Spot the Difference

A MAN was asked about his sons. “I have three,” he said, “but one of them is a complete idiot.”

“Which one?” they asked.

“Take your pick,” he replied.

In a 50 days, we shall vote for a new Knesset and a new government.

Three big parties are competing for the prize: Kadima, Likud and Labor.

From there on, see the joke.

* * *

IS THERE a real choice? In other words, are there any real differences between the three parties?

As in the game “Spot the Difference”, they are so tiny that one needs really good eyes to discover them.

There are, of course, political differences between the three. But what the three parties, and the three leaders, have in common is far more important than what divides them.

Binyamin Netanyahu says that this is not the time for peace with the Palestinians. We have to wait until conditions are ripe. Not on our side, of course, but on the Palestinian side. And who is going to decide whether the conditions are ripe on the Palestinian side? Binyamin Netanyahu, of course. He or his successors, or the successors of his successors.

Tzipi Livni says – or so it seems – the very opposite. We have to talk with the Palestinians. What about? Not about Jerusalem, God forbid. And not about the refugees. So about what? About the weather, perhaps? Tzipi’s plan, one has to conclude, is to go on talking and talking and talking, and never to reach any practical agreement.

Ehud Barak has not withdrawn his fateful pronouncement of eight years ago, when he came back from the failed (thanks to him) Camp David conference: “We have no partner for peace.”

Not one of the three has stood up and told the public in simple words: I am going to make peace with the Palestinians in the course of 2009. This peace will include the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, with agreed minor border changes on the basis of 1:1, turning Jerusalem into the capital of the two states and agreeing on a reasonable solution of the refugee problem, a solution Israel can live with.

Not one of the three has offered any peace plan at all. Only hollow words. Only spin.

Like the alternative offered by Netanyahu: to ameliorate the living conditions of the Palestinians. Living conditions under occupation? When 600 roadblocks in the West Bank prevent free movement? When every violent act of resistance leads to collective punishment? When death-squads go out in the night to liquidate “wanted men”? Only a madman would invest money in such a territory.

* * *

ALL THE THREE are united in their view that Hamas must be eliminated. True, not one of them declares publicly that the Gaza Strip should be reoccupied – something that is wildly unpopular both with the public and the army chiefs. But all three support the tight blockade on the Gaza Strip, believing that if the population has no bread and the hospitals no medicaments or fuel, the Gaza public will rise up and overthrow the Hamas regime. For now, the opposite is happening. This week a quarter of a million people – almost half the adult population of the Strip! – took part in a rally to celebrate the birthday of Hamas.

Not one of the three has stood up and said: I shall talk with Hamas and bring them into the peace process.

Neither did one of the three get up and say: I shall make peace with Syria in the course of 2009. The terms are known, I accept them, I intend to sign.

Perhaps all three of them secretly think so. But each of them tells himself/herself: “What, am I crazy? To take on the Golan settlers and their supporters in Israel?” Someone who is not prepared to remove even one miserable outpost in the West Bank, for fear of a clash with the fanatical settlers there, will not take any such risk on the Golan Heights either.

* * *

ON THE other hand, all three have the same emergency exit: the Iranian bomb. What would we do without it! “The main danger to the existence of Israel is the Iranian bomb!” declares Barak. Declares Tzipi. Declares Netanyahu. A finely attuned choir.

Since the beginnings of Zionism, it has been looking for ways to escape from the “Palestinian problem”. Why? Because if the Zionist movement had admitted that there even exists a Palestinian people, it would have had to find a solution to the actual situation and to the moral problem. Therefore, a hundred different pretexts have been found, each in its time, to ignore the dilemma.

Nowadays the Iranian bomb fulfils this function. Here is a clear and present danger. An existential danger. Stop bothering me about the Palestinian problem. Nothing urgent there. It can be postponed for a few years (or a few generations). The Iranian bomb is what needs immediate attention. After we solve this problem (it’s not clear how) we shall be free to deal with the Palestinian nuisance.

