Gershon Baskin, like many other Israelis, is truly fearful for the immediate future of Israel.
I love Israel. I really do. I think that I think that we have a lot to be proud of. Our government is not one of them. Our people, on the other hand, are amazing. This country is filled with people who care, who give a damn. No one here is a passive observer of life. Everyone is involved in something, supporting a cause, helping others, believing that they, as individuals and groups, can make a difference. This has been the history of Israel and it is one of our greatest hallmarks. Israel is a vibrant society, a society of initiators and inventors and doers and shakers.
One area of great concern though is an increased feeling among many, perhaps half of the society, that making change is getting more and more difficult. This is, of course, particularly the case in the political arena. Our country is and has been for quite a long time very divided. The country is divided over the issue of borders and the future of the territories of the West Bank or Judea and Samaria that were conquered by Israel 50 years ago. There is also division on how we relate to the relationship between our Jewish identity and our state. The failure of the peace process has accelerated and enhanced these divisions. The failure of the peace process has increased the sense of “no partner” on the other side, and as a result of political stagnation there is a rise in support for unilateral action by Israel. Parts of our society are calling on the government to unilaterally annex parts or all of the West Bank, while others are calling on Israel to cease settlement building east of the separation barrier and even for the unilateral withdrawal of civilians living east of the barrier, leaving only the army there until an agreement can be reached.
Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi party have stated explicitly what we can easily understand implicitly is the opinion of the prime minister and his Likud party: the choice for Israel is between the two-state solution or a “Greater Israel.” If this is the choice, Netanyahu, Bennett and all others in the Israeli government accept the latter option; even those who don’t express it explicitly are implementing it by acquiescence to policies that in practice prevent the two-state option. But they are not only fooling themselves, they are lying to the public and engaging in the creation of facts on the ground that place our great State of Israel in existential danger. There is no one-state option that enables Israel to be both the nation-state of the Jewish people and democratic. Anyone who states differently is either living in a dream world or is consciously lying. It is possible that there are those messianics among the annexationists who honestly believe that whatever they do, God is on their side and will protect the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I wonder what they will say when reality proves differently and more Israelis are going to be burying their loved ones, killed in more senseless violence generated by a conflict which thrives on hatred. Annexation of parts of the West Bank or all of the West Bank will not eliminate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – quite the opposite.
Almost everything that the current government of Israel does is in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in – and I believe that many other Israelis who love Israel as well disagree with their government and love the country no less than those who support the government. This government is moving Israel further and further away from any chances of peace with our neighbors and even with our own Palestinian Arab citizens, 20% of the population. Rather than seeking to solve problems of planning and building in the Palestinian communities in Israel, which have been neglected by governments since the founding of Israel, Netanyahu and his government destroy, demolish and breed hatred and despair. The Palestinian citizens of Israel, who most recognize the benefits of being Israeli citizens, are increasingly being told by their country that this is not really their country and that they will never really achieve full and equal rights.
There is much that Israel can do to improve the relations with our Palestinian neighbors, even without a peace process, but the government of Israel is doing the opposite. Palestinians will never agree to increased settlement building. They will never acquiesce to having their land confiscated and having Israelis build houses in their place. Legalizing land theft by passing a law in the Knesset will not remove the stain of theft and will never lead to peaceful relations between Jews and Palestinians.
Beyond the issue of settlement building, the tool of economics is not utilized by the government of Israel to even slightly improve the situation. Rather than recognizing the economic power that Israel possesses in its ability to enable the Palestinian economy to grow and prosper, even before reaching full political agreements, the government of Israel tightens control and makes it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to live on their own land. The Israeli noose around more than 60% of the West Bank (Area C) under full Israeli control limits more than anything the economic growth potential of the Palestinian economy. Increased home demolitions throughout Area C sends a clear message to Palestinians – there is no room for you on this land. Controls on movement and access, imports and exports, electricity and water, the flow of capital – every aspect of the Palestinian economy is controlled by Israel and rather than working with Palestinians to improve their daily lives, Israel is constantly making their lives more intolerable. Where is the logic in this? Do the members of Netanyahu’s government and he himself really believe that millions of Palestinians are going to pick up and leave?
I, like many other Israelis, about half of the country, are truly fearful for the immediate future of our home. Netanyahu and the Right have been in power long enough to show their true face. They have led us down a very dark path and we are now standing on a cliff, staring into the abyss. Too much is at stake and too many innocent people will continue to pay with their lives. Netanyahu is dangerous for us all.
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.