure of Gaza using land from which we withdrew as a base for attacks. We experienced the continuing hatred of the Arab and Muslim world, largely undiminished by Israeli concessions. We observed Iran's rise as a power, potentially nuclear armed, explicitly seeking our extinction. We noted the world didn't reward us for making concessions and taking risks. Indeed, the more we gave, the higher the degree of slander and hostility rose in many sectors. AS A RESULT of this, there has arisen a national consensus around the following points: • Israel wants peace and will make real concessions for true lasting, stable peace and a two-state solution • Few think the "moderate" Palestinian leadership - PA, Fatah - is willing or able to make such an agreement for decades. The same applies to Syria. • As a result, any real change on Jerusalem, the Golan or West Bank settlements is far off. • No deal can be made with Hamas. But Hamas isn't going to disappear either. Same for Hizbullah. • The key point is to defend Israel and its citizens so they pursue their normal lives. • Iran is a real danger, and when it appears about to get nuclear weapons, a big decision will have to be made on attacking these facilities. THIS NATIONAL CONSENSUS - accepted by Labor, Likud and Kadima, along with many others - enables the next government to be a national unity government. Whoever becomes prime minister would do well to bring in one or both of the other two main parties. What is consensus policy for the next government? • To stress that we want peace, are ready for a Palestinian state, and are not responsible for the conflict and violence continuing. • To maintain deterrence and defend ourselves. • To preserve the best possible relations with the United States, Europe and other countries as long as it does not involve risks to national interests and citizens. • Security cooperation with the PA to prevent terrorist attacks in exchange for helping it economically and to ensure that Hamas doesn't take over the West Bank. Without illusions regarding Fatah and the PA, this effort seems to be working. • To decide when to strike back at Hamas - and potentially Hizbullah - based on any attacks on us. Precise response depends on timing, opportunity, and their behavior. • To work for the isolation of Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. Where are the differences among the leading parties? They are more atmospherics than real: offering small concessions; making small demands. If much of the election revolves around personalities, that is because strategy and policy are not hugely different among them. Binyamin Netanyahu isn't going to embark on a settlement-building campaign; Tzipi Livni isn't going to give away east Jerusalem. And that's a good thing, for whatever faults they have, this trio is basically making appropriate responses to the situation. The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.


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