By Ted Belman
In the early seventies, I read Israelis and Jews: The Continuity of an Identity by Simon N. Herman. One didn’t have to read the book, much less write it, to understand that the more religious one is, the more one identifies as a Jew; and the more secular, the more Israeli. At that time, this distinction had little impact on the direction and nature of the Jewish State. But over time this distinction began to tear the country apart.
The distinction manifested itself in existential issues and the society polarized. “The Israelis” gave rise to post-Zionism revisionism, to the making of a state like any other state, to the peace process, to the notion that the occupation is the problem, not the solution, and finally, that the settlers (“the Jews”) are the enemy of “the good.”
The Israelis grew very powerful, starting from their roots in kibbutzim and in the Socialist ethos. They dominate the press, the academia, the courts, the administration of justice and, for the most part, the government.
Unhappily for them, the Jews increased in number faster than the Israelis due to immigration and a much higher procreation rate. Thus, the Israelis could see what they were increasingly up against at the ballot box.
It would be wrong to see this schism as one between the secular and the religious only. There are many religious Jews who support Labour and the peace process, and many secular Israelis who side with the Jews not only because of their Jewish identity, but also because of their negative view of the peace process.
One thing both sides agree on is the desirability of peace. The Israelis believe that a peace deal with the Arabs is possible if only Israel makes enough gestures and concessions; land for peace. The Jews believe that peace is only possible through strength, and strength requires Israel to hold on to land and to strengthen Jewish identity.
The Israelis don’t trust religious people arguing that they cling to G-d’s word as their gospel without thinking. This prevents them from being realistic.
On the other hand, the Jews can’t understand how the Israelis can cling to their gospel – land for peace – no matter how much history proves them wrong or the Arabs call for their destruction. They complain that the Israelis are just not realistic.
For the Israelis, the Lebanon debacle argues for the necessity to negotiate with Syria a land-for-peace deal and to seriously embrace the Saudi peace plan. Whereas, the Jews believe it teaches just the opposite, that land must not be ceded.
The Israelis share the views of the European Socialists and the American Democrats; whereas, the Jews are closer to the views of the Christian Right and the neo-cons ensconced in the Republican Party.
At the moment, the Lebanon debacle has strengthened the Jews, but they must be able to form the next government to solidify their gains. Ehud Olmert is clinging to power for as long as he can, and the protest movement has not coalesced into a mass phenomenon. More is needed to bring down the government.
There are a number of looming issues that must be dealt with while Olmert is still in power. As for Hizbullah and United Nations Resolution 1701, no provocation or watering down has been enough for Olmert to reject either. The Iranian nuclear threat is looming and must be dealt with. The IDF must be revitalized to meet all challenges. Finally, the Arab League announced its intention to relaunch the Saudi peace plan. Fortunately, Olmert is too weak to recommend it.
Once in power, the Jews must make far-reaching changes by adopting a constitution, which will strengthen representative government (constituency elections), the Knesset at the expense of the courts and the government, and the Jewish character of the state. Only then can Israel deal with the Arabs in and out of the territories. Israel must decide if it can maintain the status quo and resist all “peace” initiatives, or whether it is best served by a peace initiative of its own. The one I favour is to expand Jerusalem to include all settlements around it, both Arab and Jewish, and to annex the land. As a second stage, Israel could annex all lands in Area C per Oslo. To justify the annexation, Israel could hold a plebiscite among the inhabitants of the areas to accept or reject the annexation as a matter of self-determination.