Into the Fray: The rout of the Right.

The Israeli leadership would do well to bear in mind that commitment to the principle of democratic governance is not a suicide pact.

Lawmakers gather for a session in the Knesset. Photo: REUTERS.
Incredibly, today, except for detail in nuance and tone, the formal positions of the major “right-wing” faction, the Likud, has become indistinguishable from positions expounded by the far-left Meretz faction.In terms of political affiliation, 51 percent of respondents said they were right-wing, 22% said they were in the Center and 27% defined themselves as left-wing. Among young people, a greater percentage called themselves right-wing than left-wing– Recent opinion poll, “Israel today – the state of the nation,” Ynetnews, May 5.

At first glance, the findings of the poll conducted over the last week of April should be cause of great encouragement and satisfaction for the political “Right.” That is until you examine political realities and take a long, hard look at the political “Right’s” performance over the past two-and-a-half decades.

Organizational victory, ideological defeat
According to the survey, over half the population holds views presumably compatible with what might be expected of “right-wing” political platforms – almost double that found for what presumably might be expected of the political platforms of its “left-wing” rivals. No less significant, the “Right” enjoys greater support than the “Left” among the young.It seem the younger the age group, the stronger the support for the “Right.”

All of this seems to bode a rosy future for the “Right” in Israel. This, however, would be a highly simplistic – even deceptive—take on Israeli political realities. For the political outcomes that have taken place in the past, and seem probable in the future, provide a very different picture.

Although it is true that there has been serious erosion in the electoral strength of the “Left” and of its representation in the Knesset, the ideology it embraced has totally eclipsed that of its “right-wing” rivals.

After all, since the early 1990s, political realities in Israel have clearly shown that electoral victory has little bearing on the policies resultant governments will pursue.

Quite the reverse.

As I have pointed out in previous columns, the official ideology adopted by the allegedly “right-wing” Likud is demonstratively far more concessionary than that embraced by the post-Oslo Labor Party under the Nobel peace laureate Yitzhak Rabin. Yet any Israeli leader who were to adopt Rabin’s prescription for a permanent settlement with the Palestinians would be immediately dismissed as an unrealistic extremist.

Little more than a limousine chauffeur

Thus, in terms of the substantive policy positions today, the “Right” has totally capitulated to the “Left” and is carrying out – or at least is committed to carrying out – the latter’s political prescriptions.

In this regard the political “Right” has become little more than a reluctant limousine chauffeur, delivering its political rivals ever closer to their designated destination.

After all, during any journey, the chauffeur makes many operational decisions. To avoid obstacles, he decides when to tilt the steering wheel one way and when the other way; he decides when to accelerate and when to brake; which lane to take and when to change it…, but never the final destination. Similarly, the political “Right,” which for decades has been in a position of formal power, ostensibly “in the driver’s seat, sitting behind the wheel,” makes many decisions that affect life in the country, but seems powerless to determine its “final destination” in terms of defining the frontiers of the state and the extent of its sovereignty.

Worse, it has become increasingly compliant in abandoning its clearly stated positions on these crucial issues, and increasingly subservient in embracing those of its diametrical political adversaries.

The results of the recent poll make this puzzling phenomenon even more difficult to comprehend and to accept.

To the vanquished, the spoils?

No matter how often the doctrine of political appeasement and territorial concession failed to win approval at the ballot box, it continues to dominate the policy-making decisions of governments – even of those elected in express opposition to it.

No matter how many times it resulted in dramatic and disastrous failure, no matter how many times it proved itself to be a dangerous delusion, governments led by men who built their political careers on opposing it, failed to discredit it and certainly never discarded it.

Quite the reverse, on taking over the reins of government, they embraced it, presenting this as proof of their moderation, reasonableness and political acumen.

Astonishingly, time and time again, the prescriptions of the vanquished became the policy of the victors.

It is almost impossible to believe the situation that has emerged following Binyamin Netanyahu’s infamous watershed Bar-Ilan speech, in June 2009, when, however reluctantly, he accepted the notion of Palestinian statehood. After all, today the formal position of the major “right-wing” faction, the Likud, the party of Menachem Begin, founded on the ideas expounded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, has, except for detail in nuance and tone, become indistinguishable from the positions expounded by the “far-left” Meretz faction.

At least, I find myself unable to identify any divergence – and would be grateful if anyone could enlighten me on this score.

The “Right” has been utterly and completely – but, one hopes, not irretrievably – routed ideologically.

Rudderless Right

Ideologically the “Right” today is like a ship adrift without a compass, captain or rudder – without any ideological direction, any leadership to set it, or any means of holding to it.

The political “Right” has never articulated – much less adhered to – a clear and comprehensive prescription of how it envisions the permanent-status arrangement with the Palestinian-Arabs. Clearly, you cannot reach your destination if you don’t have one; and if you don’t have one, there is little reason to expect fellow travelers to “get on board.”

As a result, the political “Right” has found itself unable to respond effectively to the pointed and pertinent question from “left-wing” adversaries: “So what’s your alternative?” With no comprehensive countervailing paradigmatic position to promote or defend, the “Right” found itself gradually forced to give way under the weight of this onerous question, and to adopt increasing portions of the failed formula it had rejected.

