Inside Out: Security and normalcy

While the right wing holds a parliamentary majority in Israel, the theological Right was and remains a small minority.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R) (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Israeli, Arab and international media have been abuzz with reports in the past few weeks about the US administration’s alleged plan to present a framework agreement to Israeli and Palestinian leaders. This framework agreement is supposed to provide a combination of guiding principles and practical mechanisms that will chart a possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Most reports have indicated the American proposal will be put on the table some time in January 2014, though at least one Arabic-language newspaper suggested that US Secretary of State John Kerry might present a plan even before New Year’s Day next week.
Anyone who has followed Israeli, Palestinian and international discourse about resolving the conflict over the past number of years knows what the American proposal will almost certainly contain: The establishment of a Palestinian state based loosely on the 1967 lines with land swaps to allow for Israeli annexation of the major settlement blocs; a division of Jerusalem based broadly on ethnic lines, with a special arrangement in the so-called holy basin area; extensive and scrupulous security arrangements, including the full demilitarization of Palestine and a gradual Israeli withdrawal, that will ensure that Israel does not face a threat similar to the one it has faced since it unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, on the one hand, and the threat of a large-scale military invasion by a foreign army from the east, on the other; recognition of Palestine as the national homeland of the Palestinian people and the country to which Palestinian refugees and their descendants have the right to return; and recognition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Among Israelis and Palestinians, opinions are likely to be divided about how to respond to the American proposal, if the reports are accurate and one is presented.
In Israel, it goes without saying that a proposal that runs along the lines described above can be expected to be enthusiastically embraced by the Left, barring perhaps the most radical fringes, and summarily rejected by the religious Right.
The response of the large Israeli center will be influenced to a great extent by the reaction of the non-religious Right – namely, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other top Likud Beytenu members. The opponents of the establishment of a Palestinian state on theological grounds – Gush Emunim and similar movements – presume to know God’s political will.
Viewing recent historical developments on the ground through the prism of their theology, they regard the establishment of the State of Israel and the conquests it made in the Six Day War as proof that the End of Times is nigh and that the Messiah’s advent is imminent. Their opposition to the possibility of Israel ceding any territory from the Land of Israel stems primarily from this eschatology, which also spearheaded the settlement enterprise.
The possibility that they might be mistaken, as all groups that have held similar eschatological beliefs – Jewish and other – always have been throughout human history (to date, at least), is scornfully dismissed.The rest of the Israeli right wing, overwhelmingly, has been reluctant to support the establishment of a Palestinian state for reasons that, while far more mundane, are nevertheless more compelling and communicable to the general public. These reasons include: the PLO’s dismal track record under Yasser Arafat’s leadership from Oslo through the Aqsa intifada; the developments in the Gaza Strip and their impact on Israel in the aftermath of the unilateral Israeli withdrawal in 2005; the massive body of evidence demonstrating Palestinian and broader Arab refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the region; and the body of evidence demonstrating that in many parts of the world Israel seems to be uniquely held to a shifting standard that it can never hope to meet.
More plainly put, the non-theological opponents of an agreement that involves the establishment of a Palestinian state are mainly worried about two things: serious security threats, on the one hand, and continued exceptional treatment of Israel on the day after, on the other.
While the right wing holds a parliamentary majority in Israel, the theological Right was and remains a small minority. If the non-theological Right – Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and others – can be persuaded that an agreement with the Palestinians adequately meets those needs for security and Israeli normalcy, the agreement is certain to win the support of much of the Israeli right wing and center as a result.
Perhaps that explains why Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated in July his commitment to hold a referendum on any deal that involves ceding parts of sovereign Israel. Netanyahu knows that any agreement he endorses can be expected to enjoy very broad public support. He and his ministers only need to be persuaded either that the deal is good or, in a less optimistic scenario, that the alternative is exceedingly bad.
The author is a veteran translator and writer.