Israel votes on Jan. 22, and a remarkable feature of its election campaign has been the way politicians on the left have shunned the peace slogans they passionately promoted in the salad days of the peace process.
"Peace Now!" "Land for peace." "There's no alternative to peace." After Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat sealed the Oslo Accords in September 1993 with their famous handshake at President Bill Clinton's White House, these were proud exclamations of Israel's "peace camp." But for many Israelis, sad history over the last 20 years has discredited such talk.
These elections are expected to keep Benjamin Netanyahu of the conservative Likud Party as prime minister of a coalition government. Left-of-center parties have been campaigning about economic and cultural issues but avoiding talk of peace. Israel's Haaretz newspaper notes that the chief of the Labor Party "has decided to play down her party's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and that "issues of peace and the territories have been marginalized in the pre-election rhetoric."
Why has the left changed its tune? Israelis in general continue to crave peace, but the state of Palestinian politics leaves them hopeless. According to recent Dahaf Institute and Smith Consulting polls, more than two-thirds of Israelis support the creation of a non-threatening Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state. If extra security provisions are assumed, support rises to 75 percent. But, as Dahaf reports, many Israelis do not believe "that the Palestinians will uphold the conditions of peace and especially those elements dealing with security."
There are grounds for this skepticism. In the Oslo process, Israel gave governmental power to the new Palestinian Authority (PA), including control over the territories in which virtually all the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza live. Israeli prime ministers from parties on the left and the right then offered previously unthinkable concessions, including the sharing of Jerusalem and land swaps involving pre-1967 Israeli territory. In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud withdrew completely and unilaterally from Gaza, forcibly removing more than 8,000 Israeli settlers.
Terrorism against Israelis, however, intensified after the Rabin-Arafat handshake, with PA support. In 2000, Arafat, then the PA president, rejected an extraordinarily forthcoming peace offer from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (of the Labor Party) and launched the Second Intifada, which lasted more than four years and cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives. After Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, won parliamentary elections there and seized executive power, forcibly expelling PA officials.