Last week, signs were put up around Efrat bearing the slogan, “Didn’t vote? You voted for the Left!”
While America is watching with mingled hope and despair as President Obama assembles his team for the next four years, Israel is on the countdown to national elections which take place this Tuesday.
Those of us living over the Green Line have some difficult choices. While Likud was the party that traditionally supported settlement in territories conquered in the 1967 Six Day War, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader, has said he would consider forming a coalition government with Kadima and Labor. For those who have been asleep or unaware of Israeli politics for the last ten years, Labor was responsible for the unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in Southern Lebanon in 2000, leading directly to Hizbullah’s armament and eventually, the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Kadima was responsible for the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, leading to the half-executed operation (i.e. Gaza War) which recently took place there.
We in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) have no reason to expect anything other than an attempt at unilateral withdrawal from our towns and neighborhoods if Labor and Kadima find their way into power. Confucius’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. By this definition, Kadima and Labor need to be committed, and any promise of Likud forming a government with them (including giving their members portfolios and taking into account their political views in pursuing the country’s agenda) ought to be viewed with the gravest suspicion.
What are the alternatives? Several Right-wing parties have joined to form a party called National Union (Ichud Leumi) whose goals are much more in line with the goals of people living in the settlements. Their priorities are security, resuming the issuing of building permits, and funding of educational institutions (including many religious Zionist yeshivas). I have heard it said that in order to keep Netanyahu honest and true to Likud’s stated platform, he must ally himself with the Right rather than the Left. A vote for them, if one were to give it, could give better voice to our needs if it were to join a Likud coalition government.
And yet. While a vote for the smaller Right parties gives support to parties which in many cases are much more responsive to their constituents, a vote for them instead of for Likud could leave the settler out in the cold. At the moment, while Likud is predicted to win the election, it is by a small margin, and the smaller the margin, the more Likud will be forced to compromise its platform by forming a coalition with the Left. If Kadima were to win because of a split of voting between Likud and the other Right parties, Tzipi Livni could end up as prime minister, guaranteeing Israel another five years of incompetence, unilateral withdrawals, wars, disastrous cease-fire agreements, and a possible nuclear Iran. There would then be no voice for settlers in that government, since Kadima would likely form a government with Labor and the more Left-leaning parties and start looking for a way to turn us out.
I should point out that settler needs are not “special needs.” The role settlers play in Israel’s security cannot be ignored. Our presence here helps to keep the Israeli government’s eye on Palestinian activities by keeping the IDF out here, and means that any terrorist activity in the region (that could threaten Jerusalem and other populated areas inside the Green Line) goes on in plain view of the Israeli authorities. Without the settlers and IDF presence in the West Bank, Israel will have another Gaza on its eastern border, and then targets will not be limited to Sderot, Ashkelon, and the kibbutzim bordering Gaza, but Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Tiberias, Beer Sheva, and Dimona.
I should also admit here that I once believed in the concept of land for peace. I have heard that a number of prominent rabbis have proclaimed that if peace can be reliably bought by Jews vacating lands, even lands of Biblical and historical significance to Jews, it is incumbent upon the Jews to give up those lands. We and most of our neighbors would pack up and clear out in a matter of days if we could be certain that a true peace could be bought by our vacating our homes. But in the 14 years that I have paid close attention to Israel, its history, and its problem, I have seen that such an exchange is always uneven. In just the past nine years, we have seen gifts of land to Arabs result in temporary cease-fires, but only as long as it takes them to stockpile their weapons and begin firing them on Israeli towns. The talk now of “peace for peace” is much more realistic, though there is no sign that even that will have a lasting effect as long as the other side has no interest in peace.
So where are we left on Election Day 2009? Practically speaking, it looks as though we have to vote for Likud. It may not suit our ideals perfectly, and we may still not get everything we want in the end, but the thought of the country being steered by the same cast of characters who brought us the incompetence, corruption, and awful leadership of the past 5 years is unimaginable.
May we merit to deserve better government.