Barack Obama Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Israeli elections

Hope, somehow, after the Israeli elections

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci famously called for “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” in the face of adversity. When confronted with the bleakness of the Israeli-Arab conflict, in order not to give up completely, peace activists and advocates need more than that. We need to balance pessimism of the intellect with optimism of the sub-conscious, with a completely irrational hope that emerges of its own accord from a primal part of our psyches, and refuses to fade.

Perhaps that is the main reason why I retain hope tonight, as the Israeli election results roll in. But at least I have fellow travellers, others who won’t give up. One of them is MJ Rosenberg, writing on Israel Policy Forum’s intriguing new blog, Middle East Peace Pulse:

I am reconciled to a right-wing government taking power in Israel but I am not too depressed about it, or even depressed at all.

Yossi Beilin points out that the worst governments in Israel’s history — the ones which were indifferent to peace and enthusiastic about the settlements — were those which were led by the right but which had the left in the coalition to serve as a fig leaf.

A Netanyahu/Lieberman government would have no such cover. Any acts of sabotage to the peace process would likely be strongly opposed by the United States. Israel’s most devoted “friends” in Congress — almost all Democrats — woud find it hard, if not impossible, to choose Netanyahu (who is very close to the GOP) over Obama. The lobby will be dispirited. Contrary to popular opinion, it does not like far right governments because they are a tougher sell.

The likely result will be either a right-wing government that goes out of its way not to offend the United States [DF: I assume he means a coalition government formed by Livni] or one that does, and gets put in its place. Either way, it’s not so terrible.

The second source of hope is Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli peace activist who has long exhibited a wonderful combination of irrepressable, probably irrational optimism with righteous fury at his government. Ron Skolnik of Meretz USA tipped me off to the following, written by a few days after Obama’s inauguration,

Of all the beautiful phrases in Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, these are the words that stuck in my mind: “You are on the wrong side of history.”

He was talking about the tyrannical regimes of the world. But we, too, should ponder these words

In the last few days I have heard a lot of declarations from Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert. And every time, these eight words came back to haunt me: “You are on the wrong side of history!”

Obama was speaking as a man of the 21st century. Our leaders speak the language of the 19th century. They resemble the dinosaurs which once terrorized their neighborhood and were quite unaware of the fact that their time had already passed.

Between Israel and the United States a gap has opened this week, a narrow gap, almost invisible – but it may widen into an abyss….The Gaza War…has hastened the process of drifting apart. While the U.S. has made a giant jump to the left, Israel is about to jump even further to the right…

…Between the mental world of Obama and the mental world of Lieberman and Netanyahu there is no bridge. Between Obama and Barak and Livni, too, there yawns an abyss. Post-election Israel may find itself on a collision course with post-election America.

Where are the American Jews? The overwhelming majority of them voted for Obama. They will be between the hammer and the anvil – between their government and their natural adherence to Israel. It is reasonable to assume that this will exert pressure from below on the “leaders” of American Jewry, who have incidentally never been elected by anyone, and on organizations like AIPAC. The sturdy stick, on which Israeli leaders are used to lean in times of trouble, may prove to be a broken reed….

Yes, we are now on the wrong side of history.

Fortunately, there is also another Israel. It is not in the limelight, and its voice is heard only by those who listen for it. This is a sane, rational Israel, with its face to the future, to progress and peace. In these coming elections, its voice will barely be heard, because all the old parties are standing with their two feet squarely in the world of yesterday.

But what has happened in the United States will have a profound influence on what happens in Israel. The huge majority of Israelis know that we cannot exist without close ties with the US. Obama is now the leader of the world, and we live in this world. When he promises to work “aggressively” for peace between us and the Palestinians, that is a marching order for us.

We want to be on the right side of history. That will take months or years, but I am sure that we shall get there. The time to start is now.

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