On Nov. 6 of last year, even after the polls closed around the nation, Americans were still uncertain whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney had won the US presidential election.
Next week, when Israelis go the polls to exercise their own democracy, there is likely to be no such uncertainty or suspense.
It’s all but a given that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu coalition will win with more than enough votes to govern.
The center-left, represented by Shelly Yachimovich of Labor, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni of Hatnua (formerly of Kadima), will likely have a somewhat increased representation in the Knesset but not nearly enough to force Netanyahu’s hand on most critical issues, including the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.
Not surprisingly, observers have made much of this right-wing ascendancy and relative left-wing stasis, most pointedly arriving at the conclusion that Israelis have given up on the idea of making peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, this logic goes, is against the idea of territorial compromise and a two-state solution, hence his all-but-guaranteed substantial victory in next week’s elections.
The problem is that while it might appear at first glance to be a logical deduction based on polling data and election results, this conclusion is based on several faulty premises.
First, Netanyahu has made it repeatedly clear that he supports both a two-state solution and territorial compromise, although his idea of compromise is probably not quite so generous as other Israeli leaders might put forward.
In fact, Netanyahu — despite his penchant for defiant and militant speech, his controversial moves with development plans in Jerusalem and the territories and his tense relations with President Obama — has never done anything to justify the conclusion that he is “anti-peace.”
We take Netanyahu at his word that he remains committed to the idea of Israeli-Palestinian peace. We also give Israeli voters enough credit to assume that they know what Netanyahu stands for.
And speaking of those voters, we dispute the notion that their support for Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu reflects any anti-peace position.
While different polls show somewhat different results, most of them are showing that roughly two-thirds of average Israeli citizens — including Likud voters — support a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with territorial compromise and a demilitarized Palestinian state thrown into the bargain.
We might have disagreements with the way Netanyahu does business on certain issues. We might think his skills at domestic public relations and foreign diplomacy sometimes might be lacking, but this does not equate with calling him a warmonger.
In sum, we don’t believe that it’s Netanyahu’s fault — or Likud’s, or Israel’s — that the peace process remains frozen in its tracks. We place the blame on squarely on the shoulders of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
His moves in recent years — including participating in ceremonies honoring terrorists, his stubborn and unilateral quest for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, his refusal to drop unrealistic preconditions to negotiations — have done nothing but solidify Israeli mistrust of his motives and designs.
Israelis are already worried about Iranian threats, Syrian civil war, Egyptian militancy and Hamas hostility. These are uncertain and dangerous times, not at all an environment in which to make overtures for peace with an opponent that is both unreliable and unpredictable, not to mention unreasonable.
In perilous times, voters often turn to conservative leaders, hence Netanyahu’s imminent victory. That is the Israeli Zeitgeist that will keep him in his job, not any hostility to, or abandonment of, the idea of peace.
When Palestinians themselves are ready for peace — and are willing to demonstrate that readiness — then peace will happen, regardless of who is leading Israel.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News