The Consensus Trap

From the Six-Day War until today, Israel's nationally agreed upon schemes have had one thing in common: They are nothing short of self-delusion.

For the past 40 years, the term "consensus" has been the axis of Israeli politics. This key concept refers to national agreement on operative plans that are meant to shape the future of Israeli society. From the Six-Day War until today, however, these nationally agreed upon schemes have had one thing in common: They are nothing short of self-delusion.

Indeed, no political program that has enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Israeli public has ever materialized. The first of these plans that won national consensus was the one in force from the Six-Day War until the mid-1980s. The three main principles were (a) there is no Palestinian people and there will never be a Palestinian state; (b) the West Bank will be divided between Israel and Jordan, and large parts of it will be annexed for defense purposes and territorial expansion; (c) the 1967 borders are Auschwitz borders and Yasser Arafat is Hitler II.

The ruling elite did not yet understand that the world had changed: In order to get this new reality into its skull, Israel needed the military fiasco of the first war in Lebanon, which did not achieve a single one of its objectives, and the shock of the intifada at the end of the 1980s.

In the wake of the Oslo Accords, a second consensus came into being, according to which temporary meant permanent: It was roundly agreed and accepted that there was no immediate solution to the conflict, and one could only be reached gradually, in a process stretching out over many years. The end of the process was invariably shrouded in mist, and who knew what would happen in the meantime. In this way, the need to rethink the settlement enterprise could be ignored, and the flow of money and people into the territories could continue unabated.

Only in the days of Ehud Barak did the idea of two states for two peoples begin to take shape. However - and this was Barak's great failure - the idea was not backed up with an order to stop building the settlements. The Palestinians were also very much responsible for the collapse of this plan, imprisoned in their dream of return and hopes of wearing Israel down.

Today, the two-state solution is the dream of most Israelis. The problem is that yet again times have changed: It is doubtful that this third consensus can be implemented in its original form anymore. It has become nothing but a smoke screen, symbolized in the flesh by the president of Israel, Shimon Peres. Peres is the ultimate Israeli politician, the one who is always at the heart of consensus, the one who is never guilty of anything, the one who understands everything - only 20 years too late.

A Palestinian state, which will free Israel from the yoke of occupation, is a precondition for saving traditional Zionism. Those who want a country with a Jewish majority that is neither an apartheid regime nor a bi-national state where Jews will become a minority by mid-century, must realize that unless some dramatic change takes place right away, Israeli society's existential problems will never be resolved.

The irony of history is now revealing itself: Settlement beyond the Green Line was supposed to strengthen Zionism, or as the settlers see it, save Zionism from losing its way. In practice, however, it has created a situation whose destructiveness is already visible, although the next generation is the one that will bear the brunt of it. If Israeli society resigns itself to the fact that it lacks the political power and emotional strength needed to uproot the settlements, the question it will have to ask itself is "what next?"

If Israel does not intend to evict the Arab population in the West Bank, the only solution is to give the Palestinian Authority territories in the south in exchange for the settlements. You can't hold the stick by both ends, as they say. Considering the danger to the future of the state being caused by the settlements, this is not too steep a price.

Moreover, if we are already dreaming dreams, as the new president would like us to, maybe he should set an example by trying to get the United States and Europe involved in a joint effort, padded by the promise of billions of euros, to persuade Egypt to become the Palestinians' savior. Maybe if the Egyptians conceded some territory between the Rafah Salient and El-Arish for the sake of a Palestinian state, it could have a dramatic effect. This plan has no consensus, but who knows? Maybe it could work.