As Israel’s 56th Independence Day approaches, stock-taking easily produces negatives. Continuing suicide bombs, unbridled hatred of Israel and Jews throughout much of the Arab world, international condemnation of the Jewish state, and unresolved economic and social issues do not make for a gala celebration.
This year, while we give thanks for the existence of the strong State of Israel that is a haven for Jews and a successful democracy, and for the resilience of Israel in the face of terrorism, there is one additional development that demands attention, one which should not be taken for granted and that offers hope for the future. It is that Israelis — leaders and the public — are more united on fundamental issues of peace and security than they have been in years.
Israel has been a state marked by deep ideological division going back decades. Yet today, an emerging consensus should make for a stronger Israel in the face of the hostility that continues to plague the country. This consensus is manifest in the decision by Prime Minister Sharon to propose his unilateral disengagement plan and in the evidence that the vast majority of Israelis — on the right, center and left — support that decision.
Many themes that were historically either the cause of great division or were generally challenged are now part of the emerging consensus and the basis for unity.
First is the desire not to rule over millions of Palestinians. Old illusions about the ability to do so have been eroding for years, but now both sides of the political spectrum have determined that it is not good for Israel to be in that position.
Second is the recognition that demographic realities are not in Israel’s favor as long as Israel holds on to the territories; that not only is there the projection of a Palestinian majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River by the year 2020, but that, increasingly, if change does not take place, there will be calls for one state in Palestine of Jews and Arabs.
Third is the belief that, at least for now, Israel does not have a partner for peace. Unlike after Oslo when the country was divided as to whether the Palestinian Authority had changed, today most Israelis believe there is no Palestinian peacemaker, no one ready to take on the terrorists, no one to stop the hatred and be willing to negotiate a compromise process.
Fourth, as a result of these and other realities, is a recognition that Israel must, as best it can, control its own destiny and protect its own interests. In this regard, Israelis are now ready to take steps that have long been rejected as dangerous — making major concessions without getting anything in return from the other side. After the Six-Day War, Israel in effect developed a “Never Again” policy: it would never again make territorial concessions without recognition and peace from the other side. Concessions without peace were deemed a formula for war. Now, however, Israel has moved to the position that concessions can be in Israel’s interest even without reciprocity.
Fifth, the picture of what terms would make up a peace agreement are no longer very different between the mainstream right and the mainstream left. Sharon’s disengagement plan and the Barak (Clinton) proposal at Camp David in 2000 have much in common. Gaza and much of the West Bank, excluding the large settlement bloc, would be turned over to the Palestinians for an independent state. The old conflict over a Greater Israel is dead.
The consensus that has emerged did not, of course, happen overnight. It really began during the first intifada, when more and more Israelis wondered abut the consequences of a presence among millions of Palestinians. The consensus has evolved over the years. With Sharon’s disengagement plan it has blossomed.
The significance of this consensus should not be underestimated. It enables leaders to be creative and take risks knowing that the vast majority of the public and leadership are on similar wavelengths. It gives confidence to Israel in its relations with the United States — and indeed, with other governments — to know that fundamental divisions over the future are minimized.
And it will have echoes among American Jewry. It has long been a rallying cry in the Jewish community that unity and solidarity are essential. Fundamental divisions in Israel over territory and peace made this unlikely since strong ideological differences over there were inevitably played out over here.
As we celebrate Israel’s independence — at a difficult time, to be sure — we have a new opportunity to reinvigorate American Jewish support for Israel. Israel’s emerging consensus can surely be our consensus as well.