In the day-to-day political discourse, the current Netanyahu-led coalition is frequently referred to as the “most right-wing” ever in Israel’s political history.
This is, of course, totally absurd.
The extinction of the ‘right’ as we once knew it
Indeed, the “right,” as it once was on the eve of the Oslo process, is totally extinct in terms of the substantive content of its then-political credo.
True, in terms of organizational labels of what are commonly accepted as denoting “left” and “right,” political factions labelled as “right” have regularly defeated their adversaries labeled as “left” in parliamentary elections and, in fact, have for almost the last decade, comprised the ruling coalitions.
Appearances, however, are gravely misleading. For if one examines the political prescriptions adopted by the current “right-wing,” in most cases they are, in principle, indistinguishable, except for nuance and detail, from those of the pre-Oslo “left.”
It should be recalled that in the years preceding Oslo, contact with PLO personnel was a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment. Moreover, advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state was borderline sedition. Yet this was precisely what the leader of the “right,” Benjamin Netanyahu, embraced in his ill-advised speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009.
Although Netanyahu attempted to hedge his acceptance of Palestinian statehood with totally impractical and hence, irrelevant reservations, in a stroke he transformed the strategic structure of the debate—from whether or not there should be a Palestinian state, to what the parameters of that state should be.
In effect, this was a point of singularity in the history of Israeli politics, one which marked the extinction of the “right” as we knew it before.
The ‘right’s’ organizational victory and ideological defeat
For, although the “right” retained its formal organizational structure, the substance of its ideological contents was dramatically transformed. What was once taboo was now acceptable.
Indeed, today, the declared policy of the Likud Party, the leading faction of the “right,” is essentially the same as that of the far-left Meretz faction in the early 90s: A policy that envisions the establishment of a demilitarized, self-governing Palestinian-Arab entity on large portions of the territory across the pre-1967 lines in Judea-Samaria and Gaza.
The only real difference now between the Israeli “right” and “left” is the degree of resigned reluctance on the one hand, and the enthusiastic endorsement on the other, with which they respectively appraised the prospect of Palestinian self-determination. Thus, while the “right” saw it as an undesirable but inevitable imposition, the “left” saw it as a welcome, eagerly anticipated outcome.
Once the qualitative schism between “left” and “right” had effectively been bridged (or at least, blurred); once the “right” accepted the central tenet of the left”—i.e., that the Jewish state must forsake its claim to full territorial control over all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and share that control with the Arab residents of Judea-Samaria—the “right’s” ability to offer any alternative policy option—clearly distinguishable from that of “left’s”—began to flounder.
Crossing the ideological Rubicon
Indeed, in the wake of Oslo and up until recent years, the “right” focused its energies in (rightly) condemning the dangerous defects of the concessionary policy of political appeasement and territorial withdrawal that the “left” had embarked upon—without ever offering an actionable prescription of its own.
As a result, it found itself unable to respond effectively to the pointed and pertinent question from adversaries on the “left”: “So what’s your alternative?” With no comprehensive, countervailing policy paradigm to promote or defend, the “Right” found itself gradually forced to give way under the weight of this irksome question, and to adopt increasing portions of the failed formula it had once rejected.
This process culminated in 2009 at Bar-Ilan University, when Palestinian statehood was officially, albeit under duress, embraced.
Having crossed the ideological Rubicon into the “Land of the Left,” the “right” found itself in what, for it, was largely uncharted territory.
In large measure, this ideological capitulation by the “right” is totally inexplicable—for it came about after all its censure of the “left’s” wildly reckless doctrine had been totally vindicated.
After all, by 2009, the jury was no longer out—or at least, should not have been. None of the promises of sweeping benefits, pledged by the architects of the land-for-peace initiative, launched by the Left over a decade and a half previously, had been fulfilled; while all the perils, warned of by its opponents on the “right,” had indeed materialized.
Astonishing ideological capitulation
In light of the unequivocal repudiation of the “left’s” political doctrine by recalcitrant realities, one might have reasonably expected it to have been utterly vanquished by a victorious “right.”
Sadly, this was not the case.
Astonishingly, having been proved entirely justified in its criticism of the dangerous defects and detriments of the “left’s” political credo, the “right” proceeded to embrace it—at least, in broad principle.
This perplexing (and vexing) ideo-intellectual capitulation has had at least three deeply disturbing consequences.
Firstly, it has crippled—or at least, critically curtailed—its ability to formulate any cogent, countervailing ideo-intellectual paradigm that does not include significant elements of the failed political philosophy of the “left.”
In this regard, Elyakim Ha’Etzni, the doyen of the traditional “right,” wrote recently in a piercing lament (Hebrew):
“When I raised the ‘heretical’ idea that Israel should take renewed responsibility for Areas A and B in Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip, I found little enthusiasm for it even in Right wing circles. Does this mean that even the “Right” is willing to divide the Land. … If so, what remains of its ideological base?”
There is much room for Ha’Etzeni’s sense of unease. For once the “right” has accepted the permanence of Arab residence in Judea-Samaria, and is open to relinquishing control to it over large tracts of that territory, the difference between itself and its adversaries on the “left” is largely one of degree, not of kind.
But it is not only on the ideological level that the “right’s” retreat has constricted its political efficacy. The same is true regarding operational responses on the ground.
