Israel faces a twin peril, far more menacing to its survival as the nation-state of the Jewish people than the Iranian nuclear program or a Palestinian state.
The minute we leave South Lebanon we will have to erase the word Hezbollah from our vocabulary, because the whole idea of the State of Israel versus Hezbollah was sheer folly from the outset. It will most certainly no longer be relevant when Israel returns to its internationally recognized northern border.
– Amos Oz, “Try a Little Tenderness” (Interview), Haaretz, March 17, 2000
The ultimate test of this agreement will be a test of blood. If it becomes clear that [the Palestinians] cannot overcome terror, this will be a temporary accord and… we will have no choice but to abrogate it. And if there is no choice, the IDF will return to the places it is about to leave in the upcoming months.
– Yossi Beilin, Ma’ariv, November 26, 1993
The nightmare stories of the Likud are well known. After all, they promised Katyusha rockets from Gaza as well. For a year, Gaza has been largely under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. There has not been a single Katyusha rocket. Nor will there be any Katyushas.
– Yitzhak Rabin, radio interview, July 24, 1995
I realize that what follows may raise a few eyebrows – some in disbelief, some in disapproval. I have no doubt it will ruffle feathers – on both sides of the political divide – but if the unpalatable truth is to be dealt with, it must be addressed squarely and honestly.
For unless the problem raised in this column is adequately addressed before the election, it will, like the ones before it, be meaningless, with roughly the same policy being adopted, no matter which party wins, and no matter what they promise their electorate. Indeed, the only difference is likely to be in the degrees of enthusiasm or reluctance with which they adopt it.
Grave twin peril
Today, Israel is facing a twin peril, far more menacing to its prospects of survival as the nation-state of the Jewish people than the Iranian nuclear program or a Palestinian state.
This is the threat entailed in Israel’s wildly delusional and dangerous – and at times decidedly disloyal – political Left, on the one hand; and a hopelessly impotent and incompetent political Right, on the other.
Indeed, were it not for the existence of both these components of the dual danger, it is quite possible that neither the Iranian nor the Palestinian threats would exist – or at least, both would be greatly diminished.
If the Left were not so dangerously delusional, it would not matter that the Right was so hopelessly incompetent. Alternatively, if the Right were not so appallingly incompetent, the dangers entailed in the delusions of the Left would be far less severe.
It is the simultaneous occurrence of these components that generates the deadly combination, which renders Israel not only incapable of contending effectively with the harrowing range of external threats it faces, but in fact sustains, indeed intensifies them.
The guru, the architect and the general
The three introductory excerpts starkly underline the veracity of this grim assessment.
The one from author Amos Oz, widely revered ideological guru of the political Left; the second by former left-wing politician Yossi Beilin, arguably the principle architect of the Oslo Accords; the third, and perhaps the most stunning, from the late Yitzhak Rabin, lionized as “Mr. Security,” responsible for the practical implementation of those accords.
On the one hand they illustrate how utterly out of touch with reality the left-wing proponents of political appeasement and territorial concession are. On the other, they bear damning testimony to the hopeless ineffectiveness of the right wing.
In view of the catastrophic failure of the Left’s policy paradigm, it is inconceivable that anyone continuing to espouse such hazardous hallucinations could still be, not only politically relevant, but comprise a significant, arguably dominant component of mainstream political life in Israel.
The fact that the Right has not been able to marshal the intellectual depth, ideological vigor and political acumen to dispatch this demonstrably delusional doctrine to the garbage heap of history, with all the scorn and ridicule it so richly deserves, is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable; that advocates of this dangerously detrimental dogma not only persist in peddling their fatally flawed formula, but can still mount a credible challenge for leadership of the nation, is beyond belief.
Oslo the defining divide
In Israeli politics, of course, the real divide between what is called “Left” and “Right” is determined far more on positions on defense and foreign policy, than on socioeconomic matters.
Indeed, an avowed free-market advocate, who avidly supported a policy of dovish concessions, would be considered a Leftist. By contrast, a strong advocate of enhanced social welfare who held uncompromisingly hawkish views would be considered a right-winger, even an “extremist” – a term somehow reserved only for that side of the political divide – which in itself is a reflection of rightwing political ineptness.
(Accordingly – as a methodological aside – it is quite plausible that changing the prevailing political jargon from the misleading “Left vs Right” to a “Doves vs Hawks” divide, may not only be far more appropriate, but have practical implications in the marketability of hardline positions that extend well beyond the realm of mere terminology. But that is a topic for a separate column.) In this regard, the Oslo process was in many ways a seminal event that crystallized the essential fault line that separated Left from Right and threw it into sharper relief than ever before. For the first time, overt support for what once had been a bipartisan anathema – i.e. Palestinian statehood and negotiations with Arafat’s PLO – became an acceptable part, indeed the hallmark centerpiece of mainstream left-wing political identity.
With impressive resolve, resources and resourcefulness, the radical Left managed to convert a position that was not only negligibly marginal, but borderline treasonous, into a respectable mainstream opinion, and a fashionable badge of enlightenment and moral superiority to be proudly flaunted.
Dramatically disproven but never discarded
This in itself is a harsh indictment of the political capability of the Right. But things are much worse.
