Editor’s Notes: National maturity

By David Horovitz October 3, 2008

We prevailed in our past wars here because our enemies were divided while we were united in the battle for our very existence. The danger now is of roles reversed

At 60 years old, the State of Israel should be exhibiting signs of maturity. But in this season of soul- searching and internal reckoning, we are acting like a rabble of spoiled children, picking fights with one another rather than taking shared responsibility.

This is a vicious, ruthless region, and has been throughout the six decades of our modern statehood. We have managed, near miraculously on occasion, to frustrate various enemy efforts to achieve our destruction. But seldom have those who seek to wipe us out been as confident as they are today that our elimination is close at hand.

The further Iran progresses along the road to a nuclear capability, the more emboldened its leaders become to incite and encourage our demise. Leaving rhetoric aside, those leaders are also acting, cunningly and concertedly, to empower the Islamists of Hamas on our southern border and their proxy army, Hizbullah, in Lebanon to the north.

And while the army, under the refreshingly understated leadership of Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, does seem to have internalized the failures of the war against Hizbullah two years ago, our political system is as unworkable as ever, our political leaders are as disingenuous as the worst of their predecessors and possibly as incompetent, and the public is trending toward indifference, despair or bitter toxicity.

The recent potentially murderous attack on left-wing political science professor Ze’ev Sternhell in Jerusalem, coming hard on the heels of settler extremist attacks on Palestinians, prompted outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to warn that ‘an evil wind of extremism, of hatred, of malice, of violence, of lawlessness is blowing through certain sections of the Israeli public and threatens Israeli democracy.’

Right-wing political opponents of Olmert and his Kadima Party, in response, deride the very notion of an allegedly corrupt prime minister giving anybody lessons in democracy, and point to the dubious process by which Kadima crowned Tzipi Livni his designated successor as anything but democratic.

Left-wing critics, for their part, assert that Olmert has himself helped legitimate lawlessness in the territories, by failing to act decisively to dismantle dozens of outposts peppered across the West Bank that have been established illegally and that he has repeatedly vowed to remove.

We have not yet returned to the kind of hysterical political climate that produced a prime ministerial assassin just 13 years ago, but the danger is emphatically still there. And it is both unconscionable and terribly self-defeating that we have not found the wisdom to ensure, in the course of those 13 years, that a similar decline will be avoided.

For a start, 60-year-old Israel is crying out for an electoral system that provides genuine accountability. As with so many things Israeli, the answers exist, alternative systems have been drawn up and calibrated, but what is lacking is the will for their implementation.

More substantively, 60-year-old Israel should long since have reached a consensus on a 40-year-old dilemma: What to do with the territory captured in the 1967 war – and foremost Judea and Samaria, the liberated biblical heartland that is also home to so many Palestinians.

Perhaps, had millions more Diaspora Jews chosen to make their lives in the Zionist homeland, this dilemma would not have become as acute. But they did not. And without more Jews here, we barely hold a majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. While we claim a divine or historical right to all of Judea and Samaria, exercising that right in full threatens to spell the end of Israel as an overwhelmingly Jewish state. Relinquishing all of that territory, however, and returning to the narrow contours of pre-1967 Israel, is an all-too proven recipe for disastrous vulnerability.

Ancient precedent shows that we can flourish as the sovereign authority in our homeland only when we act as one in our own best interests, and that internal divides and poisonous rivalries lead inevitably to our downfall.

Can there be any doubt that the sovereign Jewish state of 5769 would be stronger if we could achieve a consensus over the dimensions of the country we need to retain? Can there be any doubt that senseless hatreds and vituperative delegitimizations across the political spectrum are hindering that vital process of consensus building?

Tellingly, Iran’s autocratic leaders have a clear-cut, unified agenda. They intend to attain a nuclear weapons capability, and then to dominate this region through its intimidatory use. Our leadership, democratically elected and free to vigorously debate the national good, is unfortunately too often skewed by narrow feuds, personal agendas and expedient duplicities.

THE CHALLENGE, most especially at this time of year, therefore, is both for the Israeli leadership and the public.

Tzipi Livni is currently trying to build a new coalition government. Let her tell us, please, which Israel it will strive to represent – as regards social policy, economic direction, religious orientation, negotiations with Syria and, most critically, the talks she has been heading with the Palestinians. Is it an Israel retaining all of the territories, none of them, three major settlement blocs, four, the Jordan Valley?

The argument that Israel should not publicly disclose its negotiating cards has long since become absurd. The Palestinians are inflexibly demanding 100 percent of the disputed territory. Only the Israeli government is vague and uncertain as to its own red lines.

Let Livni’s opponents, from left and right, stake out their own contrary positions. And let the public, in a mature and non-vitriolic debate, resolve this rending dilemma once and for all.

Time is of the essence, especially given Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s tenuous grip in the West Bank. So Livni will doubtless want to keep the negotiations going with Abbas in the hope of achieving a substantive breakthrough. But she must make clear that, in the highly unlikely event that such a breakthrough comes, it will require specific ratification by the public, in the shape of a referendum or general elections.

Our abiding uncertainty over the dimensions of our own country prevents us from efficiently allocating our limited resources. It also prevents us explaining our vital needs to our friends around the world, and mounting a more effective defense against those who seek to harm us. Instead, we have different lobby groups pushing for different, sometimes conflicting Israels. We can no longer indulge the false luxury of such confusion.

This is an extraordinary country. We have drawn every ounce of possibility from our narrow strip of ancient land. We have revived a language and served as a place of refuge for millions of our people. We have flourished intellectually and economically.

But we have yet to reach true national maturity. Such a state requires confronting the most acute of our dilemmas. The longer we leave it unresolved, the more threatening our internal climate becomes.

We prevailed in our past wars here because our enemies were divided while we were united in the battle for our very existence. The danger now is of roles reversed – of a unified enemy bent on our destruction and a divided Israel at war with itself. Our rifts leave us vulnerable to our ruthless enemies, who are smacking their lips as they contemplate our elimination.

Maturity requires making hard choices, and taking collective responsibility for them.

It’s time for Israel to grow up.

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