Published — Tuesday 22 January 2013
Last update 22 January 2013 12:03 am
The days when Israelis tuned into the Voice of Peace radio, broadcast from an offshore cargo vessel, and threw their support behind the Peace Now movement are long gone. Peace Now, that backs a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with land swaps, is still active but instead of receiving plaudits for its efforts, its organizers get death threats for objecting to the expansion of West Bank Jewish settlements.
Some 12 years ago when permanent status talks held at Taba between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were close to fruition the majority of Israelis heartily embraced peace. In 2001, I chatted with a group of Israeli tourists in a Bangkok café who were excited at the thought of vacationing in Dubai. Going back even further to November 1977, Israelis were euphoric at the courageous visit of their hitherto archenemy President Anwar El-Sadat. Latterly, “peace” has almost morphed into a dirty word within Israel as evidenced by the popular support enjoyed by the hard-line, right-winger Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today, Israeli voters will cast their ballots for Knesset members. Polls indicate that Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu Party will lead the pack with 32 or more seats when, provided Netanyahu can form a coalition, he is set for a new prime ministerial term. His natural partners are ultra-religious and nationalist parties such as Habayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) led by the young, right wing politician Naftali Bennett whose rock-star looks and approach has a growing appeal.
Bennett’s message is crystal clear. Earlier this month, he invigorated his adoring fans gathered in a Jerusalem synagogue with the announcement “I am vehemently against a Palestinian state within the Land of Israel. There is relative calm in the occupied territories. We can ruin all this by establishing another Muslim state in our midst, like we did in Gaza, and get another 100 years of misery.” Bennett is becoming such a fearsome opponent that Netanyahu may choose to invite him into his camp rather than keep him in opposition.
Worse, there is a loudening of voices amongst the Likud coalition’s hierarchy calling for Israel to annex the West Bank in its entirety or large swathes of land slated for a Palestinian state, a call echoed by Jewish Home. Netanyahu remains diplomatically tight-lipped on this topic. A poll of right wing Israelis, carried out by The New Wave Research, found that 73 percent of the Israeli right wing are convinced annexation of the West Bank is the right way to go.
As a nod to the US and for the sake of balance, Netanyahu may reach out to left-wing and centrist parties like Labor or Kadima, proponents of a two-state solution, but the ideological divide between those parties and Likud-Beiteinu is too wide to breach and so far neither has shown any inclination to join hands with the hawkish prime minister. In a country where religious conservatives are mushrooming and rampant nationalism is on the rise, the leftists and centrists have become apathetic and defeatist on prospects for peace, preferring to hang their hats on economic issues.
Yitzhak Rabin, who received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, must be turning in his grave. Rabin’s signature on the Oslo Peace accords signified his death warrant; in 1995, he was assassinated by an orthodox Jewish extremist who is seen as a hero in some circles and is currently being coddled in prison with access to phones, television and even conjugal visits.
Israel’s 89-year-old President Shimon Peres has emerged as a voice of reason. He fears the direction in which Netanyahu and his political allies are taking the country is bringing Israel into further international isolation. It’s no secret that relations between Netanyahu and President Obama were always chilly but are now decidedly frosty over the former’s cozying-up to Obama’s former presidential rival Mitt Romney and his controversial decision to build thousands of Jewish homes on a stretch of land known as E1, a plan that will link East Jerusalem with the largest West Bank Jewish settlement Maale Adumim.
These expansionist plans signaling the death of any feasible Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital were implemented to take revenge on the Palestinian Authority for successfully achieving upgraded status within the United Nations. Obama’s nomination of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel who isn’t known for sycophancy toward Israel or the pro-Israel lobby is perceived in Israel as a rebuff. Whether in his second term, Obama will toughen up and press hard for peace has yet to be seen. “We must not lose the support of the United States,” said Peres. “Without US support it would be very difficult for us. We would be like a lone tree in the desert.”
Other veteran politicians wisely view an end to the two-state solution as akin to Israel’s demise as the only other option would be one-state. Indeed, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently warned that a growing number of Palestinians favor that option. And why wouldn’t they when the Jewish state would eventually topple under the sheer weight of demographics? The fact is that the Palestinian, Arab Israeli and Bedouin populations are increasing at a fast rate and it’s only a matter of time before Jews will be a minority.
Former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and opposition politician hammers home the point, saying Arabs will soon outnumber Jews in the Holy Land and Israel should do everything in its power to prevent “a bi-national state.” Tzipi Livni, who leads a new centrist party called Hatnuah, blames Netanyahu for “leading us toward the end of the Jewish state.” Sadly for all concerned, Israelis are behaving like lemmings trotting blindly behind the arrogant and the obstinate toward their ultimate doom. It looks like the peacemakers, remnants of a former and more positive era, have taken to growing vegetables. Oy vey!