I don’t buy that Europe or the US will change in response to Islamic activities in Paris, but last summer’s missile/tunnel war in Israel seems to have made a difference.
First, let’s check out the most popular political video in Israel:
You can find it here, but unfortunately is begins to play automatically. Hilarious, accurate, worth a trip to the link.
Now, what’s it about? It’s about the upcoming elections and popularity of the leader of Jewish Home, haBayit haYehudi.
It’s election season in Israel, and so far the most talked-about campaign ad features an Orthodox politician in an unorthodox role. In a YouTube video that quickly went viral, Naftali Bennett plays a fashionably bearded Tel Aviv hipster with a compulsion to say sorry—especially when he’s the one being wronged.
A waitress spills coffee on him: He begs her forgiveness. His car gets rear-ended: He steps out to tell the offending driver how sorry he is. He sits on a park bench and reads an editorial in a left-wing newspaper calling on Israel to apologize to Turkey for the 2010 flotilla incident, in which nine pro-Palestinian militants were killed aboard a ship after violently assaulting Israeli naval commandos. “They’re right!” he says of the editorial.
At last the fake beard comes off and the clean-shaven Mr. Bennett, who in real life is Israel’s minister of economy and heads the nationalist Jewish Home Party (in Hebrew, Habayit Hayehudi), looks at the camera and says: “Starting today, we stop apologizing. Join Habayit Hayehudi today.”
“For many years we’ve sort of apologized for everything,” Mr. Bennett explains in his Tel Aviv office. “About the fact that we are here, about the fact that this has been our land for 3,800 years, about the fact that we defend ourselves against Hamas, against Hezbollah.” It’s time, he says, “we raise our heads and say, ‘We’re here to stay, we’re proud of it, and we’re no longer apologetic.’ ”
Should a Likud-Jewish Home government form, it could represent a tectonic shift in Israeli politics. For 25 years, between Israel’s capture of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six Day War and the 1992 election of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, every Israeli government had categorically rejected the idea of a Palestinian state. Then came the 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, after which Israeli governments of both the left and right, including Mr. Netanyahu’s, effectively committed Israel to the two-state solution.
Now the wheel is turning again. “The latest conflict in Gaza was a real earthquake for Israelis,” says Mr. Bennett, referring to last summer’s war.
“For 50 days we were incurring missiles, and they just went on and on from the very place where we did pull back to the ’67 lines. We did expel all the Jews. We did everything according to the book. The expectation might have been, we’ll get applause from the world—‘you’re OK; it’s they who are attacking you’—but what happened was the opposite. The world got angry at us for defending ourselves.”
For decades, “land-for-peace” has been the diplomatically accepted equation for solving the Israeli-Arab conflict. Experience has shown Israelis that it doesn’t always work as anticipated. Peace with Egypt, achieved after Israel agreed to return the conquered Sinai Peninsula, has proved durable. But Israel also withdrew all of its forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and what it got was a haven for Hamas, which used it to fire thousands of rockets at Israel. Doing likewise in the West Bank seems to many Israelis a surefire way of achieving the same result over a larger territorial scale.
Mr. Bennett, however, is making a deeper point. It isn’t only the land-for-peace formula that has failed Israel. The other failure is what one might call land-for-love: the notion that, even if ceding territory doesn’t lead to peace, it will nonetheless help Israel gain the world’s goodwill, and therefore diplomatic and strategic leverage. Instead, after 20 years of seeking peace and giving up land, Israel’s diplomatic isolation has only deepened. And, as he points out, it has deepened over disputes connected to Gaza—from which Israel withdrew—and not the West Bank, where Israel largely remains.
“So why would I follow the bad model,” Mr. Bennett asks, “instead of strengthening the good model?”
You see, BTL, you’re in excellent company:
“Judea and Samaria is imperfect,” he allows, “but it’s working. More Israelis and Palestinians are shopping together. Driving on the same roads. Working together. It’s not ideal there. But it’s working. People get up, go to work in the morning, come home alive.”
That’s a depiction that critics of Israeli policy would furiously contest, claiming that current policy gives Jewish settlers privileged access to the land while consigning nearly two million Palestinians to Bantustan-like enclaves. That, they say, risks transforming Israel from a democracy into an ethnocracy and guaranteeing international pariah status.
Mr. Bennett’s answer is that it’s the Palestinians who bear the blame for proving themselves unworthy of statehood. “They had all the opportunity in the world to build the Singapore of Gaza, he says. “They chose to turn it into Afghanistan.” He also believes that it’s better to find ways to make the best of a difficult situation than try to reach for a solution that is destined for failure. He wants a “Marshall Plan” to improve the Palestinian economy, “autonomy on steroids” for Palestinian politics—but no more.
“The truth is that no one has a good solution for what’s going on,” he says. “We have to figure out what we do over the next several decades. Trying to apply a Western full-fledged solution to a problem that is not solvable right now will bring us from an OK situation to a disastrous situation. So the first rule is, do no harm, which is the opposite of the Oslo process.”
Read on to learn about Mr. Bennet’s background (he invented the software that protects online banking) and then feel a bit jealous when you consider that he could have been an American but made a very different choice.
By the way, the title mentions the coming together of the Israeli Left, Right and Center. This is based on personal observation and conversations I’ve had over the past few months with Israelis of all stripes. Even the most optimistic, Leftist among them has given up on the Kool-Aid that Obama and Kerry are serving.