So it begins. Elections are once again here and the people of Israel once again have a chance to raise their voice and determine the future of this land and its people. What are these elections about? They are about deciding whether Israel will aggressively launch a peace initiative to finally put an end to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict on the basis of two states for two peoples, or if Israel will aggressively face off against the entire world refusing to recognize the inevitable imperative of partition, ending its control over the Palestinian people. It is choice between facing a tsunami of boycotts and sanctions or emerging as a regional leader and partner in the development of the region in the common struggle against Islamic extremism. It is a choice between a bi-national reality in a one-state disaster, living a new form of apartheid with one government and two systems of control – one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, or marching forward in building a partnership with our neighbors that would end Israeli control over millions of Palestinians who refuse to accept Israeli domination and control.
There have perhaps never been clearer choices for the Israeli electorate than there are today. One camp, the right-wing religious camp, refuses to recognize that more than 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Palestinian Arabs who have no less a right to full equality and democracy than the other 80% of Jewish Israelis. That same camp sanctifies land and history above sanctifying life and the future. The center-left camp sees all Israelis as partners in the identity of the state, Jews and Arabs, as equal citizens with a commitment, finally, to include representatives of the Palestinian Israeli citizens as part of the future government. The center-left knows that nothing is more important to the future of Israel, to the Zionist movement and the Jewish people than making peace with our Palestinian neighbors on the basis of two states for two peoples. No other issue comes close to the importance of ending Israel’s control over the Palestinian people and allowing them to be recognized in a sovereign state next to Israel. The economy, the drafting of yeshiva students, the cost of apartments, the cost of living, newspaper ownership, and more – none of this comes close to the importance of finally bringing Israel into genuine negotiations with the Palestinians that will put an end to the conflict, an end to claims and real peace.
I have written so many times over the past years that we know what an Israeli-Palestinian agreement looks like. We know what compromises are possible. We also know what lessons we must learn from the past failures of the peace process. We know that partnerships have to be built and fostered. We know that security arrangements must be the highest priority and that no third-party troops can replace the essential security responsibilities of the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
We should know that no real peace can be built based on walls, fences and barbed wire and that genuine peace must be built on cooperation across borders.
We should also understand that one of the highest priorities should be to rapidly develop the Palestinian economy, ensuring that our neighbors are happy and prosperous so that they will also be peaceful. This is our interest and we have nothing to be ashamed of stating that it makes absolutely no sense for us as Israelis to want to have unhappy neighbors. It makes no sense at all for us to want them to suffer.
It is time for the electorate to understand the amazing wealth of power that Israel holds to actually make peace become a reality. Israelis should understand that we totally dominate the lives of the Palestinians and have close to total control regarding our ability to close them in, limit their access and movement, to make their lives difficult, almost unbearable, and of course, the opposite too.
Our prime minister, who is running for reelection, has no desire to make peace with the Palestinians, because he is simply not willing to pay the price. For Netanyahu the peace card was a public relations stunt.
He does not fool the world anymore and he should not fool the Israeli people anymore either. He wants you to be scared and to live in fear – fear of the Palestinians, fear of Islamic State, fear of Iran, fear of Obama, fear of anyone who suggests that Israel must allow the Palestinians to have 22 percent of the land of Israel.
He has been leading Israel into direct confrontation with the entire world. He has been leading Israel into the next intifada. He is allowing right-wing fanatics to provoke violence on the religious front in order to transform a political-territorial identity conflict, which is resolvable, into a religious-messianic conflict which can never be resolved.
No Netanyahu, the whole world is not against us – it is against you and what you stand for. The world is against you denying the Palestinian people what we Jews have fought for and have won – independence, a territorial expression of our identity, dignity, sovereignty – the ability to have a piece of land we call our own. Another term for Israel under Netanyahu means confrontation with the world, more Palestinian violence against us all, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic barrages against Jews wherever they are. Another Netanyahu government is too much for the people of Israel to suffer and too much for the Jews of the world to have to absorb.
This is the time of opportunity. The election campaigns will most likely be ugly, cheap, full of mud-slinging and very little real debate on the issues. Most likely the Israeli people will not be challenged with grand visions and people will vote much more against something than for something. The most important thing is that they vote. Every citizen must use their right, their obligation to make that critical choice. Every citizen, Jew and Arab, must not think that their vote is not important, or that by voting they are not making a choice. There is too much at stake. Whatever choices are made – we will all be impacted. I am glad we are going to elections – despite the costs. There are good reasons for hope – we are a people who have survived through history. Now we must survive the bad choices we have made in the past and hopefully make better ones now.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.