‘Why Israel’s Right will stay in power’

‘Why Israel’s Right will stay in power’

Above is the title of Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger’s somber piece, published on July 25, using his insight as a psychologist (on the faculty of Tel Aviv University) to state in the subhead:
Carlo Strenger

There is little use in trying to convince Israelis to move towards historical compromise with the Palestinians in the near future: they will not buy it.

I fully agree with the content of his column, especially regarding the series of violent actions from Arab parties that have precipitated this gloomy assessment (I emphasize them in bold type below), but wish to draw a slightly different conclusion following this extended quote from his article:

Over the last weekend the New York Times published an editorial entitled “Israel’s embattled democracy” that expresses concern that Israel may be distancing itself from the liberal democratic principles on which it was founded. ….
…. The NYT editorial quotes experts who say that Israel’s demographic shift has led to the point where a majority of Israelis no longer trust the values and institutions of democracy. Akiva Eldar’s insightful article in the National Interest and recent polls by the Israel Democracy Institute underscore this point powerfully. …
…. The proportion of the population that is ultra-orthodox or national-religious grows because of their high birthrates, and a large proportion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union have not been raised in a tradition of liberal democracy.
But I do not believe that this is the whole story. Experimental existential psychology has shown in dozens of countries that people who are faced with existential threat tend to move to the right politically, become less tolerant and more judgmental towards those with other religious and political views.

Israel has always been under such pressure, but since the turn of the [21st] century things have taken a turn for the worse. The series of events began with the watershed of the second intifada whose traumatic nature is underestimated by many commentators. Then Hamas won the 2006 election in the Palestinian Authority, followed by the de facto partition of the PA, with Hamas ruling Gaza, not to mention the continuous shelling of southern Israel from the Strip. Add to this the Second Lebanon War, which effectively shut down the north for six weeks. This chain of events has made Israelis deeply distrustful of Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general. [My emphasis added.]
The picture is glum: this century’s first decade has made a mockery of the promise of Israel’s left that peace was possible. In fact most Israelis have developed an allergy towards the term “peace.” They believe that Israel … will have to fend for its existence for decades to come; that might and vigilance rather than diplomacy and flexibility will keep us all alive here.
As a result Israelis do not use the term “Arab Spring” at all. …. They do not trust the Muslim Brotherhood, which has taken charge in Egypt, they are profoundly worried about the horrible civil war in Syria and they are afraid that Hezbollah will, at some point, fire its huge arsenal (estimated to contain fifty thousand rockets) into Israel’s population. And beyond all this hovers the possibility of Iran going nuclear.
The psychological pressures that push all human beings to the right continue to be very high in Israel, and there is no end in sight. …
…. given the Middle East’s instability, …. Israelis will keep the right in power. ….

I have been noticing for some years now that most Israelis and their American supporters look at such untoward events as those listed in bold above to conclude that the Palestinians and most other Arabs do not want peace with Israel.  This, for example, was the shocking conclusion of the heretofore peacenik historian Benny Morris, who reacted dramatically to the traumatic nature of the bloody Second Intifada. And this is what has shattered the electoral left and Zionist peace camp in repeated elections since.

It is my view–and one that I have not generally seen expressed by others in the pro-Israel/pro-peace camp other than myself and Carlo Strenger–that the moderate Palestinian pro-peace camp as exemplified by Pres. Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad should consistently and repeatedly reassure Israel that Hamas, the Second Intifada and hardline stances on a full Palestinian right of return do not represent majority Palestinian positions.  I would also argue a view not necessarily popular within our dovish pro-Israel camp that Israel needs to be reassured that the Palestinians wish to secure a “two states for two peoples” solution; this means conveying an understanding that Israel is the “Jewish state” endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in its vote in November, 1947 to partition Palestine into two distinct Jewish and Arab states–something that the Palestinians have been reluctant to do in advance of negotiations.

I know that many readers may indignantly respond that it is incumbent upon the Israelis (especially as the stronger party) to communicate good will to the Palestinians by restraining militant settlers and ending settlement expansion; I don’t disagree.  However, it is because of the sequence of violent events highlighted by Strenger that Israel is now stuck with a right-wing coalition government.

Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez

As the weaker party to the conflict, it would be prudent for the Palestinians to be less demanding than they’ve generally been.  This is, of course, easier for me to say than it is for the Palestinians to do, given their history of defeat and humiliation (and I hate saying this).  But they might keep in mind that their Israeli counterparts represent a people who have emerged from a longer and even worse history of defeat and humiliation.  I write this on the day following Tisha B’Av, the annual observance of a day of fasting and mourning, in which the Book of Lamentations is read on the fall of Jerusalem and the successive destruction of its holy Temple (both the Solomonic and Ezra-Herodian era structures) by the Babylonians and then the Romans.  

It is because of the difficulty or even impossibility of what I suggest here that Israel may not emerge from this right-wing rein in the foreseeable future.  But we should not forget that peace-seeking coalitions (however weak and tentative) have emerged before, including recently with a moderate splitoff (Kadima) nearly devastating the ranks of Likud. And Strenger has on occasion written on glimpses of a more constructive attitude emerging from the Palestinian side.

Finally, I would urge our dovish Zionist and pro-Israel camp to not leap into the abyss by repeating dire predictions that a two-state solution is no longer possible.  The trouble with this perspective is that it’s hard to envision any other scenario (such as one unitary state for two perpetually warring peoples) as a viable alternative.

By | 2012-07-30T14:53:00-04:00 July 30th, 2012|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Richard H. Schwartz July 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Excellent analysis, Ralph. I hope it will be widely read and heeded.

    I think it is important that progressives stress that Israel needs a resolution of her conflict with the Palestinians in order to be able to avert renewed conflict, effectively address her economic, social, and environmental problems, and remain both a Jewish and a democratic state. Of course this will not be easy to obtain, but I believe it should be a priority, with conditions to provide security for Israel a prime consideration. Failure to obtain a resolution of the conflict will very likely mean a very bad future fo israel, the Palestinians, the US, and, indeed, the entire world.

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