Israel must stay strong internally - opinion

Although the government coalition has a relatively solid majority in the Knesset, a further review shows that in diplomacy and security, it has greater support from the public.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Yair Lapid encounter each other in the Knesset plenum. For both sides, short-term victory could mean long-term damage to our society, says the writer. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Yair Lapid encounter each other in the Knesset plenum. For both sides, short-term victory could mean long-term damage to our society, says the writer.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Israeli leaders from the Right and Left have said over decades that their diplomatic decisions have to be based on what they feel is best for Israel, and not solely because it would make others happy.

When then-US president Barack Obama said in 2016, during the final few months of his presidency, that he wished to push forward a US-sponsored UN Security Council resolution to set a timetable and parameters for reaching a permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, predictably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was irate.

However, opposition came also from the Left. When the US Embassy in Israel conducted a review among Knesset parties to determine how they would feel about such a resolution, Obama decided to drop the idea after left-wing Meretz spoke out against it.

When it came down to it, Meretz supported principles that would have been included in the Obama resolution, such as the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines. However, the party leadership told US officials that it wanted to proceed on such a track in an arrangement where the Israeli government would be calling the shots, and not because Jerusalem was getting an international dictate from the UN.

Currently, President Joe Biden’s administration is proceeding with concern over the composition of the new Netanyahu government. Voicing opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state and in favor of expanding and potentially upgrading the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria, the current Israeli government is pushing Washington into greater involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian arena than it would have preferred.

 ‘BIBI, MY Story’: All roads lead to the paradox that is Benjamin Netanyahu.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) ‘BIBI, MY Story’: All roads lead to the paradox that is Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Israel is a country that can act for its own best interests

Netanyahu’s relationship with Biden is less contentious than his dealings with Obama. However, that’s less relevant. More importantly, Israel has established itself as a country that can truly act for what it believes is best for itself.

Back in 2009, when Obama became president and then, right afterward Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister’s Office, it was clear the relationship at the top would be difficult. However, an Obama aide would later tell me that the president was cautioned by the US defense establishment that no matter how difficult ties might be on a personal level with Netanyahu, the American leader must not “fool” with the close strategic cooperation with Israel.

BIDEN NEEDS no explanation of the importance of the US-Israel defense relationship. Netanyahu knows that. The prime minister will navigate between US diplomatic pressure and the demands of his own government coalition here at home over Palestinian-related issues.

Part of Netanyahu’s track record is that he has shown greater resolve and independence in standing up to world leaders than to members of his coalition in the cabinet and Knesset. One would hope that he could withstand pressure from both sides and refrain from taking steps that he might genuinely believe are not best for the country.

Although the government coalition has a relatively solid majority in the Knesset, a further review shows that in the diplomatic and security realms, the government has greater support from the public. In these areas, the public is showing itself to be more right-wing.

The same Meretz party that saved Netanyahu in 2016 by saying “no” to Obama regarding the proposed UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian negotiations was no longer popular enough in this past election in November to even receive sufficient votes to enter the Knesset. 

There are certainly differing views within Israel over how to handle the security situation. Nevertheless, as has often been stated, if we can stay united among ourselves, we’ll have far fewer problems with our enemies.

Along those lines, the greater upheaval within the public has been over who we ourselves are as a state, and less over our external challenges. When you live here long enough, it’s hard not to be taken by the complex mix of religious and secular and many traditional Israelis among the Jewish population, and of course the non-Jewish minority.

The protests we see against this new government are over fears that this mix will be challenged. The fear centers around proposed measures aimed at changing Israelis’ basic beliefs, how they lead their lives, and to what extent the government rules over them.

The question of legal reforms is awash with accusations that Netanyahu is using such steps to keep himself in power and out of jail.

Other items on the agenda of this new government have engendered the counterargument that we are not a halachic state, even if we are the people of the Bible.

On the one hand, there are those who accuse Meretz, when it was at the helm of the Education Ministry, of curtailing studies that give our children a sense of Judaism’s rich heritage and the essence of why this is the Jewish homeland. What is our future here, if we forget how we got here?

Alongside that, not necessarily as a contradiction, is a tolerant approach to the different kinds of Judaism that we, as we gather from the exiles, bring with us in our return to the land. Unity does not, of course, mean agreement.

It means loving this country for it being the modern Jewish state, where Shabbat is the day of rest, where even those who might be called secular light candles on Friday night and have a family dinner. It is where the Jewish holidays are the national holidays; where you can walk openly with a kippah and with your tzitzit hanging out; where you can pray the Jewish prayers on a bus; where a bus carries a sign that it’s going to Jerusalem; and within Jerusalem, see a bus that is headed to the Western Wall.

If we learn more about our history, we will know, and hopefully, never forget, how miraculous this is. But in leading this country, this government must also remember that it must hold the fabric of our society, all the differences from within, close to its heart.

Respect works both ways. We have many different kinds of people here. We can, and should, promote what we feel is better about our way of life, but do it in a way that shows understanding for the other, and refrains from coercing or offending.

This mission is even more complicated than resolving the Palestinian issue, dare I say than even resolving the Iranian issue. It is also at the core of who we are.

This will be the greatest challenge of this new government. This is the difference between our external matters and the internal quagmires. 

On external security issues, we stand up to the world when necessary. Internally, those who differ with us are not the outside world; they are us. What is best for us, for all sides of our society, is to listen to our fellow citizens.

I understand the issues that members of this government wish to promote. I understand the concerns of those who oppose the various proposed measures. No one should bully anyone else. For both sides, short-term victory could mean long-term damage to our society.

This country’s existence is a miracle. Those in the outside world who are still our enemies want this miracle to end. No one among us here in our ancient homeland will let that happen, but both government and opposition alike must lead the way in setting the example and relaying the message that despite our differences, we must work together to keep ourselves internally strong to do what is ultimately best for the country.

The writer is the op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post.