Analysis from Israel

The deteriorating Egyptian-Israeli relationship has produced an interesting side effect: For the first time in 30 years, Israelis are seriously questioning the
wisdom of “land for peace.” Even veteran land-for-peace advocates like former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Makovsky now acknowledge war with Egypt is no longer unthinkable. Recognition is growing that Egypt’s nonstop demands to boost its forces in Sinai threaten the Israeli-Egyptian treaty’s main achievement: the demilitarization of Sinai, which ensured Egypt could never attack Israel by surprise.

Hence Elliot Jager, another erstwhile land-for-peace advocate (and former senior Jerusalem Post editor), warned in Jewish Ideas Daily today that “If the treaty with Egypt must be gutted in order to save it, something may be terribly wrong with the underlying land-for-peace approach.” Guy Bechor, a regular columnist for the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, bluntly declared the land-for-peace formula “dead” last week. Even Akiva Eldar of Haaretz, a diehard leftist who still wants an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, admitted despairingly after last month’s cross-border terror attacks from Sinai that “When the border between Israel and Egypt is open to murderers, it’s harder to condemn Israel’s leaders for refusing to utter the words ‘negotiation on the basis of the ’67 borders.'”

As Bechor noted, the land-for-peace approach has several inherent problems. First, it encourages the Arabs to view peace as a concession Israel must pay for rather than something of value to them. Second, it trades an easily-reversed asset (peace) for an almost irreversible one (land), which undermines deterrence: The Arabs can abrogate their side of the bargain without fear of losing the quid pro quo they received. I’d also add a third: It encourages war by making aggression cost-free. After all, the land in question was captured in a defensive war against three Arab states in 1967; agreeing to return every last inch – as Israel did in Sinai and Gaza and is now expected to do in the West Bank – thus sends the message Arabs risk no permanent territorial losses by attacking Israel.

All these evils are obviously compounded when territory is given to people who loathe Israel (as both Egyptians and Palestinians do). Many Westerners seem to think this hostility would disappear if Israel would just “end the occupation.” Prize-winning reporter Anthony Shadid, for instance, asserted in the New York Times last month Egypt’s current hostility stems from “deep popular resentment over the plight of Palestinians,” thus implying it would vanish were this plight alleviated.

There’s only one problem with this theory: As a 2007 Pew Global Attitudes poll found, fully 80 percent of Egyptians think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists.” In short, their problem isn’t Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, it’s Israel’s very existence. And 77 percent of Palestinians say the same.

It’s too late to reverse the withdrawal from Sinai, but it’s not too late to avoid repeating the same mistake in the West Bank. Thus, if Egypt’s new hostility awakens Israel to this danger in time, it will prove to have a silver lining.

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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