Logic, of course, says the opposite. If we sign a peace agreement with the entire Palestinian people and put an end to the occupation, the Persian rug will be swept from under the feet of Ahmadinejad and the likes of him. When the Palestinians recognize Israel and make peace, the anti-Israeli Crusade (or, rather, Crescentade) will lose its steam.

* * *

OK, SO in matters of war and peace there is no difference between the three. But what about the other issues?

The economic crisis fills the headlines. All the candidates promise to deal with it. To find any difference between their pronouncements, one would need a microscope.

One might have expected Netanyahu to be different from the others. After all, he was the High Priest of privatization. To privatize everything, from steel cables to shoestrings. This dogma has now collapsed in the United States, and is collapsing in Israel too. Does this bother Netanyahu? Does it make him more humble? Not in the least. Now he demands, without batting an eyelid, massive state intervention. Like Livni. Like Barak.

State and religion? Not one of the three demands separation between them. Not one demands civil marriage, or the rolling back of religious coercion, or the calling up of thousands of yeshiva students. Not one demands the inclusion of the core subjects – like English and mathematics – in the curriculum of the state-financed religious schools. God forbid! God forbid! After all, all of them will need Shas and/or the Orthodox party tomorrow.

The Arab citizens? All of the parties court them ardently. But not one of them promises them anything real. Real equality? Only in words. Cultural autonomy? Of course not. The implementation of the recommendations of  the government commission of inquiry that was appointed after the October 2000 killings? Not a chance!

And the list goes on. Subject after subject.

* * *

SO IS THERE really no difference between the three? Is a vote for one of them the same as a vote for any of the other two?

I would not go that far.

There are small differences – but when we are dealing with fateful matters, even a small difference is significant.

Netanyahu, for example, brings with him a very rightist crew. They include fascist elements that must not be ignored. There is a danger that he would set up a government that would include “extreme-right” (meaning: outright fascist) parties, on top of the rightist-orthodox Shas party. His victory would signal to the whole world that Israel has chosen the path to the abyss. It may also bring up the possibility – the nightmare of Israeli politics – of a clash with the United States, now led by Barack Obama.

The battered (and rightly so) Labor Party at least includes a social-democratic element that makes it different from the other two. It is weak but not entirely insignificant.

Kadima, that cross-breed of leftist rightists and rightist leftists, is in spite of everything better than Likud, from which most of its candidates have sprung. Netanyahu and Livni grew on the same tree, but on different branches. Tzipi may still surprise us for the better. If Netanyahu springs any surprises at all, that would be a miracle.

Aside from the three big ones, there are, of course, several smaller one-issue parties, each in its own niche, which address specific sectors of the public and which have at least a clear and honest message: the Arab parties, Meretz, the Orthodox list, Shas, the Liberman party, the “Jewish Home” (formerly National-Religious party). Probably they will be joined by some new election lists. Each of them is a story in itself, but none of them will set up the next government.

The real story is between the Three Big, and it is a sad story indeed.

The choice between them is a choice between bad, worse and still worse. Between toothache, migraine and backache.

Nothing good will come out of this election. The question is only how bad the results will be.

* * *

THE CONCLUSION: This must not happen again!

Quite probably, the next Knesset, too, will not last for more than a year or two. Then there would be new elections, which might well be fateful.

On February 11, 2009, the day after the coming elections, those who seek change must start to think anew. Those who long for a democratic, secular, progressive Israel, an Israel at peace with its neighbors and imbued with social justice within, must decide to take matters into their own hands,

They must start a new intellectual and organizational effort to realize these important aims. No longer to be satisfied with voting for the “lesser evil” but finally to vote for the greater good, and – together with sectors that have not been partners up till now – to work out solutions that have not yet been tried in ways that have not yet been tried. To bring about an Obama-like miracle.

Instead of the three good-for-nothing sons, a fourth son must appear.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.





URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.