THINK ABOUT IT: The case for realistic pragmatism

It isn’t just the make-up of the next government that is important, but who will stand at its head. Hopefully it will be someone who is motivated by the desire to find solutions to serious problems.

Yitzhak Rabin (photo credit: REUTERS)
Yitzhak Rabin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
All my discussions with a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) acquaintance end up with me saying “well, you believe A, and I believe B,” and him replying, “I don’t believe – I know!” To say “I know” when it comes to things you cannot prove is presumptuous. Most of us have strong views about what sort of Israel we would like to live in, and what the right way to arrive at it is. These views differ if one is inclined to the Right or the Left, whether one is religious, traditional or secular, and depending on how one perceives the correct balance between Israel being a democratic and a Jewish state.
To complicate matters, there is no doubt that Israel faces real existential problems, which some believe are solvable and others do not. We also differ in what we regard as realistic, and how we perceive of our relations with the rest of the world. In this situation we have a duty to admit that no matter how certain we are in what we believe, there is always a chance that we might be wrong, and that it is not our ideological opponents whose road leads to hell, but our road – no matter how well intentioned and reasoned.
(And who knows, perhaps all the roads lead to hell.) For example, one might believe that Israeli control of the whole of Judea and Samaria is not only God’s will, but the only way for Israel to survive. But what if that is not God’s will, and will lead to the rest of the world deciding not only to signal us that our policy is objectionable, but also to act against us and impose a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip? And even if there is no problem to be expected either from God or from the world at large, those who believe in Greater Israel have a duty to explain how they perceive the future relations between Jews and Palestinians in this Greater Israel, and especially whether they are willing to forgo democracy for some other type of regime, with all the consequences, both internal and external.
On the other hand one might believe that Israeli control of the West Bank will lead to our rapidly turning into a minority in Israel, and/or to Israel turning into a bi-national state, and that the only way out is the two-state solution.
But what if a Palestinian state in the West Bank turns into a Hamas state, or worse? One might argue that we can learn from history, but what exactly? For example Menachem Begin’s peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 led to the eviction of 1,800 Israeli families from the Sinai (primarily from Yamit) in 1982, but did not lead to real peace and normalization between Egypt and Israel. However, nobody knows what would have happened had the agreement not been signed, if relations had remained as they were before 1977. Would Israel’s geopolitical situation have been better or worse than it is today? And with all the sympathy with those evicted from Yamit as a result of the agreement with Egypt, some of whom were evicted once again from Gush Katif in 2005, was the settlement in occupied territories, whose legal status was unclear at best, a responsible Israeli policy, or a game of Russian roulette at the expense of the settlers?
In the case of Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo Accords of 1993, for which he paid with his life two years later, it is said that as a result of the accords over 1,000 Israelis were killed in terrorist actions. The figure of 1,000 is undisputed, but we do not know how many Israelis would have been killed – in terrorist operations in Israel and abroad – if the accords had not been signed, and had Israel remained in full military control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In the case of Ariel Sharon and the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it is argued that all the Israeli withdrawal achieved was the rise to power of the Hamas, rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel, and the displacement of 8,600 Israelis who had lived in Gush Katif. The facts are undeniable, though once again one doesn’t know what would have happened if Sharon had not decided to embark on this policy (with IDF backing, since the presence in the Gaza Strip was a nightmare), though in this case one can agree that whether or not one believes in the inevitability of the withdrawal, it should never have taken place as a unilateral Israeli act – an argument that may also apply to the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000.
One can follow the same line of argumentation with regards to economic and social policies. For example, it is impossible to prove whether only a free market policy can solve the housing problem in Israel, and excuse the lack of success so far on the fact that the market is not really free (for example, with regards to the supply of land). Equally, one cannot prove that only a policy of deep government involvement in the construction and distribution of apartments will deal with the problem effectively, and at a reasonable cost to the state, whose resources are limited, though in the first decade of the state’s existence it certainly worked. Presumably the solution must involve elements from both approaches – neither economic Left nor economic Right.
Or take the example of the demand, made by Yair Lapid and others, that the haredim share in bearing the economic and defense burdens. Certainly in an ideal world everyone should bear the same burdens, in order to enjoy the same rights. However, Lapid’s position , as justified as it may be, ignores the question of whether the price the non-haredi, but especially secular Jewish society will be called upon to pay in terms of a reversal in the status of women in the IDF and the workplace should a major increase in the enlistment of haredim to the IDF and their greater integration in the economy occur is acceptable.
After all, the haredim are no longer a tiny minority, and are rapidly to approaching 10 percent of the Jewish population.
The haredim themselves, as one of the most extreme parts of the population when it comes to rigid dogmatism, will have to learn that they might think that they “know,” but that this “knowledge” is full of holes, like Swiss cheese, as developments within the haredi community itself demonstrate in such spheres as the use of the internet and women’s representation.
In short, though we are going to hear a lot of dogmatic statements in the next 12 weeks coming from the Right (which is not necessarily right) versus the Left (which is not necessarily wrong), religious versus secular, social-democrat versus neo-liberal etc., the truth is much more pragmatic. In the final reckoning it isn’t a zero-sum game we are engaged in, and what we should be hoping for is an election result that will come up with a combination of coalition partners which is more pragmatic and result-motivated what we had in our 33th government.
It isn’t just the make-up of the next government that is important, but who will stand at its head. Hopefully it will be someone who is motivated by the desire to find solutions to the burning problems on the national agenda, rather than by his personal ambition to survive politically at any cost. In other words, not Netanyahu.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.