February 24, 2020

Left and Right: Not as Far Apart as They Seem

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

The irony of “left and right” in Israel is that while in speech they are far apart, in deed they are very similar. In fact, while the left speaks of making peace, it’s right-wing governments that have implemented the agreements that tried to trade land for peace.

Late Prime Minister Menachem Begin relinquished the Sinai to Egypt, late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon deported all Jews from Gaza, and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave 80% of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority and dismantled outposts, evacuating Jews.

He also has promised many things before each election in order to garner votes, most of which haven’t happened.

Perhaps that’s why, despite his “dramatic announcement” on Sept. 10 that he will annex the Jordan Valley (a strip of land nearly all Israelis believe is vital for security) and impose sovereignty over Jewish communities, the only people who believe him are left-wing American Jews, certain U.S. congresswomen and the Arab press.

Netanyahu’s announcement was made a week before elections in a clear bid for votes.

“As much as it is possible, I want to apply sovereignty in the communities and other areas with maximum coordination with the U.S. … there is one place where it is possible to apply Israeli sovereignty immediately after the election. If I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel.

… Today I am announcing my intention to apply, with the formation of the next government, Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.”

This seems like a gift for right-wingers. What could be more wonderful than annexing land and applying Israeli sovereignty?

But a closer, more realistic look at his words shows that there is more to the story than Jewish sovereignty.

President Donald Trump has a plan, and although he has taken a lot of confidence-building measures that are pro-Israel, starting with moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights and the adoption of new definitions for anti-Semitism, it is completely unclear what Trump’s plans are for Israel.

After the euphoria of the word “annexation” dims to an echo, one realizes that Netanyahu promised only the annexation of Jewish communities. Left unspoken is that sovereignty over non-Jewish communities would be given to the Palestinian Authority, i.e., a Palestinian sovereignty and perhaps a state.

In February, more than a month before the April 2019 Israeli elections, Fox News reported that the U.S. peace plan team had completed its work on the the “deal of the century.”

Channel 13 in Israel aired the main points of the plan: between Israelis and Palestinians, territories will be exchanged; a Palestinian state will be established in 90 percent of the Palestinian territory; illegal outposts will be evacuated; isolated settlements will not be expanded; Jerusalem will be divided into two capitals; Israeli sovereignty applies in the west of the city, and Palestinian sovereignty applies in East Jerusalem.

A Lebanese newspaper then reported that the “deal of the century” was presented to Saudi Arabia for Palestinians. According  to the report, the plan marks the boundaries of the future Palestinian state in the West Bank. It was also said that the discussion on the status of East Jerusalem would be postponed for a later date.

In a few days, Israeli voters will go to the polls, the second round of elections within a year — third if you include municipal elections in October 2018.

The distribution of right-to-left blocs in polls looks very similar to the April 2019 elections, and some voters wonder if there is any point to casting a ballot.

Despite the fact that there are many problems in Israel — cost of living, bureaucracy, traffic jams, health and transportation systems that need serious work — it always seems to be the security and policy issues and the existential threat that divides right and left, between supporters of two countries or annexation.

The right fearmongers about the possibility of a left-wing government; Netanyahu says he is the best person for the job of negotiating the deal with Trump; and the left staggers on its feet with “anything but Bibi.”

How ironic would it be that those who think they are voting for a right-wing government that will apply sovereignty over the West Bank end up with a prime minister who ushers in a Palestinian state?

If it is again the right that signs peace agreements, relinquishes territories, expels Jews and divides the land, then again it will be proof that in Israel, left-right discourse is false. Israelis must adopt a less dichotomous discourse that recognizes their complex realities and produces creative solutions based on the people of the region and not  extremist rhetoric.

Miri Shalem is the CEO of the Institute for Zionist Strategies in Israel and a writer whose work appears in Yedioth Achronot newspaper.