Encountering peace: Not social justice, peace!

I am no less concerned about economic issues, but peace, security still most important issues that we face.

Israel Peace Week (photo credit: Courtesy: Hasbara Fellowships)
Israel Peace Week
(photo credit: Courtesy: Hasbara Fellowships)
Everyone is in agreement; this election season will be about social justice. Shaul Mofaz has suddenly discovered the economy and wants to be the hero of the under classes in Israel. Shelly Yacimovich had propelled into the public eye and has doubled the support for the Labor Party by being the champion of the working class. Yair Lapid wants to parade in front of the middle class camp.
Shas always claims to represent the Israeli poor.
Binyamin Netanyahu wants to convince us how much better off we are economically now than three years ago with him at the helm.
Yes, we will hear a lot about economics, social policy, housing, jobs, cost of living, paying bills and making it to the end of the month. The Americans taught us: it’s the economy, stupid! Everything in Israel takes time to catch up.
Well, we have caught up and the public relations advisers and campaign managers and political strategists who will shape this election season will try to keep the electorate focused on those economic issues. The people screamed last summer that they want social justice, so now they will have social justice popping up in our email, Facebook, twitter, on the radio and eventually on television.
I am no less concerned than any other Israeli citizen about the privatization of social services in Israel. I am just like every other Israeli in this regard.
I count my money and hope that my overdraft at the end of the month will not be higher than my next month’s expected income. But peace and security are still the most important issues that we face.
The politicians and their strategists will say “why make noise about peace and security – the issue is dormant, the public doesn’t care.” They will repeat the mantras: we have no Palestinian partner and no need to deal with them – it is quiet now. There is no terrorism, there are no real protests from them, there is no international pressure, we defeated the Palestinians in the United Nations. We can continue to ignore this issue – we build more settlements and more houses in the settlements, we take more Palestinian land, we prevent more Palestinians from entering the Jordan Valley, no one really cares.
The wall protects us and we hide behind it. The world continues to pay the Palestinian bills. We open a few more checkpoints inside the West Bank twice a year and let the world know what big risks we are taking, but we want to support the Palestinian economy. Heck, we even let a truckload of biscuits produced in Gaza to enter the West Bank last month, look at how magnanimous we are. Mahmoud Abbas is busy traveling around the world; Fayyad is busy trying to pay his bills. This status quo is great for Israel, let’s not make it an issue in the elections.
But my dear Israeli compatriots – the Palestinian issue is not going away, even if we make believe that it is. The real issue in this campaign should be the question of leadership and who has enough of it to finally make the right decision, to end Israeli control over millions of Palestinians who refuse to live under our rule, do not want to be Israeli citizens, or agree to be devoid of all political rights.
Israel needs permanent borders, no less than the Palestinians do. Israel is a state with provisional borders and two separate systems of law that govern people within territories under its control. Israel is a country with democracy for Jewish and Palestinian citizens living within the “Green-Line” (the 1949 armistice lines) and democracy for only the Jews living beyond those lines.
We brush this blatant inequality off our conscience and political agenda by saying that the Palestinian Authority governs 98 percent of the Palestinians living in those territories. Sounds good.
But the Palestinian Authority only controls 38% of those territories, has no control at all of any external borders and no real control on issue of consequence within the 38% of territory that they sort-of govern.
Everything of importance still remains in Israeli control, even the movement of the president of Palestine. No Palestinian living in the territories controlled by Israel in Judea and Samaria enjoys freedom. And as a result, Israel enjoys no real peace with its neighbors. Even the peace treaties that we have managed to arrange with Egypt and Jordan are hardly translated into real peace with our neighbors.
How can this not be an election issue? Peace is reachable. There is a clear and ready partner for peace. Negotiations will be tough and will require skill and determination. Every single issue in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is resolvable. It is completely possible to arrive at security arrangements that will meet all of Israel’s needs and allow the Palestinians to have sovereignty.
We can agree on borders that will leave the overwhelming majority of Jewish settlers under Israeli sovereignty. Jerusalem can remain and open city with sovereignty split between two states and Jerusalem can be the capital of both states. We can find ways to manage the water issue together. There can be a Jewish national minority in a Palestinian state. We can even find ways to address the very complicated and sensitive refugee issues.
I have no doubt that if there was a leader in Israel who made it the directive of his government to make peace with our neighbors, and devoted all of the energies of government and the creative talents of the people of this country to pursuit of this goal, making real and sustainable peace with our neighbors would be achievable in a relatively short time.
A national election in Israel without a clear peace agenda is a sad state of affairs. Our founding fathers and mothers never lost the dream of peace. Previous leaders of our country at least tried to reach out and make peace. Binyamin Netanyahu will most likely remain prime minister after these elections. There is no one better than him to drive the peace agenda forward.
He may think that by talking about peace he may lose votes, as the Labor party leader sadly believes.
But the prime minister should not have the comfort of shying away from the most important issue that will be on his table after the elections. Leadership is not only about looking good on television and making good speeches. We, the people of Israel, deserve more – we deserve a leader who will courageously deal with the real issues and not hide behind slogans and populist protests.
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.