For little has changed despite the horrendous consequences of the endeavor to implement the Oslo agenda, that wrought trauma and tragedy on tens of thousands of Israelis, and death and destruction to even more Palestinian Arabs.
Thus, with facts and logic in its favor, with prudence and experience on its side, the Right has been manifestly incapable of vanquishing its left-wing rivals.
Inexplicably, despite the fact that the Left’s political credo of “land-for-peace” has been dramatically disproved, somehow it has never been discredited – and certainly never discarded.
After all, ever since ceding the Sudetenland to the Nazis in 1938, the endeavor to appease despots by offerings of territorial sacrifice has failed catastrophically. In the context of the Arab-Israel conflict, territorial retreat – whether negotiated or unilateral – has failed whenever it has been attempted: Almost immediately as in the 2005 Gaza disengagement; within months in Judea-Samaria, which erupted into a gory post-Oslo surge of suicide terrorism; after several years in south Lebanon, following the IDF’s ignominious flight in the wake of Ehud Barak’s capitulation to left-wing NGOs in 2000; or after several decades as in Sinai, which is fast deteriorating into a savage jihadist-controlled no-man’s-land, with no good outcomes remotely conceivable.
But for the grace of God…
One can only shudder at the thought of the situation Israel would now be in, had it heeded the exhortation of the land-for-peace proponents who urged relinquishing the Golan Heights to Assad, whom they deemed was someone Israel could “do business with” – i.e. surrender land to.
It is only by the grace of the good Lord (or Lady Fortune), rather than prudent Israeli policy, that we are not facing the grim prospect of Islamic State platoons deployed on the shores of Lake Kinneret and the murderous al-Qaida affiliate the a-Nusra Front on the cliffs overlooking the city of Tiberias and the greater part of the Galilee.
Yet amazingly, in a recent poll, when asked, “In light of the spread of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has this affected your stance regarding Israeli territorial concessions in the West Bank?” almost 75 percent of left-wingers surveyed said their attitudes had been unaffected; while almost 20 percent were now more ready to make such concessions. Not a single person who identified themselves as “Left” indicated that he/she was less inclined to make concessions in view of the rise of Islamic State! Even more astonishing – and unmoored from reality – is the left wing’s response to last summer’s military campaign in Gaza, as reflected in the manner in which it is gearing up for the election.
The persistent public support for the Left – especially for a seemingly revitalized Labor Party headed by the dodgy duo, Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog – reflected in current polls dramatically underscores how ineffectual the Right has been in conveying its credo to the electorate.
Impervious to facts; immune to reason
For the indelible lesson that Operation Protective Edge should have seared into the national consciousness is that it starkly illustrated the hazards of a short 50-km. border, abutting the sparsely populated rural South.
How then could any political entity be taken seriously when it is so impervious to facts and immune to reason that it ignores this lesson? How could any political entity garner support for a policy that advocates establishing a long 500-km. border that not only abuts the heavily populated urban Center, but places the country’s only international airport within mortar range, and its main traffic arteries within tunnel reach? But this fiasco is, in many ways, merely the continuation of the exasperating and demoralizing phenomenon the voting majority has had to endure since the mid-’90s – the bizarre spectacle of parties with (relatively) hawkish platforms, repeatedly winning elections, but then almost immediately thereafter embracing the failed policy of the defeated dovish rivals, which they urged voters to reject.
It would be far more than an empty cliché to state that although the Right regularly wins elections, it never really gets into power.
(For a detailed explanation of this highly detrimental and distortive characteristic of the Israeli political system, see my previous columns “Understanding Politics in Israel: The Limousine Theory” and “The Limousine Theory (con’t.): Irrefutable illustrations; egregious examples.”)
Half-baked and harebrained
There is little way to account for this dismal result other than the intellectual bankruptcy of the Israeli Right.
For with so much in its favor, the fact that it has not consigned the demonstrably dangerous delusions of the Left to political oblivion – or at least to irrevocable irrelevance – can only be accounted for by its impotence and its incompetence.
There are no good reasons for the current depressing political outcomes – although excuses abound in abundance.
It is not a matter of disparity in resources.
The Right ostensibly has held the reins of government for well over half a decade, but has done nothing to harness the resources at its disposal to promote – at home and abroad – the political credo it was elected to promote.
In the field of private philanthropy, too, there are excuses not reasons. After all, for every George Soros on the Left, there is a Sheldon Adelson on the Right. Sadly, nearly all the philanthropic funds available on the Right have been channeled into causes which however noble, can make little impact – even if they are hugely successful – on the strategic outcomes crucial to the future of the country.
Finally, there is the matter of the Right’s alternative to the Left’s land-for-peace paradigm.
For years, the Right refrained for offering any detailed alternative and restricted itself to repudiating the Left’s two-state prescription.
For this it was severely, and rightly, criticized.
Lately, several alternatives have been proposed.
Regretfully, most of these have been, at best, half-baked, at worst, hare-brained, and likely to produce outcomes no less undesirable than the two-state paradigm they were intended to replace.
In previous columns I have critiqued several of these proposals, and in the coming weeks in the run up to the election, I will revisit them with the hope of inducing positive changes.
For unless there is a far-reaching enhancement in the intellectual fare offered the voter, the grim choice confronting him/her will once again be between a delusional Left and an incompetent Right.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies www.strategicisrael.org.