The Israeli Right is in power and clearly has the support of the majority of Israelis. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was elected democratically and its rule is without any doubt legitimate, but it is equally important to remember that the existence of an opposition to the government is central to Israel’s democratic system.
The responsibility of the coalition is to rule and the responsibility of the opposition and to present a credible alternative to the policies, principles and execution of those policies and principles to the public.
With regard to the number one problem facing Israel – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the almost 50-year binational state reality – which has become an existential issue regarding Israel’s ability to continue to be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, the current government not only hasn’t done anything, it has no policy, no direction and no vision. Keeping the status quo of not making decisions regarding Israel’s eastern border seems to be the only policy this government has on the issue. There is no status quo in conflict realities and the lack of movement has deep repercussions on other key issues facing Israel – such as relations between the Jewish majority of Israel and the Palestinian Arab minority.
The lack of any genuine political process or negotiations with the Palestinians also has deep negative impacts on the economy, and the continued decline in tourism is only one of the indicators.
One of the complicating factors is that the opposition in Israel has also failed, like the ruling coalition, to present any viable alternatives to the public. The leaders of the opposition, both from the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, have mainly focused on competing with the coalition leader in trying to present better status-quo options. In his attempts to be more Right than the Right, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog wants to build more walls and fences, and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid competes with Netanyahu in inciting against the Palestinians – including those who are Israeli citizens. And none of them, in the coalition or the opposition, have any clue regarding the future of Gaza.
Even though Netanyahu has done nothing to advance the two-state solution, he adheres to that solution publicly because he knows there is no other option. Netanyahu knows that the Left is right: there is no one-state solution. There is no sustainable future for Israel which enables Israel to annex the West Bank.
The problem is not only demography, as the basically racist argument of the Labor Party goes. Regardless of the numbers, Israel cannot be a democratic state and at the same time continue to rule over millions of people who are denied basic human and civil rights.
The “solution” until now has been that inside of the Green Line Israel is a democracy, albeit a challenged one, while outside the Green Line the Palestinians have self-rule under the Palestinian Authority, which is at best a lie. The notion of self-rule of the Palestinians in the PA-controlled areas A and B according to their Oslo agreement definition might hold water if there was some genuine prospect of a peace agreement in the foreseeable future. The designation of different statuses for land areas in the West Bank was part of an interim agreement for a period of five years which was supposed to end in 1999. The designation of the entire West Bank by Israel as “disputed” territory after 1967 might have had some validity a long time ago – but it has been in that temporary mode for almost 50 years. At some point, temporary becomes permanent. And even if the word “occupation” is politically unpopular, there is no other word to describe what exists there.
The apartheid-like reality of dual regimes under one state – with only Israel holding real authority in the West Bank – endangers Israel’s very existence, and not for reasons of physical security. The danger is in the direct threat to Israel’s existence as a democracy.
Israel’s military control over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank cannot in any way be considered suitable for a democracy.
The only solution that is viable for the future of Israel is the solution of the Left – two states for two peoples. The only viability for peace is based on ending Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people and the creation of a viable Palestinian state next to Israel. That can only be done by accepting the most fundamental idea that peace is created by people – real people – interacting, crossing borders, working together – not building more walls, fences and cages.
If Israel is to survive and to be a place worthy of living in, it will come back to the ideology of the Left, which will be embraced by the future leaders of the Right. Those who will not accept this idea are actively working for the destruction of Israel and its democracy.
The use of Hamas-controlled Gaza as an excuse to not make decisions only postpones the inevitable, making it more difficult with each passing day to implement in the future. The government should deal with the West Bank before it too becomes a territory threatened with fundamentalist Islamic control as well.
For Israel’s sake, embrace the Left and make it right.
The author is 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 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.