Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post
November 7, 2007
Something may at last be stirring on Israel’s Right. Over 14 years have passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords with the PLO. In the intervening 170 months, Israel has endured seemingly endless waves of unprecedented terror and unspeakable cruelty.
The wounds are still fresh, and the pain still real, but much of it seems like one big horrible blur. The kidnapping and killing of Nachshon Wachsman, the February-March 1996 suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Ramallah lynchings, the murder of infant Shalhevet Pas in Hebron, the abduction of Gilad Schalit.
Nonetheless, successive Israeli governments have inexplicably continued to pursue still more treaties, understandings and joint declarations with our foes, just as our present administration appears intent on doing as well.
And throughout it all, the Right has proven consistently prescient, warning in advance of the dangers of appeasing the Palestinians.
Pick an agreement, any agreement, that was signed over the past decade, and you will find this to have been the case. Predictions made by various right-wing politicians prior to the implementation of the deals almost inevitably, and without exception, came to pass.
But as good as the Right has been at pointing out the failures of the Left, it has been equally unskilled at presenting a viable alternative to the public.
In the battle of ideas over peace, the Right has settled comfortably into the role of a popular, yet cranky, movie critic. He may provide solid analysis, so you keep coming back for more, but couldn’t he smile on occasion and say something nice every once in a while too? Those days may finally be at hand.
In recent weeks, Knesset Member Rabbi Benny Elon of the National Union party has been promoting a novel approach, one that may just mark an important turning point in the debate over the country’s future.
KNOWN AS “the Israeli Initiative,” the plan is elegantly simple without being simplistic. It tackles the underlying challenges of the region head on, and offers some of the new thinking that our political discourse so desperately needs.
Elon’s plan rests on three core principles: rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees, strategic partnership with Jordan, and Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
The basic idea, of course, is that the concept underlying Oslo, namely that trading land would bring peace, has proven to be a disaster, and it is therefore time for a new approach, one that is founded on a mixture of strength, compassion and diplomacy.
Notice, for example, how the first element in Elon’s plan is to solve the Palestinian refugee issue. This is not a matter of political posturing, as the Web site set up to promote the plan, www.hayozma.org, makes clear. Elon bemoans at length the fate of the refugees, noting that “not a single Palestinian refugee has been removed from the tally of refugees and become a citizen of one of the countries of the world.”
“On the contrary,” he says, “the number of refugees has only increased from year to year, while introducing fresh generations into the circle of poverty, despair, and hate.”
Arguing that the ongoing existence of the refugee camps six decades after the war that led to their creation is “both a source of shame to humanity and a grave threat to security and peace in the Middle East,” Elon calls for their gradual dismantling.
He says that Israel, together with the US, Europe and the Arab states, must find a “humanitarian solution” that would include compensation and rehabilitation. This, he asserts, is the only way to drain the reservoirs of anger from which terrorism sprouts.
Whether you agree or not with this approach is beside the point. What is intriguing is the approach itself, and the fact that it is being put forward by a leading spokesman of the Right.
The second plank of the program is even more bold. Underlining the failure of the Palestinian Authority to serve as a reliable partner for peace, Elon nonetheless does not throw up his hands in despair. Rather, he says, Israel must embrace a new partner in its stead: Jordan.
“Israel, the US, and the international community will recognize the Kingdom of Jordan as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, and Jordan will again grant citizenship status to the residents of Judea and Samaria,” says the proposal. The aim is to tie the Palestinians’ political identity to a relatively stable entity, while allowing them to express their civil and political rights in a manner that doesn’t threaten Israel’s existence.
Hand in hand with this goes the third element of the plan, whereby “In coordination with Jordan, Israel will extend its sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.” Thus, there will be no political vacuum in the territories, with Israel secure in its control over the vital heartland.
It is of course hard to do justice to a plan in a short op-ed piece, but the key point here is that Israel’s Right now has a man with a plan, and one that the overwhelming majority of Israelis would find reasonable.
SURE, IT is always tempting to dismiss politicians and their proposals as little more than an attempt at grabbing headlines. But when I sat with Elon in the Knesset last week, he was completely sincere in saying, “We were not mistaken in striving for peace, but only in the way we set out to achieve it.”
The Elon plan has the potential to change the nature of Israel’s political equation, reshaping the debate over the future road to peace. For the first time in a long time, the right-wing has something positive and broadly appealing to say to the public about the political process with our neighbors.
In contrast to what the Left has to offer, the Israeli Initiative is consistent with Israel’s best interests while taking into account the complex realities on the ground.
Sure, the critics will declare it to be a non-starter and term it “unrealistic” or “unimaginative.” And whether all of the Israeli Right will rally around it remains an open question. As one observer correctly pointed out to me, there is a difference between “a right-wing plan” and “the right-wing plan.”
Nonetheless, it is reassuring to see that the Right is not without men of vision.
Yes, the Right still has a lot of work to do in confronting the Left in the battle of ideas.
But putting forward a solid, well thought-out plan such as the Elon initiative sure seems like a good place to start.