The most important word missing from these elections

If the Left wants to win elections, it cannot continue to hide its true principles. It must speak clearly and openly about the most pressing issue facing Israel: the occupation.

By Amir Segal

Israeli soldiers arrest a 24 years old Palestinian youth during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, January 3, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Israeli soldiers arrest a 24 years old Palestinian youth during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, January 3, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Isaac Herzog will not be Israel’s next prime minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu overwhelmingly won this election. Now is the time when leftists most often express remorse, admit their mistakes and look for someone to blame for their defeat. The analysis on the loss ranges from long-winded explanations regarding Netanyahu’s success to listing every single failure of Herzog Zionist Camp.

It has become socially acceptable to blame the Left for being disconnected and unable to speak to the people, especially when it comes to Jewish identity. Some commentators see the Ashkenazi-secular identity of the Israeli Left as a reason for its loss. Ram Fruman even claimed that the Left has no chance of winning [Hebrew], and instead it should focus on helping itself.

They are wrong. This pseudo-sociological jargon is no more than an attempt at a clever analysis of a simple problem. More than that, it is pure condescension to think that more “Jewish” or “folksy” election messages will win the hearts and minds of the masses. The truth is that the Israeli Left, as well as the center, have stopped proposing a solution to the biggest, most important problem of Israeli reality — the occupation.

People are barely making it to the end of the month, and both the educational and health care system are in trouble. Many of us won’t be able to buy apartments. This is all true. But the most significant problem is the occupation. It defines our identity, it is the source of our problems in the international community and it will carve out the future of the state. But most of all, it is a perpetual injustice. Why should a politician who does not offer an appropriate response to this issue expect to win elections?

The last time Likud didn’t win an election was 2006, when Kadima received the most votes. It is easy to criticize Kadima and Olmert, but for the sake of historical accuracy, at least Olmert honestly believed that he would continue the “disengagement” (which began with Sharon in 2005) from the Palestinian territories, which would bring an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog at an election event. The occupation was simply not on his priority list during the elections. (photo: activestills.org)
Labor leader Isaac Herzog at an election event. The occupation was simply not on his priority list during the elections. (photo: activestills.org)

For those who viewed Olmert’s plan as a mistake, or for those who simply hate Olmert and Kadima, it is important not to ignore the fact that his plan was a brave one, and that Olmert wholeheartedly believed he would be able to implement it. Olmert discarded the plan following the Second Lebanon War, and was left with little more than pointless negotiations, which until now have proven to be a mirage.

In this past election cycle, not a single party offered a solution to the occupation, and we didn’t see a single idea that could bring us closer to the inevitable establishment of a Palestinian state. On the contrary, we saw the head of the Zionist Camp, who was supposed to be an alternative to Netanyahu when it came to an agreement with the Palestinians, continue speaking about a “united Jerusalem.” Critics even poked fun at Herzog when he accidentally said he would protect a “united Netanyahu” on primetime television. But while we can forgive his slip of the tongue after weeks of fatigue, we cannot forgive the message that stood behind it.

I have no idea whether Herzog really believes that Jerusalem will remain united, or whether he was bluffing for the sake of winning. But it is difficult to imagine a situation in which most of the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem do not become part of a Palestinian state. Ignoring these principles led to, once more, a loss for the Left.

The establishment of a Palestinian state is a moral duty of the State of Israel. It is the most decent solution to the current problem. We must say it clearly: there will be a Palestinian state. The question is how it will be established, how many people will lose their lives until it comes to fruition and whether it will be a stable country for its citizens — as well as the citizens of Israel.

The Israeli Left, part of which calls itself “the center,” is held hostage to the need to cover up its positions. Sometimes this is seen as “talking directly to the people,” other times it is done in the name of “Jewish identity.” But it almost always avoids offering a practical solution for the establishment of a Palestinian state and an end to the occupation. The Left’s “self-examination” may lead it to forget its principles, as if the periphery would otherwise vote for the Left. This is a mistake.

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Nobody likes to think bad things about themselves, neither on a personal nor a national level. The Right, which ignores the reality of the occupation, continues to win election after election, because the lie Netanyahu told was better than the lie told by the people of the Zionist Camp. The Israeli public understood that the “peace process” is nothing but endless talks with no solution. The same goes for suggestions of annexation, one state or international agreements. While Herzog evaded the question about a deal with the Palestinians, Netanyahu simply lied to the people.

To their credit, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, the two last prime ministers who were not members of Likud during their rule, proposed solutions that seemed relevant back then. Despite all the criticism of their inability to sign an agreement, we cannot ignore the fact that when there is a proposed solution to the Palestinian issue, the public is ready to accept and try it. Olmert and Barak were not elected because they were more “Jewish” or “of the people” than their opponents.

In order to remain relevant, the Israeli Left (as well as the center) must repeat the word “occupation,” which perfectly encapsulates the situation in the West Bank, stop hiding the truth and propose a practical solution. Will this cause the Left to win elections? Perhaps. What is certain is that avoiding the crucial questions will not keep the Right from winning. And anyway, it’s always better to tell the truth.

Amir Segal is a poet, literary critic and CEO of Ovdim. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.