By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Every government in Israel, irrespective of ideological orientation, has declared its commitment to peace with the Palestinians. But peace comes at a cost: the Hebrew word leshalem (to pay) has the same root as the word shalom. Israel’s cost of peace with the Palestinians would inevitably entail giving up all or many of the settlements in the West Bank. For some, perhaps for the majority, this has become both unthinkable and undoable.
That’s why the present government of Israel seems to prefer the status quo in the West Bank as it has prevailed for almost half-a-century since the Six Day War than giving up territory. And that despite the many bloody wars that have disrupted things periodically.
This may be the primary reason why Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government are opposed to the new French peace initiative. As a result, the negative reaction to Israel’s decision to stay away is probably behind the report in the German weekly Der Spiegel telling its readers that Chancellor Merkel has given up on Netanyahu. It rings true despite denials in Jerusalem.
In view of the composition of the present Israeli government – which, compared to the extreme nationalists around the cabinet table puts Netanyahu almost in the centre, not only in the seating plan but also in the ideological configuration – reaching out to Palestinians is impossible.
The only change of direction would be – here we go again – if the Zionist Union, currently in opposition, came into the government. Some of the pronouncements of its leader Isaac Herzog can be interpreted to say that he’s willing. His spirited defense of Israel against the anti-Semites in the British Labour Party is a recent example. Most others in the leadership of Herzog’s party deplore joining the government and will oppose it tooth and nail.
I imagine that he’d justify joining on the ground that his presence would save Israel from diplomatic isolation. Now when the relationship with Obama has soured – and what happens in the United States after him is very unclear – Herzog joining the government could clip the powerful wings of its ultra-nationalists. Foreign Minister Herzog, for example, might actually participate in meetings around the French initiative.
But even those who’d favour such a move must be aware that it would mean the end of the Zionist Union and the virtual demise of its major partner, Israel’s Labour Party. A poll in Israel published to mark May Day, the festival of the “proletariat” around the world, suggests that ordinary Israelis are favouring social democracy over naked capitalism, but it’s difficult to imagine that they’re looking forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their Palestinian counterparts.
By all accounts, the feeling is mutual. There’s little to suggest that the Palestinians leaders are prepared to make peace with Israel. Any move in that direction may give the extremists – now mainly represented by Hamas not only in Gaza but all over the West Bank – an excuse to overthrow the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority and become an even greater menace on Israel’s border.
Despite external challenges such as the French initiative and the Spiegel report and notwithstanding the persistent rumours about a different coalition in Israel, the situation remains largely the same. Some say this is a good thing, others disagree.