Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the 2019 Elections – One hot air balloon?

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been avoided in Israeli politics.” With these words, the moderator introduced what was labeled “The Great Political Debate, Elections 2019”. She stated that the elections in 2009 and this year’s elections 2019 have a lot in common in terms of addressing the same problems the same way.

On March 11th 2019, the Geneva Initiative’s “Yes to an Agreement” program organized a panel discussion in Tel Aviv focusing on the question of how the parties are addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 2019 Elections. The panel should have included Members of Knesset (MKs) and candidates from five different parties. But representatives of the Likud and Blue and White party did not participate without any further explanations. However, Labor Party MK Stav Shaffir and Meretz Party MK Michal Rozin were present. They were joined by Caroline Glick, the American-born journalist and writer who joined the New Right party in January 2019 running for election to the Knesset. MK Michal Rozin and the moderator later said that it didn’t surprise them that the two leading parties didn’t appear at an event that discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The audience should interpret that for themselves.

What was supposed to be a discussion on finding a compromise or at least some similar baselines, turned out to be a heated, loud and unfiltered exchange of opinions – accusation- dominated arguments and emotion-dominated rationalizations.

MK Shaffir from the social-democratic and Zionist Labor Party and MK Rozin from the left, social democratic and green Meretz Party didn’t even have the opportunity to argue about disagreements, because Caroline Glick’s controversial arguments dominated the debate by far. Therefore, the MKs from Labor and Meretz mostly stated similar arguments. Both said that there is no alternative to a two-state-solution, so that Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state. In addition, both agreed that the settlements are obstacles for peace and security. MK Rozin highlighted that the settlements demoralize the Israeli society.

MK Michal Rozin, Caroline Glick, MK Stav Shaffir and the moderator (left to right) in the midst of a heated argument at the debate in Tel Aviv.

Due to the absence of representatives from the Likud and Blue and White parties, Caroline Glick from the New Right argued alone against the social democratic politicians. “Oslo didn’t empower us, it dehumanized all the Israelis in the settlements, because of where they are living.” Throughout the discussion, she highlighted several times that 1.300 Israelis have been murdered because of Oslo.1 Glick argued emotionally, stating that Israel is being delegitimized and victimized. The PLO would be the enemy, because it is Israeli law that has to be restored in the West Bank, to what she referred to as Judea and Samaria. Glick tried to strengthen her claim by referring to the support of the Likud Party in that matter.

The necessity of a strong border was often mentioned by MK Shaffir. The Palestinians “can have Hamas in their territory”, was her justification. She criticizes the New Right’s solution without a border, because the terror attacks would come from within. Therefore, the population would need to be segregated. She suggested that the terrorism would exclusively be a Palestinian problem. She appealed to the audience: “We need to take our destiny into our own hands.” In her opinion, Glick’s argumentation is rather anti-Zionist, because a solution without a border would harm an Israel that could remain Jewish and democratic.

The heated discussion turned into a big tumult

When the discussion intensified again, MK Shaffir turned to the audience, accusing Glick: “She has no relation to the security situation. She doesn’t care about the facts. She […]. She […].” The volume went up and Shaffir shouted that there won’t be any further collaboration with Egypt if Israel annexes that territory. She turned directly to Glick, provocatively asking why she won’t sit in the government with Arabs, if they are “such good friends”. Shaffir called the New Right’s solution a “hallucinatory stance”. Again, she faced her directly and asked why Caroline Glick can’t distance herself from people in her party and in general that talk about racial superiority and that are radicals. The heated discussion turned into a big tumult on stage that had a lot of people in the audience just laughing in disbelief at this point.

In the words of the moderator, apparently there is no compromise to be found between the parties. MK Shaffir’s appeal to supporters of the one-state-solution might have been when she agreed “it’s hard to give up” historic sites and the settlements but then clarified that a border between “them and us” would be necessary, as MK Rozin said. Shaffir was asked how the Palestinian state is going to work. No clear answer followed, but she said: “We can’t rely on the other side if they start wanting the whole territory.” That sounds like there won’t be any cooperation and the two-state-solution can’t rely on compromises.

Before the discussion was opened for questions from the audience, a representative from the Palestinian Peace Coalition spoke. He took the opportunity to highlight that peace has to be made with the other side. In his words, the problematic situation in Gaza today is the result of unilateral politics on the side of the Israeli government. Parties should work on taking compromises in consideration, for example the Geneva Initiative formula for a resolution of the conflict. MK Rozin said that in the past, there were no partners from the Palestinian side to talk to, today that has changed. Shaffir joined in and both of them criticized the fact that a lot of past opportunities have been thrown away, because the Israeli leaders were too afraid of the public’s opinion. They should lead the people, rather than being led by them.

On an end note, MK Rozin appealed to step out of the picture and see the situation from a wider perspective that includes a discussion about Shiites, and Sunnis, fundamentalism and more. Something has to be actively done, and for that “we need brave leaders on both sides”. The debate didn’t imply that. The leading parties stayed away intentionally and the three representatives that were present gave the audience the impression of arguing in a hot air balloon – heated, bloated and vulnerable.

Meretz Chair MK Tamar Zandberg meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

However, it should be noted that a week later, MK Tamar Zandberg, Chair of the Meretz Party led a group of party MKs to meet with PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where she declared that “there is a Palestinian partner for peace. We just have to speak to them.”



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