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Brandeis' Journal of Zionist Thought
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Volume 0, Number 0

A Fork in the Road


Considering Israel's Policy Options

By Rafi Farber


June 1967 saw a tripling of Israel's territorial size in six days. The indirect results of this territorial explosion were peace with Egypt—at the expense of the conquered Sinai Peninsula—the introduction of the term "Palestinian" to describe the Arabs residing in western Jordan (now called the "West Bank") and Egypt (also known as the "Gaza Strip"), and the introduction of Israel to the international community as a powerful occupying force, rather than an underdog that needed the world's sympathy. As the years passed by, the Arabs, who had just started calling themselves "Palestinians," collected and bottled the world's sympathy for their plight. They were stateless and occupied, with no place to go because nobody wanted them. Indeed, Israel attempted to give the Gaza Strip back to the Egyptians in 1978 during peace talks that lead to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Egypt, though, refused to accept it.

Twenty years passed, and Israel found herself with an explosive Arab population on her doorstep, both in terms of its rate of growth and its propensity to recruit suicide bombers. Assuming that the status quo was unacceptable and that having millions of stateless Arabs under her wing was not an option, she had to do something.

There were four options. The first was to forcibly expel all the Arabs into neighboring Arab countries and formally annex all land conquered in the Six Day War. The second was to simply annex the land conquered in the Six Day War, grant citizenship to  the Arabs living there, and accept a binational state for both peoples. A third option was to negotiate a settlement whereby the land would be divided between Jews and Arabs, with each people having its own state. Fourth, Israel could unilaterally divide the land herself, without negotiation, and place a giant barrier somewhere in between, creating a de facto Arab state and expanding the borders of the Jewish one by including some of the territories conquered in 1967.

The first option was, to put it mildly, impossible, not to mention crazy. The world would not have stood for Arab expulsion, and the Israeli population would never have voted for it. Israel's Jewish conscience would never have allowed her to simply expel millions of people from their homes, especially considering two thousand years of Jewish history at the forefront of her consciousness. The second option was suicide. A binational state would lead to Arab control over an eventual Jewish minority, given the comparative birthrates of the two peoples. Of course, there are arguments as to when the Arab population takeover would occur. Some say twenty years, some say eighty, but simple math indicates that it would happen eventually. The third option seemed tantalizing, though very dangerous. Negotiating with the Arabs had its allure. If successful, there would be lasting peace. However, whether Arabs would seriously negotiate with Jews, or instead use the opportunity of requisite trust as a base to launch terrorist attacks, was an open question.

The fourth option was not considered at the time. It seemed like the easy way out. Don't talk, don't negotiate, and just do everything yourself? Without giving the other side a chance to even open its mouth? This is an un-Jewish, undemocratic thing to do. On the other hand, to negotiate with the other side is to humanize it, to pave the road towards reconciliation, and to open the path to a future peace. To unilaterally decide upon a settlement while ignoring the other side seemed a bit inconsiderate. Whereas the third option, if successful, brought with it the possibility of a lasting peace, the fourth only brought with it the possibility of an absence of belligerent conflict.

The only problem was that option three was far more precarious than the last option. Negotiation included giving weapons to the Arabs, allowing them a police force with considerable financial and diplomatic resources. This put many Jewish lives at risk. Regardless, the Israeli government chose the third option and opened negotiations with the Palestinians. In 1993, these negotiations led to the Oslo Accords, which then became the basis for the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.

The Oslo Accords created a slippery slope and put Israel into a perpetual Catch-22. They were constantly violated by Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), as they continually smuggled weapons into the territories to be used against Israel. There was tacit support for the terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who were not disarmed or confronted, except in token exchanges to appease the other side. Israel was regularly faced with the hard decision of either responding forcefully and not allowing one iota of the agreement to be violated, or begrudgingly accepting that the Arabs couldn't be perfect and overlooking the minor infractions in favor of keeping the Peace Process alive. Israel chose the latter. The practice of "restraint" prevailed in hopes of giving the Arab moderates the upper hand.

