Political Bird Watching Towards the Coming Israeli Elections



Political Bird Watching Towards the Coming Israeli Elections


Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University


Israeli politics has always been characterized by the divide on the issue of peace talks and territorial concessions. The terms generally used are hawks and doves. However, this is too simplistic and overly general as most of the Israeli populace and the central parties fall somewhere in between these two purebred fowl. I suggest that two hybrids be added to Israel’s electoral ornithology: dawks and hoves.

           Pure hawks are against any territorial concessions due to their belief that the Arab world – and especially the Palestinians – are, and will forever be, against the continued existence of the Jewish State for ideological, theological and/or ethnic-national-historical reasons. Israel’s main two hawkish parties today are Yisrael Beitenu (Avidor Lieberman at the helm) and a constantly morphing amalgam of the former National Religious Party, Moledet Party, National Union, etc. (elections for party leader to be announced…).

           What then is a dawk? A “dawk” is a dovish hawk, one who doesn’t see much sense (even danger!) in trying to sue for peace with the other side at the present juncture (such a “present” can extend for years and decades) because either the Palestinians are too divided to be able to execute a peace treaty or are unwilling to consider serious concessions, e.g. giving up the dream of refugee return to Israel, sole possession of the Temple Mount etc. Dawks do not in principle rule out an ultimate peace treaty including some Israeli concessions but “at the moment” there is very little to negotiate given the situation and positions of the other side. In the dawk‘s eyes, in large part the problem is psychological: the Palestinians within their own society continue to demonize Israel and Jews, so that there is little “preparation” of the Palestinian people for any realistic peace compromise that would entail some painful concessions on their part as well.  The Likud Party leads the “dawk” camp in Israel today, and Binyamin Netanyahu certainly expresses the dawkish position in full regalia.

           On the other side of the divide are the doves and hoves. Pure doves believe that the Palestinians (and certainly Syria) are ready to sue for peace, not necessarily out of love of Zion but for realpolitik reasons of desperately wanting their own state. Doves believe that the sides are in fact not that far apart, and with some good will, a lot of “friendly pressure” (the Arab world on the Palestinians; the U.S. on Israel), and oodles of cash (ditto) to smooth over the mutual hurt born of painful concessions, a peace treaty is within our grasp. The Meretz Party (recently elected Haim Oron at the head) best exemplifies such a dovish stance.

           Hoves, on the other hand, are willing to continue negotiating for peace with serious Israeli concessions, but are willing to sign the dotted line only with ironclad security guarantees and the successful resolution of other issues that do not threaten the Jewish State. What does this entail? Roughly speaking: perhaps NATO membership for Israel; a 25 year land lease of the Golan Heights by Israel to maintain a presence and buffer while the peace treaty is carried out and relations are “normalized” with Syria; enabling only a very small number of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral home within Israel’s final borders, so that Israel does not have to fear the demographic dilution of its underlying Jewish character; demilitarization of the Palestine State; some joint sovereignty over the Temple Mount; a peace treaty as well with the entire Arab world (Iran is not Arab); etc. In other words, peace is possible but only when both sides are convinced that Israel is a permanent part of the Middle East – precisely as a result of the peace treaty’s parameters.

           Which Israeli parties are hoves? Here the matter becomes interesting. At present both the governing Kadima Party and its coalition partner the Labor Party are clearly hoves. This explains why they can sit relatively easily in the same government, but also why there is no love lost between them as they are essentially competing for the same birds of a feather among the Israeli electorate (not to mention that part of Kadima is populated by former Labor MK defectors).

           What is probably of greatest interest in this ornithological taxonomy is the fact that both dawks and hoves are dependent in their policy and stance on the behavior of the other side! In other words, if by some miracle the Palestinians would get their act together (Fatah defeats Hamas; a new forceful but moderate leader is elected President of the PLA; etc.) then both dawks and hoves would move “Leftwards”; obviously the opposite occurs when the Palestinians show less inclination to clean their own house.

The bottom line? Israeli elections – and the one coming up no less than others in the recent past – are more dependent on the behavior of the other side than on practices and policies of the Israeli parties themselves. Thus, at the moment it is not at all surprising that the dawks have an advantage over the hoves in the polls. With Fatah literally fighting Hamas, with Abbas as weak a President as one can imagine, and with continued anti-Zionist education and international anti-Zionist political activity on the part of many Palestinian intellectuals, the dawkish position at this point in time seems to make the most sense from the Israeli standpoint.


Nov. 26, 2008

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