Let’s take a quick look at the phrase that is now so widespread − “a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.” This phrase, which expresses a clear diplomatic position, has over the years turned into a symbol of fraud, hypocrisy and naivete.
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Years ago, when right-wing spokesmen said, “A Palestinian state will never be,” both opponents and supporters knew where these spokesmen stood. Today, right-wing spokesmen say the exact opposite, but the meaning is almost identical.
I wouldn’t have seized on this phrase it it weren’t for the fact that I believe it, better than anything else, expresses the revolution we have undergone, from the age of innocence in expression to the age of sophistication and evasion.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel” in 2009, his statement was greeted with shock on the right and great satisfaction on the left. But slowly, the mood shifted.
“True, that’s what he said,” pundits explained. “But he conditioned it on Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and to that, the Palestinians will never agree.” And if you go out into the streets and ask passersby whether they think the prime minister is ready for a deal that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, many will surely respond, “It’s true that he said it, but he didn’t really mean it, and he’s hoping the other side will make it impossible.”
I recently spoke with people who were in Netanyahu’s inner circle and dealt with foreign affairs and defense issues. Not one of them could say for sure what the prime minister wants. One of them said, “He’s playing a complicated game of poker with the Obama administration and is keeping his cards close to his chest.” In other words, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon isn’t wrong to assume that the prime minister doesn’t want a Palestinian state to be established, just as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni isn’t wrong to be certain that Netanyahu backs her efforts toward peace.
The really troubling problem isn’t just the use of doublespeak in public pronouncements, but, even more, the fact that this reinforces the view that politicians and statesmen are deceivers who don’t tell the truth. We always knew there was a politics of shadows, whose job was to blur substance and opinions. But we also knew that a public figure’s credibility, consistency and wisdom were irreplaceable assets. Today, the message that is being instilled is that lack of credibility is an almost legitimate behavioral norm.
“I will reduce the burden on the middle class,” Yair Lapid declared before the election. Now he is swearing that if he does, “we’ll turn into Greece or Spain.” Everyone knows that had Netanyahu formed a different government, Lapid would have been taking up the cause of the middle class from every possible platform. But the public hears, is astonished, and moves on. Fact: The two people who are currently spoken of as future candidates for the national leadership are Netanyahu and Lapid.
The new norm isn’t “I told the truth,” but “I pulled a fast one, didn’t I?” The statesman need not fear the voters’ judgment if he lies or falsifies. Clever use of Twitter, moving posts on Facebook and a convincing appearance on television will lead many to believe that what used to be the truth is now the exact opposite of the truth.
Before our very eyes, new generations are emerging that are no worse than the previous generations, but have been sentenced to grow up in a deceptive reality in which the truth has no value, democratic principles have no value and civic commitment to a free society has no value. This is the danger that it is vital to prevent, and vital to battle against.