By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
On the face of it, it’s reasonable to demand that, in a peace agreement, the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Because of the Palestinian mythology that the Jews have no right to this land, fuelled occasionally by malevolent “scholarship,” it would make sense to ensure that in the future, in addition to celebrating the state of Palestine, Palestinians won’t continue to claim rights also in Israel, even though a Palestinian minority will reside in Israel and, perhaps, a Jewish minority in Palestine.
So much for the theory. In practice, however, it’s obvious that the insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is arguably the most serious obstacle to a peace agreement. Should the chairman of the Palestinian Authority agree to it, the majority of his people would dispose of him – and not necessarily by democratic means.
It seems that Israelis know it, too. That’s why those who want peace – the majority, according to polls – urge their government to drop the Jewish state demand; those who prefer the status quo see here a golden opportunity to talk peace and do little to bring it about. For peace with the Palestinians would mean dismantling at least some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and that seems unacceptable to the powers that be.
By all accounts, those powers are under the thumb not of Prime Minister Netanyahu but of Naftali Bennett who, in addition to holding several cabinet portfolios, is also the leader of Bayit Hayehudi, the party of the Jewish settlers. He seems to dominate the prime minister by letting him talk about the dangers of Iran and leaving the rest to himself. He has also succeeded in confusing Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the leader of the ostensibly moderate Yesh Atid party, to acquiesce – perhaps because of the latter’s ignorance, incompetence or the desire to be in government whatever the cost.
As much as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be grooming himself to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister, it’s Bennett who’s most likely to be the man if and when Netanyahu either leaves of his own free will or, more likely, will be voted out by his own party hawks that see their future more with Bennett than with Bibi.
Until recently it was difficult to see an alternative. But in response to the recent passing of three bills in the Knesset as a result of coalition manipulation and horse trading, Isaac (Buji) Herzog, the leader of Labor, has emerged as a possible and very credible alternative. The Knesset now has an Opposition that has a leader who leads.
A sure sign of things to come is the endorsement of Herzog by Arieh Deri, the leader of the Shas party. The two make strange bedfellows, but they’ve a common adversary in the present government and that may be enough to turn them into friends. The ultra-Orthodox largely Sephardi Shas and its Ashkenazi equivalent have been kept out of the present government in favor of Bennett’s nationalist settler-based Orthodoxy. As a result, the ultra-Orthodox are determined to punish Netanyahu and his government. Going together with Labor may be the way.
If they succeed, liberals will have little to cheer about, because no doubt the present Labor leadership will sell out to the ultra-Orthodox just as its predecessors have done. But the prospect for peace might be greater. For there’s just enough ideology left in Labor to stay committed to peace, and enough pragmatism in Shas to agree as long as its institutions are well funded and its boys won’t, after all, have to serve in the army.