Israel's Dr. Dolittle Government Has Two Heads When It Comes to Peace

Centrists Want Two-State Progress and Far Right Wants None

Two-Headed Beast: Both sides of Israel’s government agree there is a need for quick action on the peace process. But they disagree profoundly on which direction to go.
getty images
Two-Headed Beast: Both sides of Israel’s government agree there is a need for quick action on the peace process. But they disagree profoundly on which direction to go.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published April 02, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

It’s also the story behind “The Gatekeepers,” the Oscar-nominated Israeli documentary. It features six former Shin Bet directors — all six living ex-Shin Bet directors, in fact — talking about the corrosive impact on Israel of its continuing occupation of the West Bank. It’s causing headaches all around the world for Israeli diplomats and spokesmen, who find themselves pressed to explain why Israel doesn’t separate when its own security professionals think it can and should.

Most of all, this is the story of the ungainly new government that Benjamin Netanyahu assembled in the wake of the January 22 Knesset elections. It’s an odd, two-headed creature that has a settler, Uri Ariel, in charge of the housing and construction ministry, and a peacenik, Tzipi Livni, in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians. Theoretically it will work like Doctor Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu, the mythical creature from children’s literature that had a head at each end and couldn’t move in either direction.

Conventional wisdom these days has it that this is just what the Israeli public is looking for. Supposedly Israelis have coalesced around a new consensus that embraces half of each side’s doctrine: On one hand, the occupation is a disaster for Israel. On the other hand, there’s no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, so withdrawal is impossible. It’s messy, but that’s the hard reality of the Middle East, or so says conventional wisdom.

If that’s so, then the new Netanyahu government is exactly what the Israeli public is looking for. It’s also what the voters asked for. Of the 120 seats in the Knesset, only 12 went to an explicitly pro-settlement party, Jewish Home. Another 12 went to Jewish parties that were explicitly pro-peace, Kadima and Meretz. A solid majority went to either Yesh Atid and Labor, which ran on domestic issues and ignored Palestinian affairs, or Likud, whose leader, Netanyahu, touts the two-states-but-no-partner quandary as policy.

Another 11 seats went to parties representing Israel’s Arab citizens, but conventional wisdom doesn’t count them within any consensus.

Unfortunately, the actual numbers don’t support any of that. Netanyahu may have embraced two states as a theoretical goal, but his party hasn’t. In fact, about two-thirds of his 31 lawmakers explicitly reject it. So do about half of Shas’s 11 lawmakers, though it’s unclear how their spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, would have them vote if it came to the floor. All told, there’s a solid bloc of between 30 and 40 Knesset members in Jewish Home, Likud-Beiteinu and perhaps Shas who would vote against Palestinian statehood.

As for Labor and Yesh Atid, they campaigned on domestic questions and ignored the Palestinian issue for reasons of electoral strategy, not principle. All 15 of Labor’s lawmakers and most of Yesh Atid’s 19 favor prompt negotiations toward two states. They didn’t campaign on those views, but they didn’t hide them.

Combined with Kadima, Meretz and the Arab-based parties, there are at least 50 reliable votes in the Knesset for a viable Palestinian state.

The ambivalent, yes-but viewpoint of the supposed new consensus holds perhaps 30 Knesset seats. The rest are divided between unambiguous supporters of the left and the right. That more or less reflects the voting public, according to various analyses of election returns and public opinion polling.

It’s not ambivalence that keeps Israel frozen in place, but deadlock. That’s why you hear so much doomsday talk. Each end of Israel’s pushmi-pullyu is terrified that the other end will take charge and start walking over that cliff.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.