Encountering Peace: Post-election wish list

Israel is a country with many crucial issues that need to be decided and fixed. This election isn’t about most of them.

 A voting box in the last Israeli election in 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A voting box in the last Israeli election in 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is early morning, September 17, Election Day. I just voted. This is the first time in a long time that I am not spending Election Day as the chairman or deputy chairman of a polling station. I am traveling to France later today to visit my daughter and granddaughter. We had initially booked our flight for September 12, but after Netanyahu decided to put us through another round of elections, we changed our flight (costing not a small amount of money) because voting is not only a right in a democratic state, it is an obligation.
We won’t know the results for many more hours, perhaps even days. This election is more difficult to call than many previous ones. I don’t believe the polls. I don’t believe that they have the tools and the ability to correctly dissect the lies from the truths. And many people, more than usual, will probably only decide which party to vote for when they are standing inside of the voting station.
Israel is a country with many crucial issues that need to be decided and fixed. This election isn’t about most of them. Israel is going to vote today mainly on the question of Bibi or not Bibi. My Arabic teacher, a Jewish woman who is a right-winger said last night in class, “I am voting for Likud, not for Bibi. I can’t stand Bibi, so I am not voting for him, I am voting for the party”.
She is probably the only person in the country saying that. Likud doesn’t even have a party platform. She is a smart woman. Does voting for the Likud mean she is voting for Amir Ohana, Yariv Levin, Miki Machlouf Zohar, Miri Regev, Haim Katz, Israel Katz, et. al.? It’s hard to believe that these are the people who inspire her or anyone in Israel.
The second issue, I believe that this election is focusing on issues concerning the future of our democratic institutions, our watch-dogs and our regulations that exist to protect the public’s interests. The Likud and its coalition over the past years, led by Netanyahu, has been systematically weakening the institutions of Israel’s democracy, first and foremost the institutions that preserve the rule of law.
This is Netanyahu’s focus both from an ideological point of view but mostly out of very strong self-interests. Netanyahu attacks the courts, the attorney-general, the state prosecution, the police and, of course, the media. Furthermore, civil society organizations that focus on human rights and peace-building have been systematically delegitimized by Netanyahu and members of his coalition.
ORGANIZATIONS THAT I strongly identify with, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The New Israel Fund, B’Tselem and many more, have been painted as the enemies of the people and the state. Our past governments led by Netanyahu have marginalized the Palestinian citizens of Israel and their leaders and have increased hatred and fear against Arabs all over this country.
Israelis who immigrated from Ethiopia experience racism and police brutality for years, and little has been done to fully integrate them into the fabric of our multi-faceted and multi-cultural society. All of this and we haven’t even spoken about the lack of socioeconomic equality and the huge gaps between the wealthy and the poor citizens of Israel.
The most existential issue facing Israel, the future of the occupation of millions of Palestinians by Israel, has barely been touched during this election. This is the question that will in a very short time determine if the two-state solution can ever be implemented and whether or not Israel can be both the nation-state of the Jewish people and a democratic state. Without ending the occupation, Israel will shortly formally become a new form of apartheid-like state with an unending conflict constantly inflaming us in violence.
Even after the elections results are published, we will not really know who will be the winner of these elections and whether or not they will be able to form a new majority government. Whoever wins, this is my wish list for our immediate future:
I hope that the next government seriously, once again, reaches out to our Palestinian neighbors with an outstretched arm to genuinely call for a renewal of negotiations based on two-states for two peoples, along 1967 lines with agreed territorial swaps, with Jerusalem, refugees and security on the table.
I hope that with a genuine renewal of a real peace process we can open the gates to serious cross-border cooperation and switch from the “us here and them there” paradigm of peace, based on walls and fences, to the only formula for peace which can actually turn into peace – cooperation across the borders. I hope that our leaders will provide us with personal leadership and reach out to their counterparts on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier and say, “Let’s meet, let’s talk, let’s build cooperation.”
I HOPE that with a new spirit of hope our leaders and the Palestinian leaders will call on all of the citizens on both sides to learn the language of the other, and that Arabic classes will open up all over Israel and Hebrew class will open all over Palestine.
I hope that much greater investment will be made in the physical and human infrastructure in Israel’s poorest periphery communities, and that we close the huge gaps that exist between Israel’s wealthy and Israel’s impoverished. Education, education and education. I hope that Israel will develop a core curriculum of subjects that would be taught universally in all of our schools. This is in addition to greater autonomy and freedom of expression for each community to shape the education and the values of their own, so we truly encourage and develop a new kind of shared society in which we all feel that we are equal stakeholders and that our values of equally important to those of others.
My neighborhood in Jerusalem is increasingly becoming more diverse, with many ultra-Orthodox families moving in. That is Jerusalem. I hope that we will continue to be able to live and let live, with not only tolerance, but with a growing ability and desire to celebrate the diversity that makes up who we are as a society. I hope that we will have a government that will increase our freedoms as citizens to express ourselves and our values with appreciation and not with animosity and hatred. And that goes for different ethnicities, different religions and different expressions of the same religion, the whole spectrum of gender choices, and a solid emphasis and value on the equality of all.
This is quite a large order and probably only a very small part of it could be fulfilled in a short time. But I hope for most is a change in how I feel about Israel, and a rebirth of my own personal hope for our future. Is that too much to ask?
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.