Pinto: Israeli people want peace — but not yet


Yoni Pinto, Columnist

In February 2014, a non-profit organization called the Israeli Peace Initiative conducted a poll from the Israeli population regarding a possible peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians. According to the survey, more than three quarters of Israeli Jews would be willing to support a peace deal between the two sides.

Just a few weeks ago, elections in Israel seemed to show the opposite.

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was running for reelection, rivaled mainly by Isaac Herzog and his Zionist Union.

The Zionist Union had a lot of factors working in its favor: the ever-increasing cost of living, Netanyahu’s failure to halt Iran’s steps toward nuclear power and the subsequent widening of the gap between him and U.S. President Barack Obama. Coupled with polls showing a strong lead for the Zionist Union leading up to the election, Netanyahu’s defeat seemed all but certain.

On March 16, a day before the election, Benjamin Netanyahu made a controversial statement: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.”

When Netanyahu was asked if this meant a Palestinian state would not be established if he were to remain Israel’s prime minister, he replied: “Indeed.”

Against all odds, Netanyahu won the election the following day, earning 30 seats in the Knesset — the Israeli parliament — to the Zionist Union’s 24, and is now in a perfect position to form the new coalition government.

What made the Israeli people completely reverse their position on a peace deal in one year?

A lot of things happened in that year: The Islamic State grew more powerful in Iraq and Syria, building more fear of terrorist attacks. Iran’s talks with the United States and other western powers brought it closer to nuclear power, while its influence around the region steadily rose. But maybe most important, the Palestinian Authority decided to form a joint Palestinian government with Hamas, an organization that has the destruction of Israel as one of its core principles, to participate in future negotiations.

All these factors unnerved the Israeli people. Today, Israel appears to have significantly more enemies than five years ago. These are all enemies that can be influential over a future state of Palestine, all significant risks that can hurt Israel and Israelis. It seems understandable that Israelis would shift their perspectives to peace. In my opinion, this is what Netanyahu has done as well.

When looking at Netanyahu’s statement it’s very easy to ignore context. It’s easy to say Netanyahu is not in favor of a two-state solution anymore and to believe that he’s finally revealing some hidden extreme Zionist ideology. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

It’s important to understand Netanyahu’s opposition to a Palestinian state is not because he’s a crazy right-wing nationalist who will forever be anti-Palestinian — it’s because he’s worried for the safety of his country.

Netanyahu believes that in this time of turmoil in the Middle East, any vacuum can quickly be filled by extremist groups that would be dangerous for Israel. He believes evacuating lands would give ground to radical Islamists for attacks that can harm his country and its people. He’s worried that the endgame of a peace process will be much worse for Israel than the current situation.

In 2009, Netanyahu pledged his support for a two-state solution in appropriate conditions. The problem is, Netanyahu doesn’t believe appropriate conditions for peace are present just yet. In his view, the best course of action for the survival of Israel is to preserve the status quo.

It appears as if the Israeli population agrees: Right now, they think the survival of Israel is worth delaying the peace process. It’s disappointing, yes, but it is ultimately understandable.

Yoni Pinto is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].