Monday, January 14, 2013

Israel: wary, not bullheaded

Israel: wary, not bullheaded

David M. Weinberg

It is time to reject the politically-correct take on this month's Israeli election: That a dramatic rightward shift in Israel's orientation is emerging. This narrative is false, and should be shot down immediately and emphatically.

Pundits are saying that the Israeli Right has become far-right, absolutely opposed to any form of Palestinian statehood. That Netanyahu's expected re-election reflects a newly hard-line Israel that is telling both the Palestinians and global opinion to "go to hell." One prominent analyst wrote this week that the world "will wake up on Jan. 23 to a different Israel" and a "bullheaded" one at that.

The truth is that Israelis are wary of Palestinian statehood (for good reason). They are not bullheaded or callously defiant. They are hawkish and realistic, not wildly "annexationist."

Israel Hayom's recent poll makes it clear that most Israelis are still quite sympathetic to the notion of a two-state solution because they don't want to rule over two million Palestinians in the territories. The catch is that most Israelis don't believe that this two-state plan is workable given Palestinian maximalist demands and their unwillingness to compromise. Furthermore, the Israeli public knows that withdrawal from the West Bank at present would be suicide, given the Islamic blitzkrieg across the Middle East, along with Abbas' weakness and Hamas' ascendency in the Palestinian arena.

Put another way, the Israeli public overwhelmingly does not buy the well-worn argument, advanced obstinately by the Left and the international community, that the peace process is stuck because of settlements or lack of Israeli diplomatic flexibility.

In fact, I would argue that Israelis are pretty much where they have been since the early Oslo days when it comes to acceptance of Palestinian statehood, except that the world has never quite understood what we mean by Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinian state that Israelis can support in Judea, Samaria and Gaza cannot threaten Israel's security — meaning that it must be truly demilitarized; cannot form hostile foreign alliances; will bring Hamas to heel; renounce terror; agree to Israeli or American monitors on its borders; and accept a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian state that Israelis can support in Judea, Samaria and Gaza must be a reasonable neighbor and willing to compromise — meaning that it will not contain any large Israeli settlement blocs; will not have sovereignty over Jerusalem; and must share its airspace and natural resources with Israel. The Palestinian state that Israelis can support in Judea, Samaria and Gaza agrees to a permanent end to all conflict and claims on Israel — meaning that it renounces the right of return, stops all incitement, and recognizes Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People.

Unfortunately, the world community has not bothered to relate to these outlines for a realistic peace agreement. Instead, the Europeans and other Western leaders (along with Iran, Syria and now Egypt) have helped to ratchet-up Palestinian expectations to unrealistic, maximalist levels and have encouraged Palestinian extremism. After all, the world community is prepared to "recognize" Palestinian statehood on the 1949 lines even in the absence of any Palestinian concessions to reality; even though Palestinian leadership is unwilling to negotiate directly with Israel, never mind compromise with it!

And so, Israelis will elect a conservative government 10 days from now because they think it prudent to do so, not because they are "turning inward" or backward or developing anti-democratic tendencies. They still pine for peace, but given the situation in Sinai, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran (and Ramallah), sadly they expect conflict. They want Benjamin Netanyahu, not Tzipi Livni or Shimon Peres, to lead the country because caution, not hollow and unsubstantiated hope, is the prevailing watchword.

President Shimon Peres glibly told The New York Times this week that "There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes — love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won't get anywhere." I think I can safely say that most Israelis reject such hackneyed "Peres-ian" pearls of wisdom. They think it wiser to keep their eyes wide open, Netanyahu-style, when looking at the region and cagily calculating the risks that they can take for peace.