The Israelis have gone to the polls to elect their new government. The main issue appears to be security. But there are other issues like the economy and education. For the outside world, what matters is how Israel can be a genuine peace partner in the volatile region of the Middle East that has been regularly going from one crisis to another.
Israel can pride itself on being the most democratic country in the Middle East, but so far it has failed to grant the Palestinians an independent state and to reach a settlement with Syria over the Golan Heights. These are some of the reasons why it has many enemies in the Muslim and the Arab worlds.
There are many questions that should be answered:
1- Can Israel survive without its close alliance with the United States from which it gets the most militarily and financial support?
2- How serious is Israel about an independent Palestinian State?
3- Does it envisage sharing Jerusalem with an independent Palestinian State?
4- Concerning water, how can it be a source of tension between Israel and Jordan?
5- How deeply is Israel affected by the current financial crisis?
6- How important is Judaism in Israeli society? Is it more drifting to secularism?
There are some who argue that Israel is the 51st state of the USA in view of the huge military, diplomatic and economic support it gets from it. The Israelis may be complacent about the living and democratic standards they’re living. They may view their political leaders as the same despite the political parties they stand for.
Perhaps, the Israeli leaders are good at making wars against their enemies inside and outside Israel as their war machine is the most powerful in the region. But they are also shrewd politicians when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians. As long as the Israeli politicians become united when it comes to wars, the daily running of the country is left to take care of itself regardless of which party is in power.
Despite the apparent apathy on the part of the Israeli voters, Israel can survive only through democracy. Without it, the differences between politicians can generate into violent political and social instability, a situation Israel can’t afford if it wants to survive in a volatile regions where the “paws” of many countries and political movements are directed against it.
However, Israel should be democratic towards the Palestinians living within Israel or in the Palestinian territories, many of whom pay dearly because of its differences with their political leaders. The recent events in Gaza – military assaults and blockades by Israel- are a case in point.
The Palestinian issue is a strong card in the hands of Israeli politicians with which they can sway the voters and appeal to their nationalism. No Israeli politician seems ready to risk his/her political future by going beyond asserting the need for peace with the Palestinians and the Arab countries. As for territorial matters, there can be signing of agreements, like the 1994 Oslo accord, which fall short of being implemented because of lack of mutual trust.
Perhaps for the Israelis, delaying any compromise is an opportunity to give nothing and to maintain negotiations at the staring point despite the apparent rounds of talks that have been going for years.
It’s no wonder that the public inside and outside Israel have grown sceptical of any settlement between the Israelis and their opponents in the Arab world as each side portrays the other as uncompromising and offering very little to get too much. Maintaining one’s ground is the best mean for attack and offence. For how long will this continue? Only the politicians- from all sides – who hide their cards can decide.
Not reaching a compromise about standing issues concerning the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and an independent Palestinian state will maintain Israel in a perpetual state of war. Its very existence will depend not just on having a strong economy but also the strongest army in the region.
In the Arab world, Israel has so far direct diplomatic relations just with Egypt and Jordan which are subjects to ups and downs because of the fluctuations in the Palestinian territories. It will be better for all parties to reach a lasting compromise by establishing bridges of trust and by each getting one’s due rights without infringing the rights of the others.
Here is an audio extract of Israelis discussing the issue of Iran and Judaism in Israeli society
Ros Atkins announcing the presentation of BBC WHYS show from Tel Aviv
Ros Atkins from of BBC WHYS introducing the show