I gave a talk this past weekend in Hebron entitled “Why We Are Winning!” My argument was that Israelis and supporters of Israel need not despair. Despite threats to its security and assaults on its legitimacy, Israel is succeeding in advancing its national agenda. There are many trends underway in Israel, in the region and globally which work in Israel’s favor, I argued. Confounding its detractors and critics, Israel is a success story and its future is bright!
Strangely, people didn’t want to accept the rosy picture I was painting of our national situation. They weren’t buying my optimism. Based on the questions I received from the audience, it is clear to me that alarmism would have been an easier sell.
The crowd I spoke to kept coming back at me with comments and questions that emphasized their sense of isolation and vulnerability. They felt that Israel was unfairly demonized by the world; that Israel’s outstretched hand and humanitarian record was unappreciated globally; that radical Islam was encircling Israel from all sides; and that the post-Zionist political left in Israel was undermining the country’s stamina and unity.
It is, of course, true that the discourse about Israel in many places around the world has become poisoned. It is equally true that the Iranian nuclear threat is real, and that the no-holds-barred ideological debate within Israel often inflicts deep wounds.
But it is unhealthy and self-defeating to be blinded by pessimism; to fail to see how Israel is winning, despite it all! It is wrong to ignore the positive trends and helpful currents that can be taken advantage of. Israel and Israelis needn’t be paralyzed by fear or be depressed by the “situation.” The overall strategic balance, I argue, is in Israel’s favor.
To buttress my argument, I surveyed a series of threats to Israel and sought to demonstrate that Israel is working well to overcome these challenges. For example, the international effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel is simply not working. Most of the boycott and divestment initiatives have been deflected or voted down. The bark of the BDS movement is much worse than its bite.
Human rights organizations’ charges against Israel of war crimes and disproportionate force are beginning to sound ever-so-hollow, even to non-Zionists, in a world where the Syrians and Iranians are busy wantonly slaughtering their own people every day. Israeli counterparts of the post-nationalist, hard-left-wing international organizations that are source of so much ‘lawfare’ against Israel are watching their sources of funding drying up as the European Union economically implodes.
There is also no diplomatic tsunami: The Palestinian Authority’s rush to statehood at the UN has been halted in its tracks, and observers are beginning to catch on that the Palestinians really are not ready for statehood. The elephant in the room – the Iranian-backed Hamas government in Gaza and the growing Hamas influence within the PA – is simply too large to ignore.
Talk to any level-headed Western diplomat today and, after peeling away the standard layers of political correctness, you’ll find that it is sinking in that the chances for a “comprehensive peace deal that settles all claims” between Israel and the PA is simply not in the cards; not at anytime in the foreseeable future.
The hackneyed notion that “all it would take for peace is an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines” – is fading. In private, policy-makers – even European diplomats – talk quietly about long-term conflict management; not about grand conflict resolution. As Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe ‘Bogie’ Yaalon says: “Solutionism” is the wrong paradigm. This is a good thing, and a useful thing, because comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace – which we all want – requires the dialing-down of Palestinian demands and expectations. And that is going to take time. Serious people understand this.
Furthermore, Israel’s demand for clear and ambiguous Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state – which the Palestinians just don’t seem willing to provide or capable of giving Israel – has exposed the real root of conflict. The core of the conflict, as Prime Minister Netanyahu told Congress this year, is not Israeli concessions, but Palestinian rejectionism. The peace process is not primarily about the establishment of a Palestinian state, but about Arab recognition of a Jewish state.
This argument has sunk in. Even our less-than-best friends, people who may think that Netanyahu is a liar – like Obama and Sarkozy – have adopted Israel’s demand for Palestinian recognition as a Jewish state as part of their formal political language.
Even more important is that a national consensus has emerged in Israel with regard to the Palestinians, which Netanyahu faithfully represents. The consensus grants Palestinians independence in theory, but in practice recognizes that they can’t be given sovereignty anytime soon. Israel is not going to be pushed into any precipitous withdrawals or risky new disengagements. This construct is profound because Israelis, for a change, are not blaming themselves for the current stalemate in peace diplomacy. This self-assurance, this rare consensus, gives Israel tremendous buoyancy and strength.
Israel also has real, true friends in the world, beyond the U.S. The Australians, Canadians, Czechs, Italians and others have demonstrated their appreciation for Israel’s security dilemmas and its aspirations.
As for Arab threats: The Arab world is going to be preoccupied with internal revolutions, upheavals and economic crises for many years to come. Islamists who come to power will threaten Israel and rail against Israel, but will have little or no ability to truly threaten Israel for decades.
People challenged my argument, of course, by pointing to Teheran. But the Iranians are going to be stopped, I told them! Even President Barack Obama’s administration isn’t blind to the Iranian threat. Defense cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem has never before been more intense and concrete. This means cooperation against Iran. Things will yet happen.
As for the Israeli home front: Many Israelis on the political right feel that the political left has an injurious lock on critical junctures in Israeli public life: the judiciary, the media, and academia. But the anti-religious, anti-nationalist and hard-political-left-wing public is in demographic decline in Israel. Mainstream secular Israel is rediscovering its Jewish roots. The balance of gravity in Israeli politics has shifted to the Center-Right, and it is likely to remain that way for decades.
In grand historical perspective, of course, Israel is certainly winning! The Jewish People survived two thousand years of Diaspora and Holocaust, managed to in-gather the exiles, and build a magnificent, strong and vibrant state. Israel simply sizzles with creativity and vibrancy! Social protests and all – it is a great place to live (especially in comparison with the crumbling Arab Middle East states around Israel, or much of the failing West). Our economy is strong, and our technological edge formidable. We may even become energy self-sufficient and a net energy exporter.
Finally, the bravery of people who sacrifice to defend the country and settle the land – like the Israelis who tenaciously maintain a Jewish presence in Hebron for us all – gives us inspiration for the future.
And thus I say – Israel is winning! Or at the very least, the sky is not falling.
* Published in Israel Hayom on November 24, 2011.