The Times of Israel/Tel Aviv International Salon event, “Israel Navigating Peace and Security,” was held last night to much fanfare but was ultimately much ado about nothing. Despite its impressive lineup of speakers from across the political spectrum, there wasn’t much in the way of revelatory statements or information about party platforms that one couldn’t find online. Marketed as an event for the English-speaking community in Tel Aviv, it attracted a large crowd, including a number of reporters and diplomats (I even spotted someone from the Angolan embassy). Moderated by TOI columnist Haviv Retting-Gur, panelists were asked questions about the peace process, the fate of the West Bank, and various other related issues that produced predictable answers. Habayit Hayehudi talked approvingly about annexation, Yesh Atid about taking initiatives, and Meretz about the corrupting influence of being an occupying power.
So while the average voter is concerned with the cost of living and worrying about being able buy a home, Shaked spent most of the time talking about rockets: rockets from Gaza, rockets from Lebanon, collapsing states all around us, ISIS, etc. To be fair, this was a debate about the peace process and these are very real, concrete threats. Furthermore, this is the representative of Habayit Hayehudi we’re talking about, a party whose modus operandi is to, at best, “manage” what it deems to be an unsolvable conflict. In response, members of the center and center left–Oren of Kulanu, Yakov Peri of Yesh Atid and Hilik Bar of Labor respectively–all briefly mentioned at one point or another the Arab Peace Initiative. My axe to grind here is the operative word ‘briefly’.
Instead of speeches about ‘disengagement’ and other vague proposals, all three could have, with the time allotted to them, delved deeper into an initiative familiar to only a meager 26.5% of Jewish Israelis. The API has been around since 2002, and while there are certain caveats that the Israeli government should insert (specifically dealing with the right of return for Palestinians displaced from their homes in 1948), there is a good amount of material to work with (to see the full text of the initiative, click here).
In short, the API is a document calling for Israel’s return to the 1967 borders, making way for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also calls for a “just solution to the refugee problem”, a statement that has made many Israeli leaders nervous, as if it implies that a full-fledged right of return of Palestinian refugees is expected. In return, Israel would be granted full diplomatic and economic relations with the entirety of the Arab world. Those deterred by the ‘rigidness’ of those demands should also note that only last year Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud hinted about the flexibility of the document.
Oddly enough, even Bibi commented on its potential back in November in an interview, stating that Israel could use it as a basis for talks provided it remain flexible. For those on the right complaining about the lack of a Palestinian partner, the API effectively acts a ‘guarantor’ of sorts, helping the Palestinian Authority seal a deal. And an Arab League with which Israel has peace will be far more inclined to aid her in dealing with other, more pressing problems in the region.
The right will always have the tools at its disposal to invoke fear in voters, and to exploit legitimate security threats–it’s no surprise that Bibi has shot up slightly in the polls following the skirmishes in the north. But unless the center and left confronts the right with a real, concrete alternative to a genuinely frightening situation, they will continue their fear-mongering and successfully reap the dividends. According to polls conducted by the Israel Peace Initiative, a majority of Israelis would support a peace accord based on the API if backed by the Prime Minister. This is no small feat, and it’s unlikely a fluke. The center and left can, and should talk about issues of war and peace without fearing a highjacking by the right. Making the API a cornerstone of their campaign is a good place as any to start.