For by … faith more firm in their unhallowed principles, the bad have fairly earned a victory over the weak, the vacillating, inconsistent good. — William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the upcoming Sept. 17 elections is the fact that they are taking place at all—after the “right” managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of almost certain victory. But no less astounding is the fact that the “left” actually has plausible chance of winning them!
(Of course, in the Israeli political context, the left-right rift is not along the usual welfare state vs. free-market divide in the socio-economic sphere, but more along the dove-hawk split on security and foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the former advocating Palestinian statehood and far-reaching territorial concessions by Israel, and the latter opposing them.)
Indeed, there can be no greater indictment of the political incompetence and impotence of the “right” than the fact that the left still remains a viable force in Israeli politics. After all, not only has their entire political credo been proven (beyond shadow of reasonable doubt) to be a disastrous blunder that has wrought death and devastation on Jew and Arab alike, but the right has been totally vindicated in warning of the calamitous consequences that the “left’s” patently ill-founded folly would precipitate.
Perhaps more than anything, its failure to vanquish the “left” reflects the lack of intellectual depth of the right, and even more so, a lack of intellectual daring.
It is true that Israel has progressed and developed almost beyond recognition under Likud-led coalitions, which had held power the for first two decades of this century, save for the five years of the brief Ehud Barak incumbency and the slightly longer one of Ehud Olmert. In terms of its physical parameters, its architecture, its infrastructure—in terms of its economic stature—its cultural achievements, its diplomatic relations and its military prowess, it is almost unrecognizable from what it was in the last decade of the preceding century.
Yet despite all of this, the “right” has not been able to inflict strategic defeat on its failed political rivals on the “left.” In this regard, it is important to note that the point is not merely to defeat the “left” at the polls, but to remove any thought of implementation of its perilous prescription from the political discourse.
Inexplicable ideological capitulation
Indeed, in the wake of Oslo and up until recent years, the “right” focused its energies (rightly) in 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 its 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.
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 proven totally justified.
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” more than a decade-and-a-half previously, had been fulfilled; while all the perils, warned of by its opponents on the “right,” had indeed materialized.
Lebanonization or Balkanization?
Unwilling, or unable, to base its own strategic paradigm on an independent analysis of Israel’s strategic imperatives and deriving a consequent comprehensive policy prescription from that analysis, the “right” took the “left’s” paradigm as a conceptual point of departure and attempted to formulate its alternative as a negation thereof.
The result was an unfortunate and unconvincing batch of proposals that were easily exposed to be either a formula for:
(a) The Lebanonization of Israeli society (by annexation of all of Judea-Samaria, together with is Arab residents remaining part of Israeli society); or (b) The Balkanization of Judea-Samaria (by partial annexation with the overwhelming bulk of the Arab population left encapsulated in disconnected, quasi-autonomous enclaves, whose orderly administration would be all but impossible).
Indeed, any dispassionate assessment of Israel’s minimal strategic needs will reveal that, to endure as the nation-state of the Jewish people, it must adequately address at least two imperatives—the geographic imperative and the demographic imperative.
This is almost a self-evident truism since if it does not, it will either be untenable geographically, demographically or both.
The former precludes any withdrawals west of the Jordan River, significant enough to facilitate a self-governing Palestinian entity. The latter precludes the inclusion of a large, recalcitrant Arab minority within the permanent population of Israel, whether fully enfranchised or not.
For more details of the perils of full and partial annexation, see here and here respectively.
Dangerous and detrimental symmetry
Clearly, the geographic imperative rules out the “left”-wing prescription for a Palestinian state; while the demographic imperative rules out the alternatives usually proffered by the “right” for full or partial annexation of Judea-Samaria together with the Arab population resident therein.
Thus, while the “left” is prepared to imperil Israel geographically to preserve it demographically; the right is prepared to imperil it demographically to preserve it geographically.
It has been the “right’s” inability to eliminate this perceived vulnerability to the charge of promoting a policy that exposes Israel to no less a peril than the concessionary policy of the “left,” which has breathed life into what should have been, by any rationale criterion, the long lifeless shell of its political adversaries.
Unless it breaks away from unlikely proposals that entail “domesticating” an addition to Israel’s permanent population of around 2 million hostile and recalcitrant non-Jewish inhabitants—drenched with decades of incandescent Judeocidal hatred—the right will not be able to dispel claims of a detrimental symmetry between the dangers entailed in its policy prescriptions and those of the “left’s.”
For that, it is not enough to point out the flaws, however fatal, of the “left.” It must present the public with a plausible and persuasive alternative that does not merely replace a geographic peril with a demographic one.
Until it does that, the “left,” in defiance of all rationality and reality, will remain a viable political force, with a tangible chance of retaking the reins of power. That is the gravest indictment of the political “right” in Israel.
Of course, one need not be endowed with exceptional powers of deductive analysis to reach the inescapable conclusion that the only non-kinetic policy that can effectively address Israel’s twin imperatives of geography and demography—in order for it to survive as the nation-state of the Jewish people—is that of a large-scale initiative for incentivized emigration of the non-belligerent Palestinian population to third-party countries.
Happily, the necessity of such a policy seems to dawning on increasing sectors of the political “right” in Israel (see here, here, here and here) although, regrettably, it is doubtful whether its promotion will play a significant part in the upcoming elections.
(Just how the right should go about advancing this crucially important policy—and the public discourse on it—in an upcoming column.)
Sadly, until Sept. 17, there is little to do in this regard but to wait and see whether, once again, the “right” will snatch defeat from what should be, without a shadow of doubt, the jaws of certain victory.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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