I know how you’re feeling. Your despair is palpable. Your resignation is visceral; your frustration is visible. You open The New York Times, Ha’aretz or The Jerusalem Post and you think you don’t know the place anymore. You can’t swallow, you fume. You give up.
You’ve always supported Israel. You’ve seen its faults, true, but never lost sight of its attributes and its potential. You’ve been, in other words, among the moderate center, fighting for a strong, Jewish and democratic state. But, lately your doubts have been overwhelming you. You can’t help but wonder, have we lost?
The answer is “No,” we haven’t lost. In fact, however counterintuitive it may seem, we are winning, no matter how ugly the route to the end-zone may be.
Still, I know the pain you’re feeling. You reminisce about the 1960s brochures romantically depicting an orange-picking desert-conquering pioneering nation, the journey the nascent state took from “the precipice of extinction” to “invincibility in Six Days,” the fall of the Soviet Union, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Nobel Laureates, the peace process bringing hope and optimism.
And then, you think to yourself, something went terribly wrong.
Now it’s all about political antics. There’s no diplomatic process today “because of the Arabs”; Israel is isolated in the world “because the international community is corrupt and hypocritical anyway”; settlers are depicted as “the embodiment of new Zionism”; the expulsion of 6-year-old Sudanese or Eritrean or Philipino kids is justified “because they’re illegal” even though they grew up here and speak nothing but Hebrew; Sheldon Adelson is the intellectual mentor of Israel’s Prime Minister, the “king” of modern Israel, the real deal, unlike David Ben Gurion; an ongoing, and totally avoidable, rift with President Obama was inevitable “because he hates Israel and never visited” even though President Peres and Defense Minister Barak called him “a man we trust, the President who helped Israel more than any other President.”
And so, you say to yourself: I’m no die-hard leftist, no bleeding-heart liberal. Never have been. I have my reservations about the nasty neighborhood Israel lives in and appreciate the dangers Israel faces. But, still, I can’t help but ask, is this the Israel I love, the Israel I support, the Israel I was so proud of? Are the Israelis inexorably marching towards becoming a binational state? Or do they intend to rule their Palestinian neighbors indefinitely? Have they ceased to recognize the importance of being Jewish and democratic? This just can’t be.
It can’t be and it isn’t. Us moderates are in fact winning the war for Israel’s future. Here is why:
A majority of Israelis now accept the “two-state” solution. Not enthusiastically, not without reservations, qualifications or apprehension, but they accept it.
A majority of Israelis recognize that any final status agreement will result in the establishment of a Palestinian state. Sixty-five percent of Israelis agree that in the context of an agreed-upon deal, 25 percent (about 80,000) of the settlers will have to be relocated and the settlements dismantled. The remaining 75 percent live on approximately 9 percent of the West Bank. Israelis understand that that area — the three main settlement blocs — will be incorporated into Israel in exchange for equally sized land-swaps.
That same 65 percent of Israelis do not support the settlement enterprise. They think it was a colossal waste of money and resources (approximately $80 billion since 1967, including defense expenditures), and has weakened Israel both domestically and in the international arena.
If you were to resubmit and repackage the “Clinton Parameters” (presented at an IPF dinner in January 2001), Israelis would buy it. Many have buyer’s remorse over the way the peace process was conducted — but few think we should stay in the West Bank forever.
Netanyahu is Prime Minister by virtue of 24 percent of the vote. He did not usurp power nor manipulate the system. This is the essence of our [utterly dysfunctional] system. Can you imagine President Obama re-elected, or Mitt Romney elected, with 24 percent of the vote? And still, even of those 24 percent who voted for Netanyahu, half recognize the demographic realities endangering Israel’s future (as soon as 2020) and accept the “two-state” model. Grudgingly, but nonetheless accept it.
The reason you are not hearing this silent majority on this issue is because Netanyahu succeeded in shifting the debate and discourse to Iran. Israelis also tired of “the peace process-as cult,” while attention was diverted to the economy and the shrinking middle class.
But this distraction is only temporary.
Israelis know that, tragically, time is on the Palestinians’ side. All they need to do is to wait patiently and then appeal to the world for a “one-man one-vote” principle to be applied to them. No Netanyahu Alamo stand speech will change that.
Israelis also know that the absence of a diplomatic process results from a combination of regional developments but also can be attributed to Israel’s shortsightedness and lack of statesmanship and creativity. No one has any illusions about the Palestinians. They are neither Swedes nor a collection of Thomas Jeffersons. But they are here to stay, despite what the settler-nation tries to con you into believing on the pages of The New York Times.
At its core, the Israeli public — much like the American Jewish mainstream public — know what is the right thing to do.
The center is where the majority of Israelis are. It is where the majority of American Jews are. It is the right place to be. It is the place from which solutions and pragmatic policies will emerge after both the right and left have exhausted their usefulness.
Despite the lack of political representation or expression, we are the majority. So stand up and stop whining. Our time is coming. And it’s nice to be the majority for a change.
Alon Pinkas served as consul general of Israel in the United States (2000-2004). He participated in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and has served as an Israeli delegate to Syrian and Lebanese peace talks. Pinkas was a foreign policy advisor for Prime Minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff to several ministers of foreign affairs.