|Dr. Ruth Calderone, MK|
I remember Dr. Ruth Calderone fondly from the prominent role she played as a teacher and leading light of the New York Jewish communal Tikkun L’el Shavuot (night-long Shavuot study events) at the Manhattan JCC. She was inspired by love of the Talmud to become a Talmudic scholar and to organize Alma, a secular/ pluralist yeshiva.
The NY Jewish Week website includes a translation of her inaugural speech to the Knesset, which she has just joined as a newly elected Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party MK, under the leadership of Yair Lapid. Her words are lovely as far as they go, and I mean no disrespect, but there is nothing here about the more than 20% of Israel’s citizens who are not Jews, nor anything about moving toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians. And this is the open question with “There is a Future”: how instrumental is it willing to be to insure that Israel really has a future (pun intended)?
Lapid has gathered an interesting and diverse list of running mates, including religious and non-religious figures and a number of women (albeit no Arabs). Among the best-known doves are the Meretz affiliated mayor of Herzliya (Yael German, #3) and Yaakov Peri (#5 on the party list), one of the six former heads of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency) stunningly interviewed in the Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Gatekeepers.” But Lapid’s pronouncements on the subject of peace are mixed at best.
He has recently announced that Ehud Olmert was willing to go too far in obtaining a peace agreement. Lapid’s notion that Jerusalem must entirely remain under Israeli sovereignty, for example, is a non-starter for even the most moderate of Palestinians. And while it’s understandable that he would not want to accept a full Palestinian right of return to what is now Israel, it is unrealistic to rule out the return of a limed number of Palestinians based on the humanitarian principle of family reunification, such as Olmert was discussing with Abbas.
A problem with Israel’s approach to peace-making is that the frequent changes in government necessitated by its vibrant democracy causes Israelis to have to periodically reargue and reformulate the outlines of a deal with the Palestinians. Then, instead of building on what’s been agreed upon previously in negotiations (such as in the Olmert-Abbas talks which came tantalizingly close to a successful conclusion in 2009, or the near-deal reached at Taba early in 2001), the parties go back to square one.
And they put more energy into arguing and negotiating with themselves than with the Palestinians. My nightmare is that once Israel is ready again to negotiate a deal, the Palestinians will no longer be willing to accept one. Palestinian politics have their own dynamic, and its direction in the past years is ominous: from Hamas being securely ensconced in Gaza to a growing trend in Palestinian “civil society” toward BDS and rejecting contacts with Israelis (even peaceniks) as a manifestation of “normalization” that is mistakenly viewed as legitimizing the occupation.
You are judging Israel by American standards. In Israel the parties are largely ethnically separate, Jewish and Arab. In the U.S. if we had a multiparty system like Israel’s deriving from its proportional representation franchise, we would probably see separate black and hispanic/Latino parties. As a result of separate parties based on ethnicity these parties are appealing to separate electorates. The Arab parties also have distinctly different agendas. It is better to have a party like Yesh Atid that is open to the possibility of peace and successful but puts its emphasis on domestic matters than one like Meretz, which won only three seats in the previous election.
While our friend, Dr. Mitchell, makes a good point about proportional representation, I still see Yesh Atid showing a certain blindness to the Arab reality within Israel, as well as to what would work in negotiations. Ruling out part of East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital and a token implementation of a “right of return” are non-starters for even moderate Palestinians.