Next week, on Jan. 22, Israelis go to the polls to elect the members of the next Knesset from among whom their next government will be formed.
As ever, they have a wide-ranging, left-to-right, secular-to-observant, narrowly ethnic to widely inclusive, single-issue to multi-issue, new-faces and old-faces constellation of competing parties from which to choose.
And as ever, the key issue facing Israelis is their security: physical and economic.
The economic security choices they face fall very much along lines familiar to voters in Canada, and indeed in the entire western world. More or less, we make those decisions according to our personal understanding of the appropriate role of government in a free market.
However, the physical security choices Israeli voters face are unlike any Canadians, Americans or other westerners confront: how to find a way to live in peace with all of its neighbours?
Unfortunately, it has been thus for Israeli voters since their very first election after the state was founded in 1948. No other country in the United Nations must still diplomatically and militarily defend its very right to exist against the malevolent efforts of some fellow UN members to “wipe it off the face of the earth.”
From our vantage point, in the comfort and safety of our Canadian homes, we can only hope that Israelis will elect a parliament and choose a government that will make every reasonable effort to reach a treaty of peace with the Palestinians. And we would even hope that the definition of reasonable efforts would include new, bold, imaginative, fresh-thinking, daring steps to find common ground with the Palestinians. It is our view, and most recent polls in Israel confirm, that the majority of Israelis share this hope.
But it is also our view, and most recent polls in Israel confirm, that reasonable efforts do not include patently reckless and self-destructive steps.
In the current circumstances, however, it would be difficult to convince most Israelis that the Palestinian leadership truly wishes to make peace with the Jewish state.
The rulers of Gaza are ideologically, theocratically and politically sworn to annihilate Israel. And the rulers of the West Bank prevaricate at every opportunity, suggesting at the United Nations and to visiting western leaders a willingness to negotiate with Israel, but exhorting their people to the “fulfilment of the dream of return” and “ending the occupation” when western microphones are turned off (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jan. 4, on the anniversary of Fatah’s founding).
As Paul Michaels astutely summarizes in his column this week, “A clear majority [of Israelis] supports a two-state solution while at the same time Israelis fear it cannot be achieved due to the absence of a committed Palestinian partner.”
It is the perpetual dilemma for the Israeli electorate.
We hope and pray they choose wisely.