Aaron David Miller
Israel Policy Forum (Blog)
February 12, 2009 - 1:00am

The results of this week's elections in Israel validate a reality that has been stunningly obvious for some time now: the future of peace and war making in Israel is now firmly in the hands of the Israeli right and center right. You don't need a genius to conclude that the story line on peacemaking has been there for a long while. From Begin to Shamir, to Rabin to Sharon to Olmert and now to Netanyahu and Livni, the saga of Israel's quest for peace and/or peaceable arrangements with its neighbors has been a story of doves talking the talk and hawks - pure or transformed - walking the walk. For better or for worse, that fact isn't going to change. The only question that remains to be determined is whether any leader of the right or center-right is strong enough these days to carry the load.

About this, I'm left somewhere between hope and despair. Israel is almost through with an historic transition from a founding generation with the moral authority, political legitimacy to govern and make big decisions. They certainly weren't perfect and screwed up plenty, and there's always a tendency to romanticize, but they often did inspire trust and confidence. Today, the torch has been passed to a younger generation of politicians who are prisoners of their politics, not masters of their constituencies. We've now see three younger Israeli prime ministers (Netanyahu, Barak, and Olmert) stumble at making peace and war. While a national unity government with Netanyahu and Livni will bring a measure of stability into the coalition and ground Israeli policy between the right and center, it's not at all clear to me that either will be in a position to make the tough decisions required. Indeed, what you're likely to find is consensus on how to deal with Israel's security challenges, but no real consensus on peacemaking.

The chances of a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians seem remote, particularly now that you have two divided houses - in Palestine and Israel. I do see an opening with Syria but this will require some painful reality therapy and a cruel and unforgiving assessment by Israeli leaders of the price they'll pay --100% of the Golan for getting their security needs met. The Assads aren't known for their warm and fuzzy behavior, nor letting go of all of their cards quickly in their relationships with Hezbollah or Iran. But a peace treaty between Israel and Syria is possible. That possibility needs to be tested by would be peacemakers in Israel, Syria, and America who are determined and serious.

For the time being, I'll keep my enthusiasm for quick or easy breakthroughs under control. The fact is the greatest challenge Israel now confronts is Iran; and it's hard to see how any serious peacemaking can be done until there's more clarity on where Iran and its search for a nuclear weapon is going and what's being done to stop it. In this case, the Israeli public intuited something in casting their votes the way they did that all of us fear - that the security environment is getting worse and Israeli leaders must prepare to make tough, pragmatic and wise decisions. If the outcome of the elections produces a unity government that is sensible and balanced with a capable minister of defense, for the time being the people of Israel may have gotten exactly what they need, want, and deserve.


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