Analysis: Actions and reactions

Where were the pundits warning the Palestinians not to push the Israelis too far to the right?

paelstinian stone throwers 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
paelstinian stone throwers 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
On innumerable occasions over the last 15 years, since the signing of the Oslo accords, Israel has been warned by both the well-meaning and the patronizing that it had better watch its steps, lest it radicalize the Palestinians. Don't expand settlements, Israel was warned in the early Oslo days, even though the Oslo accords didn't preclude that, because it was argued that this would damage the Palestinian confidence in the process. Don't respond harshly to the petrol-bomb throwing, drive-by shootings and suicide bombings of the second intifada, because that would only create more Palestinian despair. Don't react to the unrelenting Kassam fire that followed the 2005 disengagement, because that would lead Palestinians to feel that they did not gain anything from Israel's withdrawal, to the very last Jew, from the Gaza Strip. Don't bury hope under retaliatory actions. Don't create more despair by trying to protect yourself. Build confidence, don't push the Palestinians to the wall, and don't create another generation that will only want to die to destroy Israel. What we didn't hear much of during this period, however, were entreaties to the Palestinians not to take actions that would radicalize Israeli society, that would rob it of hope, that would push it to despair of ever reaching a peace agreement in the region. One didn't hear Western leaders and learned columnists warning the Palestinians that their unrelenting terror would have a boomerang effect on Israeli society, that it would push Israel to the wall, that it would ram to the right a generation of Israelis who grew up under the cloud of suicide bombers and Kassam rockets. On Tuesday, the chickens will most likely come home to roost. To rework a phrase from US President Barack Obama's inaugural address, after having its outstretched hand met continuously over the last 15 years by a clenched fist, the Israeli public - if the polls are to be believed - is now clenching its own fist in return. Palestinian actions over the last 15 years have transformed Israeli society, and the country has gone from believing in the 1990s that it had reached safe shores and had been accepted in the region, to believing in 2009 that no matter what it does - be it negotiating a peace deal based on ceding some 95 percent of the territories, or unilaterally evacuating settlements - it will not be accepted in the region. While the pundits were warning about the radicalization of Palestinian society and overlooking what the Palestinians were doing to Israeli society, they were also calling unceasingly for Israeli confidence-building measures - steps they calculated were needed to shore up Palestinians' confidence that Israel was indeed genuine about wanting a peace deal, as if the withdrawal from Gaza and evacuation of more than 9,000 Jews was not enough of an indication. But how about the confidence of Israelis? What were the Palestinians doing to build that up? Suicide bombing attacks, homemade rockets, and tunnels meant to kidnap soldiers don't exactly do the trick. So as a result, we are facing a situation where regardless of whether it is Likud or Kadima that wins Tuesday's elections by a seat or two, the right-wing bloc will most likely be strengthened considerably, as the Left is simply melting away. The major polls published Friday, the last time they could be published before the elections, showed that while Likud and Kadima are in a very tight race, the Right bloc is leading the Left bloc by a significant margin of about 65 Knesset mandates to 55. But that is a bit misleading. If you subtract the 10 Arab party mandates, then the Right-Left gap among the Jewish population is even greater - 65-45. And that is definitely not an even split. And even that figure is a misleading. If you look at Kadima's list, some of those now identified as part of the Left bloc seem anything but - folks like Shaul Mofaz, Tzahi Hanegbi, Ze'ev Boim, Gideon Ezra, Avi Dichter and others. Nothing epitomizes this right-wing shift better than the rise of Avigdor Lieberman. Ten years ago, his ideas about redrawing Israel's map to exclude the Israeli Arabs and to draw inside the settlements were considered beyond the pale, nearly unthinkable. Now so many people are now thinking the unthinkable that Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party is poised to possibly become the third-largest party in the country. And it is not only the Palestinians who bear a great deal of responsibility for this fundamental shift in the country's mood; so do the politicians of the Israeli Arab parties. For the last 15 years, the ticket for political success on the Israeli Arab street seemed to be strident rhetoric against the state. The more angry and bitter the rhetoric, the better the Arab parties - competing among themselves - seemed to do at the polls among the Arab voters. The problem is that it was not only the voters in Umm el-Fahm, Kafr Kana and Rahat who were listing to the diatribes of Balad's Azmi Bishara and UAL-Ta'al's Taleb a-Sanaa and Ahmed Tibi; so were the residents of Tel Aviv, Modi'in and Jerusalem. So when Lieberman runs on a ticket demanding loyalty to the state, his words are falling on ears extremely weary of Bishara, Sanaa and Tibi's tirades. Nearly every action has a reaction. Everyone has been so concerned over the years about what reaction Israel's actions would generate among the Palestinians, that they overlooked the degree to which Palestinian and Israeli Arab actions have caused a reaction among the Israeli public. But if the polls of the last few days prove even a somewhat accurate predictor, that right-wing reaction will become clear for all to see when the country wakes up Wednesday morning.