March 29, 2001
Only With Unity Can Israel Truly Soar
"There is no left." That's the refrain heard in Israel in the wake of Ariel Sharon's election as Prime Minister. While there may be much truth to this claim, not only is there no left, there is no right either.
The assertion that there is no left refers to the fact that the majority of the left wing camp has come to understand that Yasser Arafat is not a real peace partner. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready to follow the instincts of the left and give away an astonishing amount of land -- 95 percent of Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem. Still, it wasn't enough. While peace is made with enemies, one cannot make peace with an enemy who does not want to make peace.
But the right is also almost nonexistent in Israel today. After all, for years those in the nationalist camp had insisted "not one inch." This affirmation reflected the politics of aiming to incorporate all of Judea and Samaria into a "Greater Israel" and not giving away one centimeter to the Arabs. That position is null and void today. Nearly no one in the respectable right camp is prepared to retake Arab cities like Ramallah and Jenin.
While these positions have all but disappeared within the mainstream politics of Israel, right and left extremists still exist. Those in the far left still believe Arafat is a peace partner, and those on the extreme right may be ready to move Israel's army into the areas of Judea and Samaria given away. But we must realize that the extremists represent very few people. Despite what the media claim, the mainstream right and left are closer to each other than ever before.
A real consensus is actually emerging in Israel today. The right has come to agree with the left that land must be given away. The left has come to agree with the right that alternative Palestinian leadership must be found to make peace.
This sense of unity is desperately needed today, as Israel faces what is perhaps the greatest danger since its birth. If war breaks out, not only will Israel be forced to fight on its borders, but Israel will simultaneously face insurrection from within. Sixty-thousand PLO are armed to the teeth. They have the wherewithal to wreak havoc if Israel is forced to call up its reservists. Whether Israel can withstand such a two-pronged attack, remains to be seen.
If we've learned anything from recent years, it is that Israel can only be governed if it comes together. During the '90s, there were Israeli governments that represented the left and those that represented the right, but both were unable to rule. In Biblical literature, Israel is often likened to a bird. A bird can fly effectively only if it uses both wings. In order for the modern State of Israel to rise, fly and soar with success, it needs both sides to work together.
For years the right and the left had little trust of the other. The right failed to understand that they had no monopoly on loving all of the land of Israel. The left included many, including such stalwarts as Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, who undoubtedly love all of the land of Israel as much as anyone else. But while they have a deep love for the land, they felt that land had to be given away for peace. On the other hand, the left failed to recognize that they have no monopoly on wanting peace. The right wanted peace just as much as anyone but has came to the conclusion that Oslo was not the roadway to a true peace.
From this perspective, Prime Minister Sharon is to be commended for building a unity government. He could have created a narrow right-wing leadership but understood that that is no longer workable, and indeed is not the will of the people. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is also to be commended for telling his own party that it is time to listen to the will of the people -- and the people want unity.
Some suggest that people often reflect the natural topology of their country. In Israel there is little twilight. It is either day or night. There is too often no in-between.
Today, we need consensus, we need unity in Israel. It is a time when, in the words of the haggadah read on Passover night, we've arrived at the point that is neither day nor night, not one side or the other, just a complete Israel -- one Israel with balance and flight.