Gershon Baskin believes that we should learn from the American democracy and regain our sense of political efficacy.
The failure of US President Donald Trump to pass his “repeal and repair” against ObamaCare – Trump’s own health care legislation – in the US Congress is a great sign of hope for democracy and for the will of the people. Trump’s election victory was only one part of his attempt to rewrite history, with the Republican party also taking full control of both Houses of Congress. Trump seemed unstoppable as he planned to reverse the progressive agenda of Obama and what little legislation he managed to pass in the face of no-go Republicans in Congress. Trump’s failure in his first legislative blitz should serve democratic agendas all over the world as a beacon of hope against the tremendous forces of religious and right-wing conservatism.
Political efficacy is the belief that through strategic and coherent actions, you can effect change in policy.
Those who support Israeli-Palestinian peace in both Israel and Palestine have little or no sense of political efficacy. The failures of the peace process over the past 22 years, six breached agreements and continuous political spins by leaders and politicians who pass blame rather than taking responsibility for failures have aided in creating the very strong sense among both peoples that peace is not possible. Similar to the US where the right-wing religious conservative messianics set the agenda for the ruling political establishment, in Israel and also in Palestine like-minded groups of fanatics have become the focal point for leaders and their political parties.
Trump failed to pass his health care legislation both because of the demands of the more conservative “purist” Freedom Caucus and because some moderate Republicans actually listened to their constituents, who favored ObamaCare to Trump’s “NoCare.” Unlike Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who caves in to the demands of his religious right-wing messianics within the Likud and Bayit Yehudi, Trump did not cave in to the demands of the so-called Freedom Caucus, thinking that they would cave in first. He is, after all, the expert on the “art of making a deal.” But they did not cave in.
More important for us is that a significant number of Republic congressmen and women found their constituents very unhappy with the proposed legislation and voted against their own party and in favor of those who sent them to Congress.
After the November elections there was a strong sense in America of an impossible situation for about half the people in America, those who saw Obama’s election as an irreversible shift for the better in American politics.
The White House was lost, Congress was completely taken over and soon the Supreme Court would change beyond recognition for at least another generation.
Trump’s proposed legislation on health care would remove health insurance from an estimated 20 million Americans who enjoyed health care for the first time in their lives after ObamaCare was instituted seven years ago.
The injustice of that fate created a small and what seemed to be an insignificant campaign of signing petitions, letter writing and making phone calls to Republican members of Congress, who follow their party’s leader with discipline and some fear. The protest movement gradually grew and the numbers picked up. In key districts, constituents began visiting their member’s office every Friday.
They started out small, but each week their numbers grew and their voices were beginning to get heard. In the end, it was those members of Congress who said that they could not support Trump’s plan. In the end, smelling the collapse of his plan, Trump withdrew the legislation and ObamaCare remains in place (for the time being).
Israel has a totally different parliamentary system; our members of Knesset have no direct constituents and we citizens have no direct representatives. Nonetheless, what is significant from Washington to Jerusalem is the regaining of the sense of political efficacy.
While a large number of Israelis and Palestinians support peace, a majority believe it is not possible.
It is almost impossible to get people to take political action, such as to demonstrate, when they believe that they cannot effect change. That is a large part of the explanation for why so few Israelis and Palestinians demonstrate for peace. It is not apathy, but rather a lack of a sense of political efficacy which keeps people from demanding that their government take at least some steps to advance peace.
The governments are under no pressure to take peace initiatives because their coalition partners and their religious fundamentalists extremists keep them in place and successfully force the holders of power to be responsive mainly to them. And they constitute a minority.
In Israel, even the main opposition parties march to the drum of the far Right and present no real alternative platforms and positions to the public. The Israeli opposition parties are marching to the same music as Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, but are trying to convince the public they are better because they have nicer uniforms. They present no real alternatives with different policy proposals and agendas.
Netanyahu’s gross narcissistic behaviors, his distortion of truth and obsessive attempts to control the media should be enough reason for there to be mass movements against his regime. But his failure in all of his long time in office to even present a credible peace initiative with our neighbors – never has he considered an Israeli peace initiative, while the Arab peace initiative has been on the table since 2002 – is the main reason the public should be taking to the streets. We continue to send our children to the army and we know that every few years there will be another war and we considered this acceptable? How can this be possible?
Even if we accept the myth that there is no partner and no one to talk to, how can this absolve our leaders of the responsibility to make renewed peace efforts every single day? I have witnessed first-hand prime ministers who have stated that they are doing everything possible, every single day to bring home a captured IDF solider who was held in Gaza while knowing that months and years were passing without anything being done. I am tired of hearing “we are leaving no stone unturned in our search for peace.” These are lies – you can continue to entrench and expand the occupation and make efforts for peace at the same time – one eliminates the other, and should be the cause of us taking to the streets. Let’s learn from the American democracy and regain our sense of political efficacy and truly believe in our ability to repeal and replace Netanyahu and his government.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.