Israelis know status quo is untenable, but there’s no alternative vision

With three-quarters of Israelis saying they worry about international isolation and only 10 percent supporting the status quo, logic would hold that they might seek change. But don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.

The success of the Zionist project — from the pre-state era to Startup Nation — is often attributed to some combination of stubbornness and improvisation in the face of adversity. Those characteristics form the nexus of how Israelis see themselves. Another way of describing those same traits, however, is a lucky combination of recklessness and desperation.

Israelis know how much they stand to lose by not ending the occupation. Despite the best efforts by many members of the current government, the world’s message is starting to resonate: there will be a heavy price. And Israelis are worried.

According to a recent poll commissioned by +972, more than 75 percent of Jewish Israelis are worried about international isolation.

Such isolation could manifest diplomatically, leading to international financial, economic and travel sanctions, it could mean increased cultural and academic boycotts or it could lead to significant divestment from Israeli companies and cause international corporations to pulling out of the Israeli market.

But Israelis are stubborn, and nobody has offered them a viable alternative vision. The only strategy that has proven itself in the amazingly adverse history of Israel is hanging on for dear life. And it’s worked so far.

That was the appeal of Benjamin Netanyahu, as my colleague Noam Sheizaf has written time and again. Netanyahu’s vision is the preservation of the status quo. He has improvised along the way in order to ensure political survival, but the prime minister has not offered the country any vision beyond the reality it knows all too well.

And then, rather suddenly and without too many people noticing, that all changed. Europe has threatened sanctions, there is increasingly frequent and severe violence, there’s a sense of diplomatic isolation, unprecedentedly bad relations with the United States, boycott and divestment moves and responsive radicalization of the anti-two-state camp. Something feels different this year. We may just find ourselves looking back at 2014 as the year that Israelis, and the world, were finally convinced that the status quo is untenable.

The Europeans have been shouting it from the rooftops all year long, making clear that there will be no more business as usual. The Americans, after giving the peace process one last shot, have warned that they won’t be able to hold off international pressure much longer. The Palestinians have all but abandoned bilateral negotiations for a staged, multi-lateral diplomatic strategy.

Israelis get it.

Support for the status quo is falling steadily, the +972 public opinion survey found. Among Jewish Israelis, a preference for maintaining the status quo has dropped to less than 9 percent, down from over 20 percent two years ago.

And yet, nobody has offered an alternative vision.

The Israeli public narrowly got behind Rabin’s Oslo peace process. They supported Sharon’s vision for the Gaza disengagement and at least in theory, its partial continuation in the West Bank. The country gave Olmert the mandate for a last-chance attempt at reaching a two-state peace solution. Even when Netanyahu’s hand was forced into half-heartedly picking up where Olmert left off, he enjoyed the support of the country — because it presented a sliver of hope, but also because the peace process itself has proven quite effective at keeping international isolation at bay.

All of those plans and processes offered something resembling a vision.

Today there is no vision. And so the country will do what it knows how to — hunker down and hope for the best, improvising here and there along the way in order to survive.

That might mean ousting the Netanyahu government, which has no vision. It might mean electing a centrist party that has a vision they no longer believe to be viable or realistic. It very well might mean moving further to the right toward a vision of annexation and constitutionalized inequality, but which at least hasn’t failed time and again for 20 years.

Israelis are smart enough to know that if the current path is untenable and the consequences are too great that change is inevitable. But because Israelis also know how much they have to lose, they will fight change tooth and nail until somebody presents them with a viable and believable alternative vision.

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