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With Israel just having observed a memorial day for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, this is a good time to debunk a myth that has recently gained great currency: that Israel’s population has become increasingly right-wing, constituting a major obstacle to peace.
This myth was most famously propounded by former president Bill Clinton but it also crops up frequently in academic discourse. A study published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in September, for instance, declared that “Today Israel’s Jewish population is more nationalistic, religiously conservative, and hawkish on foreign policy and security affairs than that of even a generation ago, and it would be unrecognizable to Israel’s founders.”
Yet Rabin himself, the idol of those who propagate this myth, provides the best possible refutation of it. All you have to do is read his final speech to the Knesset, given one month before his death, to realize how far to the left Israel has traveled since then.
For instance, Rabin envisioned a final-status solution in which Israel lived alongside a Palestinian “entity which is less than a state.” Today, even the “right-wing” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly advocates a Palestinian state.
Rabin envisioned “united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev [two nearby settlements],” as “the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty.” Since then, two Israeli prime ministers have offered to give the Palestinians East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and most of the Old City.
Rabin declared that Israel’s “security border…will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.” Since then, two Israeli premiers have offered to give the Palestinians almost all the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley; even the “right-wing” Netanyahu reportedly agreed to negotiate borders based on the 1967 lines.
Rabin listed Gaza’s Gush Katif as one of the settlement blocs Israel would retain. Since then, Israel has withdrawn from every inch of Gaza.
Rabin pledged “not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim agreement, and not to hinder building for natural growth.” Since then, Israel has uprooted 25 settlements (21 in Gaza and four in the West Bank) without a final-status agreement, while the “right-wing” Netanyahu instituted Israel’s first-ever moratorium on settlement construction (for 10 months), including “building for natural growth.”
Israeli public opinion has also moved dramatically leftward. Two decades ago, for instance, a Palestinian state was anathema to most Israelis; the idea was entertained only on the far-left fringe. Today, polls consistently show overwhelming support for a Palestinian state on almost all the West Bank and Gaza.
On only one issue have Israelis actually moved rightward: Far fewer now believe the “peace process” will ever produce peace. In April 1996, for instance, 47 percent expected Israeli-Palestinian peace to be achieved “in the coming years,” while 32 percent did not. In October 2011, only 32 percent foresaw peace being achieved anytime soon, while 66 percent did not. The latter results have been roughly consistent for years now.
That, however, has nothing to do with Israelis becoming more “nationalistic” or “religiously conservative” and everything to do with hard experience: Since 1993, Israel has evacuated Lebanon, Gaza and large chunks of the West Bank only to see all three become bases for murderous anti-Israel terror, while its Palestinian “peace partner” has steadfastly refused to recognize a Jewish state or cease demanding to destroy it through an influx of millions of Palestinian “refugees.”
If the world truly wants to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it must start addressing these very real problems. Blaming the impasse instead on a nonexistent Israeli turn rightward merely ensures that peace will remain an unachievable dream.
About the Author: Evelyn Gordon has worked as a journalist and commentator in Israel since 1990. She is a contributing editor of the Israeli quarterly Azure and writes frequently at Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog, where this first appeared.
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