So, while in opposition, members of the political “Right” made very convincing and at times even caustic critiques of the “left-wing” policy of concession and appeasement. But once in power, they found they had “nowhere to go,” and thus felt compelled to disregard their previous caveats and embraced the self-same concessionary approach they had previously condemned.

There appears little choice, then, other than to conclude that the leadership of the political “Right” does not possess – or at least has not displayed – either the intellectual depth and daring, or the ideological commitment and coherence, necessary to formulate a cogent counter-paradigm to replace that of the “Left.”

Politics abhors a vacuum

In many ways, this is an inexcusable dereliction of duty – especially in light of the resounding failure of the “left-wing” doctrine (as revealed by the devastating outcomes of its attempted implementation), and the predominance of “right-wing” preferences in the public (as revealed by repeated election results and polls such as that cited above).

Predictably, this gross negligence has begun to produce disgruntled rumblings within certain sectors of Israel’s civil society. After all, much like Nature, politics abhors a vacuum – and the ideo-intellectual vacuum left by the aversion of successive (mainly Likud-led) governments to fashion a durable Zionist-compliant blueprint vis-à-vis the conflict with the Palestinian-Arabs is generating pressures for it to be filled.

The disturbingly detrimental effects of this situation seem to be dawning on some individuals and organizations associated with the “Right,” and there is a growing recognition of the urgent need to address the intellectual vacuum left by their political leadership.

In principle, this is a positive development and has resulted in a spate of proposals being advanced from several sources as alternatives to the policy of withdrawal from large swathes of Judea-Samaria and the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan.

Out of frying pan, into fire?

Regrettably, however, most of these are poorly thought through, and even if implemented, would leave the Jewish state in a situation hardly less beleaguered – diplomatically, politically and physically – than if it adopted the perilous prescription of the “Left.”

Typically, these alternative proposals fall into three broad categories: (a) Those that would leave Israel with a massive permanent Muslim minority (up to 40%) within its frontiers, critically undermining the ability to maintain the dominant Jewish character of the state, whatever the initial electoral arithmetic; (b) those that would leave Israel with excessively long and torturous frontiers, impossible to delineate (other than on a map) and to secure (other than at prohibitive cost); and (c) those that entail both (a) and (b).

As I have demonstrated in previous columns, it is difficult to see, except under wildly optimistic, unrealistic and hence irresponsible assumptions of best case scenarios, how these alternatives could produce any outcome other than either the Lebanonization or the Balkanization of Israel – i.e. transforming it into a country riven by internal ethnic strife or dismembering it into numerous smaller, potentially rivalrous geographic entities).

Perhaps the harshest condemnation of these well-intentioned but ill-conceived schemes is the warm commendation they have received from Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the vehemently anti-Zionist Electronic Intifada, whom I cited last week. In response to the ideas being touted on the Israel “Right,” Abunimah told Al Jazeera: “The proposals from the Israeli right wing, however inadequate… add a little bit to that hope [of bringing an end to Jewish Israel]… We should watch how this debate develops and engage and encourage it.

What more is there to add?

How to right the rout of Right?

A durable Zionist-compliant alternative to the silly and/or sinister two-state principle must be based on the awareness of at least three major factors:

(a) The Zionist movement bears no responsibility to fulfill the national aspirations of anyone other than the Jews – especially not those of Palestinian-Arabs, who openly admit their aspirations are nothing but a hoax maintained solely to undermine those of the Jews.

(b) There is little point in relating to the Palestinian- Arabs – as a collective – as anything other than what they openly declare themselves to be: an implacable enemy, obdurately opposed to the preservation of Jewish political sovereignty in any form, within any frontiers.

They should not be considered peace partners or potentially loyal residents of the Jewish nation-state.

(c) To endure as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel must address two imperatives: The geographic and the demographic. The former implies the necessity of retaining the territory of Judea-Samaria. The latter implies the necessity of not retaining the Arab population of Judea-Samaria.

The Israeli leadership would do well to bear in mind that commitment to the principle of democratic governance is not a suicide pact. The obligations in the social contract between an elected government and the people who elected it is to provide its own people – not the population of an enemy collective – with good governance and protection.

The Israeli government has no obligation – democratic or moral – to sustain the Palestinian enemy’s economy.

To the contrary, it should let it collapse – and to avoid an inevitable humanitarian crisis, offer individual Palestinian bread winners generous relocation grants to help them build a better life for themselves and their families elsewhere, free of the incompetence and corruption of the cruel cliques that have led them astray for decades.

That, to my mind, is the only non-coercive policy that can ensure long-term survival of the Jewish nation-state in the ancient homeland of the Jews. If there are any others, I would be happy to learn of them.

Finally, if, as many on the “Left” claim, there is no moral defect in funding Jews to vacate homes to allow the establishment of a micro-mini entity that in all likelihood will become a bastion of Islamist terror on the fringes of Europe, why then would there be any moral defect in funding Arabs to vacate their homes to prevent the establishment of such an entity? That is the question that the “Right” should be forcing into the public discourse – and to which it should demand a rational response.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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