Opinion |

Instead of Resolving the Conflict, Israel Goes to Elections Again and Again

Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu votes in parliamentary elections in Jerusalem, 2015.
Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu votes in parliamentary elections in Jerusalem, 2015.Credit: אי־פי

Israel’s repeated election campaigns are the most concrete manifestation of the trap that binds Israeli reality. And no, this trap is not the product of the internal contradiction between a Jewish state and a democratic state, as many are prone to believe. If that was the issue, Israel would have never been established in the first place. If anything, the reverse is true: The popular acceptance of the state’s definition as Jewish and democratic, and the subsequent replacement of the Declaration of Independence with the nation-state law as Israel’s calling card is where Israel lost its way.

It didn’t come out of nowhere. This political dead end is a product of a diplomatic dead end. That channel was also blocked by the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Benjamin Netanyahu placed a firm condition that the Palestinians could not accept: “There will be no agreement without the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.” Why not be content with them recognizing the State of Israel? It’s amazing to recall how Yair Lapid opposed it at the time, when the demand first surfaced, saying, “My father didn’t come from the Budapest ghetto to Haifa to receive recognition from Abu Mazen.” That was in 2013, before he broke right (and then left). And it’s amazing that even after the nation-state law came into effect, ostensibly imposing that recognition, Netanyahu continued to demand it as an essential condition.

That which served Netanyahu to paralyze the diplomatic arena with the Palestinians, has returned like a boomerang to paralyze Israel’s political arena. Rather than discussing a territorial compromise and respecting the Palestinian right to self-determination, we have fallen into renewed debate about Israel’s right to self-definition. Instead of discussing the establishment of a Palestinian state, we're discussing our right to exist. Instead of discussing 1967, we have returned to 1948.

What could illustrate this better than the Labor’s decision to call itself “The Zionist Camp”? Where did the Zionist part suddenly come from in 2014? In this regard, the left is no less to blame than the right for the political dead end.

The left thought that it could distinguish itself from the right if every time the right said “Jewish state,” they added “and democratic.” But adopting this definition is an attempt to inorganically engineer reality. The State of Israel is good enough. There is no law that can democratically (by majority rule) prevent what Israel fears the most (the loss of the majority). And in any event, if you want to define Israel, you can’t do it in the middle of a conflict, with no set borders, while militarily controlling another people.

The right wasn’t scared off by the addition of “democratic.” It just reduced democracy to a formal mechanism, leaving elections as the only consensual expression of democracy. Therefore, without a solution to the conflict, we return to this mechanism over and over with no ability to move forward, like a tic that appears as a symptom of unresolved neurosis. The blocs will only manage to organize around a new push for a solution. Without truly addressing Israel’s core issues, there is no way to arrange the political map. Everything derives from that.

If we needed proof of the ways Israeli and Palestinian lives are interconnected, we have received it in spades. It turns out you can’t run from the conflict. The reality of the two nations is one. The future of one depends on the other. You can’t freeze one part of that reality. Israel will continue seeing repeated election cycles until it understands that as long as the diplomatic paralysis persists, so will the political paralysis.

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