In 30 days: Fundamentalism or Liberalism

Savir's Corner: Our very democratic foundations are endangered by a multitude of factions and by the prevailing reactionary set of nationalistic and xenophobic views of our leader and shakers.

Peace Now (R390) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Peace Now (R390)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel at the crossroads – we seem to voice this truism at every election. This time, though, it seems to be truer than ever because in four years, we could either be far worse off, or much better off. One scenario is impossible: the continuation of our illusionary status quo. And much worse off could mean doomsday, given the current and (probably next) government’s policies and worldviews, the challenges we are facing and the strengthening of the religious extreme Right.
For the first time since our independence, our very democratic foundations are endangered by a multitude of factions and by the prevailing reactionary set of nationalistic and xenophobic views of our leader and shakers.
It has become politically correct to express racist views against Arabs, to curtail freedom of speech, to delegitimize the High Court of Justice, to back nationalistic positions on the use of power in order to crush our neighbors; reconquering Gaza has suddenly been raised by Bibi’s alter-ego, Yvette Liberman. We are also undergoing a socioeconomic crisis, with growing gaps between haves and have-nots, center and periphery, those who enjoy good education and health services, and those who don’t.
If one seeks affordable housing, one is better off as a settler, or as a Shas supporter.
Corruption is rampant among our leaders, whether in or out of prison.
There is also moral corruption as we are still an occupying power in the West Bank, with over 3 million Palestinians under our control. This strengthens the extremist Hamas and reduces the clout and hope of moderates, thereby undermining our daily and national security. We prefer settlement construction over good relations with the international community – E1 over EU. We are isolated in the world, risking sanctions. In short, we have become a more theocratic, bellicose, capitalistic, nationalistic island.
If this process is allowed to continue by a leadership blind to a changing world and deaf to the voices of reason and morality, four years from now, we will find ourselves in a much deeper crisis, threatening our very being as a Jewish, democratic state.
The alternative is the adherence to the liberal, progressive values of democracy with a strong and independent judicial system, respect for human rights, full equality among all citizens, social justice and economic growth, a viable process of peacemaking and participating in an international coalition for regional stability and opposition to Iranian nuclear ambitions. In short, more secure, more prosperous, more free and a respected member of the family of nations. This is what is at stake with these elections: a clear cut choice, not between leaders, but between values related to the basics of modern Zionism – again in between social democracy and revisionism.
The agenda of Likud Beytenu and its nationalistic and religious allies is clear and united. It is an agenda of crude force. Its basic premise is that the Arabs are a monolithic lot with an overwhelming, incurable hatred for Israel and for Jews, and who as individuals do not deserve equal rights, and as a collective should be deterred or fought with strength; that Palestine is actually Judea and Samaria; that settlements are not an obstacle to peace, but rather a redemption; that the Arab Spring is a winter of extreme Islamism, all monolithically following Tehran, be they Sunnis, Shi’as, or moderate liberal Tahrir demonstrators; that the region is full of dangers and no opportunities; that the whole world is blind to these realities, due to a mixture of anti-Semitism and Western naiveté; that only we understand reality; and that in such a region and world, we have to depend only on our sword.
The leader of the all-too loyal opposition, Shelly Yacimovich, claims with great confidence that the prime minister would like the elections to be held on an agenda of foreign policy and security policy. Yet what Bibi & Co. are offering is not a policy agenda, but rather an extreme-right-wing view of Israel, the region and the world, deeply entrenched in a philosophy of extreme nationalism and religious beliefs – a kind of Israeli fundamentalism.
What is the alternative? The center-left is divided on this – between Yacimovich’s view of a socioeconomic agenda, leading to economic stability and social justice, and Tzipi Livni’s view of the vitality of a peace and security policy transformation in order to rescue the democratic Jewish nature of Israel. The leader of today’s Labor definitely has a point – Israel’s socioeconomic reality is in a deep crisis. We are among the most unjust societies in the OECD club in the distribution of wealth between haves and have nots, we suffer from a large deficit, in need of severe across-theboard budget cuts, that after the elections will necessitate making important choices as to our national socioeconomic priorities, also in relation to education, health and other social services.
Politically, it may be the right ticket to run on, as Israelis fear for their socioeconomic well-being and security, and that is especially true for the right-leaning periphery. So far Labor has entirely failed to place these issues on the national and election agenda, and is terrified to speak out on the peace and security agenda.
On the other side, Tzipi Livni and the “Movement” Party, though perhaps too little and too late, have opted, with her two ex-Labor leader running-mates Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, for the predominance of a peace and security agenda.
They claim, with great justification, that if Israel does not have a proactive peace policy, leading to a viable peace process with the Palestinians under President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), we will reach the point of no return in a contrary process leading to a binational state, where we will wake up one day to discover that we have become a minority in our own country, forcing us to choose between Arab rule and apartheid – the end of the Zionist dream.
Time is indeed running out, due to the continuation of a dangerous settlement expansion, the strengthening of Hamas and the weakening of Fatah, even in the West Bank, all thanks to the myopic policies of the outgoing government.
The need to stabilize our economy and to move toward greater social justice is inherently linked and dependent on a real peace process with the Palestinians, as such a process will in time affect our national socioeconomic priorities, from excessive defense expenditure in the West Bank and massive investments in settlement construction, to necessary social needs in sovereign Israel. Such a process will also improve our relations with the world, which will affect trade and investments in our hi-tech industry and in tourism in Israel.
If Shelly is saying “It’s the economy, stupid...,” Tzipi answers “It’s peace,” and she is actually the clever one. A viable peace process with Abu Mazen could start within 24 hours if the next government would freeze all settlement construction beyond the Green Line for several months.
This would open the door for the second Obama administration to engage with us on the peace process and on our security needs. This would strengthen Fatah and weaken Hamas. It also would allow for anti-terrorism cooperation, as proposed by our defense establishment, and eventually lead to a more friendly and pro-Western Palestinian state.
A process leading to a Palestinian state will happen in one way or another, as there is a wall-to-wall global consensus on it. The critical question for us is, should it be imposed on us by the international community and the United States, or should it be a function of an Israeli policy initiative. It makes all the difference in the world; if the Arab world learns that they can have a deal on Palestine despite Israeli policies, we will pay the price for peace, without reaping its regional and international fruits.
What is needed after January 22 is an Israeli (not Arab, not American) peace initiative proposing direct negotiations, with a settlement freeze, with anti-terrorism cooperation, on the basis of the Obama and Clinton visions.
This would reflect strength, not weakness. An Israeli peace initiative leading to a viable peace process and eventually to a two-state solution is the key to our national security, to our socioeconomic development, to maintaining our moral high-ground, to rescuing our liberal democracy, to a Jewish democracy, to our participation in the family of nations, to strengthening our strategic alliance with the United States, to maintaining our defense and technological edges and to preventing Iran from becoming nuclear.
The best suited person to run such a policy, among the existing candidates, is Tzipi Livni as prime minister, or at least as foreign minister in a Netanyahu government, as Bibi is unable or unwilling by himself to opt for peace. If he is indeed reelected, he will have to choose between Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi and Tzipi Livni as a key partner.
The key issue indeed is peace, in both the narrow and the deeper sense. As the expansionist, anti-peace settlement policies and racist, anti-democratic tendencies lead to a fundamentalist Israel, real peace policies with our neighbors, based on Jewish and universal values of equality and mutual respect, lead to a liberal, democratic Israel.
This is the choice that pertains to our very soul and character, and this is what the debate should be about in the coming 30 days.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.