As the infractions built up—most notably in the sector of Arab education, which continued to churn out a factory of hatred towards the Jewish State, denying its legitimacy and even its existence—weapons were stockpiled, terrorists were flying through revolving-door prisons, and the situation was just about set for a huge flare-up. When the trap was fully loaded and about to be sprung, the final status negotiations concerning the borders of the Palestinian State and the so-called "right of return" were going on at Camp David, near Washington, D.C. That's when Arafat left the table and opened the gates.

Israel had chosen negotiations, at great cost. They turned out to be a ruse, not representative of the Arab populace, a fact that can be seen today with the recent election of Hamas—a group that calls for the destruction of Israel and the institution of an Islamic republic—to head the Palestinian legislature. In 2000, a ruthless terrorist war was unleashed, and it took Israel five years and over one thousand dead to finally get things under control enough to consider her next move.

Again, the four options presented themselves, and again the first two were again impossible. Assuming that the status quo was still unacceptable and that Israel could not maintain control over a burgeoning Arab population, there was still much to be done. That again left options three and four—negotiations and unilateral disengagement and separation. What to do?

The answer may seem obvious: there was nothing left to choose. Even those who did not and do not support unilateral disengagement from the Arabs have to be astounded by Israel's full mobilization towards that very goal, and how fast it has actually happened and continues to unfold.

In August 2005, Ariel Sharon took every Jew out of the Gaza Strip. There was much kicking and screaming amongst the settlers, but also much relief amongst the Israeli population at large. The country was divided and nearly entirely color-coded into orange and blue camps. The orange—a compromise color agreed upon by the Judea, Samaria, and Gaza council of settlers, after yellow was rejected for bringing Holocaust imagery to the forefront. The blue—a response by those who wanted to go forward with the disengagement—something new and possibly fruitful. Cars and streets were bedecked with orange and blue ribbons; rallies of tens, even hundreds of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in last-ditch efforts to stop the disengagement in its tracks. In the end, Israel was divided, but the blue was in the majority. The status quo was being abandoned after four long decades, and the picture began to change.

Israel's government at the time, which hung together solely on the back of the disengagement plan, found itself with nothing left to agree upon once Gaza was evacuated. Israel's ruling coalition government dissolved itself, and early elections were called.

What happened then was nothing less than astounding. With Sharon dissatisfied with half of his party, the Likud, for tripping him up as much as they could as he was trying to push the disengagement plan through the Knesset, he was faced with either bulldozing through that opposition once again, or separating out the supporters from the detractors. Polls clearly showed him winning the next election by a landslide, a clear mandate to continue doing what he was doing. Did he have enough support to pave an entirely new political path? He couldn't know for sure, but he tried it anyway. Kadima, an entirely new centrist party, was formed.

Of course, the sleek politician he was, Sharon kept the official position of his new party clouded in mystery, saying that there would be no more unilateral withdrawals. Nobody believed him, obviously, which is why Kadima consistently polled above forty seats in the polls—a solid third of the entire Knesset—with his old party, the Likud, crashing down from forty to a fringe thirteen.

In a matter of days, politicians from both Left and Right saw what Sharon was up to, and they joined him. Shaul Mofaz, the hawkish defense minister and former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, together with Tzachi HaNegbi; former Likud members who voted against the disengagement, in the same party as Shimon Peres, the co-creator of the Oslo Accords who personally shook Arafat's hand in 1993! David Tal, former member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party joined with Uriel Reichman, founder of the secular, anti-Shas Shinui party. Kadima's umbrella was wide enough to unite Shas with Shinui, Labor with Likud, with Sharon holding up the line.

This in mind, it isn't hard to see why Kadima was said to have no ideological consistency. Its members came from opposing political and religious ideologies. Where was the common ground? The contradictory nature of Kadima's members can be viewed either as a strength or a weakness. It can be seen as a weakness inasmuch as the lack of ideological cohesiveness can be a future sticking point and possible decay factor in the party's future. Yet, it is a strength insofar as whatever factor may be uniting Tzachi HaNegbi with Shimon Peres, David Tal with Uriel Reichman, Likud with Labor, and Shas with Shinui, must be an extremely resilient glue.

