A call to Israelis from U.S. Jews: Make peace an election issue
It is time for us, as American Jews, to offer advice to Israelis on their election.
This seems only right. For the last year, my Israeli friends have inundated me and others with comments about the American election.
From my more conservative friends in particular, I have heard endless pleas to raise the profile of the Iranian issue. “This is your election,” they say, “and economic conditions in America are the central concern. But given our common commitment to the Jewish people, we ask you as American citizens to call for America to lead in countering the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb.”
“Think of how terrible the consequences could be,” they go on, “if we don’t do something about this threat now.”
Fair enough. We are bound to each other, and I welcomed their frank call for help. And sharing their fears about Iran, I did what I could, arguing the case for American involvement in every possible forum.
Now it is my turn.
I am asking my Israeli friends to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a major issue in the upcoming Israeli election campaign.
Yes, it is their election, and I know that Iran on the one hand and social and economic matters on the other will be central.
But just as Israelis not long ago were wondering how Americans could possibly be so blind as to not see the grave threat posed by an Iranian bomb, I now find myself wondering how Israelis can be so blind as to not see the threat posed by the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. And I was stunned to read the initial statements from the leaders of Israel’s political parties reacting to the call for elections. In those statements, the Palestinian issue was barely mentioned.
To be sure, the Palestinian refusal to talk is pig-headed and infuriating. But at a certain point, Palestinian ‘stupidity’ does not help us; “it’s their fault” is not enough, even when it’s true. No progress has been made on the Palestinian front for the four years of this government’s life, and surely Israel must now come up with a plan. “Is it really possible,” I ask my friends, “that 45 years after the Six Day War, an election campaign will be held in which Israeli-Palestinian peace is no more than a peripheral issue?”
As a Jew, I have deep connections to Judea and Samaria, and if there were no Palestinians there, I would be happy for Israel to keep them forever. But there are Palestinians there, there always will be, and the settlements are exacting a huge price that Israel can no longer pay. And time continues to work against the Jewish State. European sympathy for Israel has faded, and given the realities of the Arab Spring, American leaders are more anxious than ever for an Israeli-Palestinian peace—and this is true no matter who is elected President.
Meanwhile, the demographic problem remains as pressing now as it was 45 years ago. The settlement leaders talk nonsense: They say that the status quo can last forever, or that somehow Palestinians will be transferred to the other side of the Jordan, or that a million Jewish immigrants will come. And then, when they see that none of this is true, they put their heads in the sand and proclaim their faith in God. The problem, of course, is that Israel cannot rely on faith alone. And by the way, the great majority of settlers might be prepared for a reasonable compromise if they had leaders who would propose one.
But with elections approaching, the politicians are silent. Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich has proclaimed that the election will focus exclusively on social issues; the party that was home to Ben-Gurion, Rabin, and Peres now has nothing to say about peace. The national religious camp has become the voice of the most radical settlers, Shas has mostly followed their lead, and Yisrael Beitenu is an extension of Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right opinions. This leaves the centrist parties and the sane elements of the right. But it is not yet clear if the parties of the center will organize themselves efficiently, or whether Netanyahu, who must contend with extremist factions in Likud, will speak at all to Israeli-Palestinian matters.
I don’t claim to know the precise solution; but if the Palestinians won’t cooperate—and they probably won’t—then some kind of unilateral action to reduce the occupation, return the initiative to Israeli hands, and send a positive message to the Americans, Europeans, and the Palestinians themselves will be necessary. Ehud Barak has recently floated some proposals along these lines, and many others have as well.
And so I say to my friends in Israel: You were right about Iran, and we listened. Now, I hope that you will listen: The fate of the territories is also an existential question for Israel, and for reasons of morality and practical politics, it must not be ignored. With your elections approaching, I plead with you to raise your voices on the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace.