Analysis: The economy took (temporary) precedence

What happened to national security and the peace process as the defining issues of Israeli politics?

soup kitchen 88 (photo credit: )
soup kitchen 88
(photo credit: )
Even the briefest examination of the election results would reveal that the voting public was primarily focused this time on socioeconomic and other domestic issues, which completely trumped the past political preoccupation with peacemaking and national security. This can be seen by the relatively strong showing of those who had stressed domestic issues: Labor, Shas, the Gil Pensioners' Party and even Avigdor Lieberman, who led with a campaign on crime, either preserved their previous strength or gained. In contrast, Kadima's highlighting of a second disengagement put it in near free fall - down from 42-45 seats in the polls to just 29. The Geneva Accord campaign of Meretz brought it down to five seats. And the Likud's anti-Hamas campaign, combined with Binyamin Netanyahu serving as the "fall guy" for the previous government's austerity plan, led to an unprecedented electoral collapse. What happened to national security and the peace process as the defining issues of Israeli politics? Hebrew University Prof. Shlomo Avineri has aptly described a fundamental shift in Arab-Israeli diplomacy that has transpired with the collapse of the Oslo agreements: Israel and the Palestinians are no longer engaging in "conflict resolution," but rather in "conflict management." In other words, the era of grandiose White House signing ceremonies that aroused part of the Israeli electorate is over, for now. No one is promising "the end of history" or "the end of conflict." Instead, the debate over "conflict management" involves finding the appropriate mixture of reliance on the West Bank security fence, limited disengagements and defensible borders. These are important issues, but they strike the voter as highly technical and certainly do not provide sufficient inspiration for deciding how to vote. In this election the issue of security faded largely because of the tremendous success of the Ya'alon-Dichter security team (the former IDF chief of General Staff and Shin Bet head, respectively) in defeating the second intifada in the West Bank after daily suicide bombings struck the heart of Israel in mid-2002. While the security of Sderot, southern Ashkelon and the western Negev has been increasingly threatened in recent months, the residents of Tel Aviv and Gush Dan were not sufficiently affected by these developments. In 2006, Israel's comfort level was sufficient for it to act like the Britain of 1945, which did not need wartime leaders any longer; at that time Winston Churchill was replaced by Clement Atlee, with his mostly domestic agenda. Is the decline of national security and peacemaking issues in our political life permanent? This is unlikely. Not far off, on the horizon of the new government, are three critical national defense issues: the threats of the new Hamas government; the shift of al-Qaida activity from western Iraq to Jordan, the Gaza Strip and even the West Bank; and a more emboldened Iran, as it comes closer to a full nuclear weapons capability. Whether Israel's security, under such circumstances, will be enhanced by new concessions or by greater national resolve will undoubtedly be at the center of the national debate in the not too distant future. The writer, who served as ambassador to the UN in 1997-1999, heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.