Political analysts thought that this glue was entirely existent within the persona of Ariel Sharon, and Ariel Sharon alone. Recent events have dispelled that misconception. After his first minor stroke, a litany of political commentators were saying that Kadima would dive in the polls. Political commentator Reuven Hazan said on December 19, 2005:

What happens if he has a heart attack before or after the election? What are we getting in this package deal called Kadima? I think not only will his medical condition become an issue, but he is going to have to sell his path, his team and his legacy a lot harder to the Israeli public, which will be concerned about what happens should he not be there to carry through.a

Uri Dromi, a political analyst with the Israel Democracy Institute, sung a similar tune: "It really reminds people that he is not terribly healthy and that Kadima is really a one-man show," he was quoted as saying in the same article.

Sharon now lies in a coma at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, his life hanging in the balance. It seems that, short of a miracle, he is out of the political picture permanently. Kadima will have to go on without him, and go on they have. With Sharon, Kadima was polling a hefty forty seats. Without him, they are polling as high as forty-four, with a steady average of thirty-nine to forty-one. It seems that the glue that is keeping this new coalition together is composed not of Ariel Sharon, but of the will and conviction that the unilateralism of option four is better than a repeat of the negotiations of option three.

So, the summary of the new Israeli political scene is as follows. On the Right, there are the Likud, the National Union, and National Religious Party, which, for whatever reasons—be they religious, ideological, or what they believe to be pragmatic—are against unilateral withdrawal and population separation. The Israel public sees no future in this movement because it presents no alternative to maintaining the status quo. On the Left are Labor, Meretz, and a few other small factions which mimic Sharon's platform of disengagement. (Indeed, Sharon executed the very platform of disengagement on which Labor ran in the previous election.) The Israeli public sees little future in them because they lack the strong arm of Sharon, and are seen as weaker and more susceptible to manipulation by the Arabs, the international community, and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. In the center is Sharon's Kadima party which is bent on completing the disengagement and separation strategy Sharon himself began.

So, if you are an Israeli, you have three choices. Choice one is the right wing, which poses no alternative to preserving the status quo as it was inherited in 1967. Choice two is the left wing, which, though it wants the same thing as the center, is not as strong-handed. Simply put, at the ballot, the average Israeli is more willing to trust the heirs of Sharon to fight Hamas and Islamic Jihad as opposed to the inexperienced Histadrut labor union leader Amir Peretz and his new recruits, President of Ben-Gurion University Avishai Braverman and popular journalist Shelly Yacimovich. Choice three is Kadima, which, with a combination of hard-line fighters like Mofaz and diplomacy experts like Peres, has a combination that can lead to the undoing of the problem brought upon Israel by the Six Day War.

The result: Israeli territory will be expanded, and the Arabs will have a de facto state. A poll at forty-four seats can't be wrong. Israel wants disengagement. She has foregone the possibility of a lasting peace for the certainty of an absence of belligerent conflict. As a serious and existentially threatening Iranian nuclear problem looms on the horizon, the Palestinian nuisance can be tabled with a large fence for now, especially since there is no other feasible option.


Works Cited

Matza, Michael. "Sharon Suffers Mild Stroke; Episode Raises Doubts About New Party." JewishWorldReview.com. 19 Dec. 2005. <http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1205/sharon_stroke.php3>. Accessed 6 Mar. 2006.

 


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Chalav U'Dvash: Brandeis' Journal of Zionist Thought (Print ISSN 1559-1069, Online ISSN 1559-1077) is an independent forum for discussion relating to Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish People and is a recognized club by the Brandeis Student Union. We publish a journal twice per semester, and copies are available free-of-charge to Brandeis students. Contact us to request copies.

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