Encountering Peace: Israeli elections – It’s not about the economy

There can be no social justice in Israel without ending the occupation and making peace.

Palestinians walk near an opening in Israel's controversial barrier in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of A-tur (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians walk near an opening in Israel's controversial barrier in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of A-tur
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Without having clear answers and direction on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, most of the political parties are working hard to direct the voters to concentrate on the economy. It brings us back to the summer of 2011 when hundreds of thousands of Israelis went to the streets to demonstrate against the high cost of living in the country.
Both then and now, it would be impossible to get even 10,000 people out in the streets to demonstrate for peace. That is because you don’t get people to demonstrate for something that they don’t think is possible.
It is not that the people don’t want peace, they do, but they have been told so many times that it is not possible that the majority of Israelis (and Palestinians) no longer believe that peace is possible. It is not, as some people claim, that the people are apathetic – I definitely don’t think Israelis are apathetic – quite the opposite, I think that when it comes to peace, they are in despair and they don’t know what to think.
The politicians have mostly come to the same conclusions that those who failed to make peace have spun into absolute truths: If we haven’t made peace until now, it must be that peace is not possible. Also, it is clear that because we want peace so much and have not succeeded, it must be because of the other side. I wish I had a shekel for every time someone told me, “We offered them everything and they rejected every single offer” (something which is not true). I wish I could have half a shekel for every time someone told me, “We have no partner on the other side.” These expressions of despair are based on lies and half-truths, mostly made up by politicians who need to cover their own failures.
Yes it is true that we have not reached peace with the Palestinians. Yes it is true that they have breached all of the agreements they signed. But it is also true that Israel also breached all of the agreements signed with them. And it is also a fact that the two sides never signed a peace agreement. The so-called Oslo agreements were all process agreements on how to reach peace, but we have yet to arrive at a peace agreement.
There have been no “victims of peace,” as some politicians call those who have been killed in the past 22 years, because there has never been peace. They have been the victims of the continuation of the conflict.
Yes, peace and occupation are controversial issues, ones on which every Israeli has opinions. These issues are divisive; it is not easy for politicians to present their genuine positions and plans. Taking a stance on the Palestinian issue probably drives more voters away than brings them in. The leaders of the social protest movement of summer 2011 worked overtime to prevent anyone “under the tent” from using the “O-word” (occupation) or even the “P-word” (peace), because even talking about it would risk the tent falling down.
Well the tent did fall down and the achievements of that amazing summer of hope are next to nil. That is because you cannot remove from the equation the major issue which constrains the Israeli economy – that is the occupation and the absence of peace. It constrains not direct foreign investment, but affects tourism and trade as well. It also has the most direct impact on the Israeli budget – how we spend our hardearned tax money – on settlements instead of public housing, for example.
There are three political camps in the upcoming elections regarding the issue of occupation and peace.
There are the naysayers, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Along with the Likud, this camp includes Bayit Yehudi, Eli Yishai’s Yachad Ha’am Itanu, United Torah Judaism and those further to the Right.
Netanyahu and his camp have never said what they really plan to do – probably because they have no plan.
Instead, they focus on the threats. They build fear and they build walls. Now the walls are being doubly reinforced – not only against the threats from Arabs and radical Islam, but also against the whole world, which no longer agrees to the continuation of the occupation.
In order to deflect any real opposition from within, they rally around the flag and call the opposition to their position anti-Semitism. They have nothing to offer to the future of Israel except guaranteed isolation and a guaranteed next round of violence with the Palestinians.
The second camp are the “please don’t ask me to take a position besides ‘negotiations are good’” politicians.
This camp is also called the Israeli “Center.” It is that comfortable position in the middle of the road that only requires politicians to stake out the positions the surveys tell them the public wants to hear. This camp has no leader, but everyone in it claims the honor, including Avigdor Liberman, Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon. They have no real position on the issue of relations with the Palestinians. Their proven track record demonstrates that they avoid the issue. They have no plans, no constructive ideas and no vision. None of them while in office has ever even tried to talk seriously to the Palestinians, despite the very high-level positions they held.
The third camp is the one that has taken a position – the only one that is based on promising Israel a future as both the Jewish nation state and a democracy. This camp knows that Israel’s survival and its prosperity are predicated on partition, on ending the occupation and on making peace with the Palestinians. They know that there are no guarantees and it will be a difficult road. They know that we must learn the lessons of past failures and avoid making the same mistakes again.
This camp includes Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties.
This is the only camp that understands the fundamental link between the occupation, peace and the economy.
There can be no social justice in Israel without ending the occupation and making peace.
If the politicians fail to address how they will make peace with the Palestinians, then they must be demanded to state how they plan to continue to control them and the territories, how they plan to continue to deny the Palestinians the right of self-determination.
They must explain to us how they expect to maintain Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and a democratic country. They must provide some answers to the growing isolation of Israel in the world.
They must have a plan. It is not all about the price of food or housing. All of the economic questions, in the end, are linked to Israel being stuck in conflict with its neighbors and occupying millions of people who refuse to accept that status.
Despite their unwillingness to speak directly to the issues – we the people must demand their answers before we cast our vote for them.
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.