Indeed, as Ha’Etzni points out: “Not only ideology, but also reality repudiates any attempt to evade the responsibility that necessarily arises from our right over the Land, all the Land.”
He elaborates: This reality communicates with us by means of rockets, terror tunnels, menacing marches, blazing fields … murderous hate [inculcated] from kindergarten to university. All of these should be constant reminders of the failure of past attempts to divide the land. … There will come a day when we will be forced to face the question: Quo vadis?”
The mindset adopted by the “right,” which necessarily perceives of the Palestinian-Arab collective as a prospective interlocutor on the future of the territory west of the Jordan River and on some future configuration of shared control over it, seems to have blunted Israel’s operational responses to Palestinian-Arab aggression.
The feeble reaction to the incendiary kites/balloons is a telling case in point. For by its muted response to the potentially lethal—albeit, primitive—offensive, Israel, under allegedly the most “right-wing government ever,” has, for all intents and purposes, legitimized Arab arson against Jews. After all, the fact that dozens of Jews were not consumed by the flames caused by these risibly inexpensive devices is due to good fortune, rather than any benign intent on the other side to avoid the loss of life.
The perceived need to preserve the Palestinian-Arab collective as a prospective interlocutor for some future non-belligerency arrangement in the future has, paradoxically (or not) prolonged the very belligerency it was intended to end.
Indeed, by inflicting only “proportional” (read, “acceptable”) damage on the Palestinian-Arabs—by avoiding inflicting “unacceptable” damage—Israel is, in fact, signaling that it is prepared to tolerate their Judeophobic aggression against it—and its people. The result has been recurring inconclusive military campaigns in the South and countless counter-terror operations in Judea-Samaria to foil ongoing efforts to murder and maim Jews.
Time and time again, Israel has invested millions in trying to counter the means of attack rather than eliminate the will, or the ability, to mount these attacks against Israel. Thus, suicide attacks gave rise to the walls and fences, rockets to Iron Domes, tunnels to underground barriers and new technologies to locate them and incendiary kites to some yet-to-be devised, multimillion-dollar newfangled, high-tech response.
Every new terror tactic was met with some counter tactic, never an overarching strategy to terminate terror—or at least, to convey that Israel will not tolerate terror and not merely thwart it.
The reason for this ongoing flaccidity is that to undertake the required action to uproot Palestinian terror is to do what Ha’Etzni previously diagnosed as necessary—to extend Israeli control over Areas A and B, and Gaza. But since the “right” has wedded itself to the prospect of some future arrangement with the Palestinian-Arabs, it cannot bring itself to do this.
The other required ‘Victory’
The third detrimental consequence of the “right’s” compliance with left-wing parameters (apart from the previously mentioned ideological and operational ones), is that it permits the “Left” to avoid admitting its disastrous error. Indeed, many on the “right” have been at pains to convince the “left” that it can in fact “live with” their policy proposals, which do not preclude much of the political parameters sanctified by the “left.”
This is a grave error. For it breathes political life into proposals that should have been dead and buried long ago. Instead of trying to mollify and reassure its political adversaries, the “right” needs to explicitly expose the nonsensical, self-contradictory two-state dogma of the Left as the dangerous drivel that it undeniably is—and dispatch it, post-haste, to the trash can of history, where it richly deserves to languish.
Two years ago, a laudable initiative was launched to counter the prevailing paradigm of ongoing, never-ending concessions to the Palestinians. Dubbed the “Israel Victory Project” (IVP), it correctly contended that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian-Arabs will end only when Israel is victorious and the Palestinian-Arabs are defeated and accept that defeat.
Although last week I expressed some concern as to the direction which the IVP seems to have taken, there can be no doubt as to the validity and veracity of its basic tenet—that only decisive victory will bring an end to conflict.
The same is true for the ideological conflict in Israel between “left” and “right.” To ensure that there is no resurgence of the ill-conceived doctrine of the “left” that has wrought so much predictable—and predicted—tragedy in the past, the “right” must achieve unequivocal victory over its ideo-political adversaries and their corrosive credo, based on bogus enemy claims to nationhood and statehood.
Whose will is the strongest?
To ensure the long-term survival of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the “right” must halt the ongoing erosion of its political positions. For this, it needs to correctly conceptualize the conflict with the Palestinian-Arabs and derive its resultant strategy to deal with it—together with means to promote it—from that conceptualization.
In essence, the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinian-Arabs over the control of the Holy Land is the archetypical zero-sum game. It is a clash between two rival collectives, with irreconcilable foundational narratives. It is a clash in which only one side can emerge victorious; the other, vanquished.
It is a clash in which the Jewish collective cannot sacrifice its collective rights for the individual right of those in the enemy collective. If it does so, it will lose both its collective rights and the individual rights of its constituent members.
In the final analysis, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, there can, and eventually will, be either total Jewish sovereignty or total Arab sovereignty. The side that will prevail will be the side whose national will is the strongest and whose political vision is the sharpest.
This is not radical right-wing extremism or religious fundamentalism. It is just sound political science.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies
Be a part of our community
JNS is your ideological home. Situated at the center of the pro-Israel ecosystem, we provide readers with the critical context they need on issues facing Israel and their Jewish world.
You can help support our efforts — and enjoy an ad-free experience, as well as premium content and other community benefits.
Join our community and help us continue to keep you engaged and informed.