By Dan Milyavsky
Israel held parliamentary elections on March 17, and Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party won big. Polling before the election was predicting either a win for the Zionist Union, which was a center left coalition, or a tie between Likud and the Zionist Union. Netanyahu seems to have gotten nervous, and before the elections, he made two significant controversial statements on the eve of the election. First, he said that there will be no two state solution on his watch, and secondly, he warned of leftists busing in Arabs to vote in droves. This seems to have successfully shored up his support with his right-wing base, so at least in the short term, the plan may have worked.
But more permanent damage may have been done. Although bipartisan support for Israel remains strong in America, it’s becoming more of a partisan issue. Although Obama has certainly done his fair share to insult Netanyahu, Israel needs America a lot more than America needs Israel, so Netanyahu should have tried harder to forge at least a decent relationship with the U.S. President. Netanyahu has since walked back both statements, but that of course does not erase them from the history books.
But that’s all small stuff. Whether Netanyahu won the election, or Isaac Herzog won, the basic dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remain the same. In his “clarification” on MSNBC, Netanyahu said that he favored a two state solution, but one was impossible right now. He’s right. Here’s why: (sorry to sound like a Slate headline.)
-In 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed, between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Israel recognized the PLO as the chief representative of the Palestinian people, and the PLO recognized Israel, although not as a Jewish state. After the signing, Palestinian terror attacks upon Israelis continued.
-In 2000, the Camp David Summit happened, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak negotiating with Palestinian Authority chairman Yassir Arafat. This is the big one. Barak offered the Palestinians a state which included 73% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip. If the new state refrained from attacking Israel, it would expand to 92% of the West Bank. Israel would have withdrawn from 63 settlements. In addition, the Palestinian Authority would have custodianship over the Temple Mount. Arafat responded by walking out of the Summit without a counter-offer, and the Second Intifada started, in which suicide bombings in cafes and pizzerias became part of the daily news cycle for Israelis. This summit was the best chance at a deal, and the Palestinian leadership simply walked out.
-In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally decided to evacuate all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip. Benjamin Netanyahu was vehemently opposed to this at the time. As a result of the evacuation, instead of any goodwill gesture from the Palestinians, Hamas, which is more honest and virulent in its anti-Semitism than the PLO, took over the Gaza Strip, and bombarded Israel with rocket fire.
This is the context that all Israelis know, and that so many American commentators are ignorant of. This is why Israel, which for the first 30 years of its existence elected consecutive socialist governments, is so much more conservative today. Israel’s shift to the Right was a result of repeated national trauma. In order for peace to happen, the Palestinians must show that they can renounce violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state. This is the core impediment to peace.