A Sheep Without a Shepherd
When Sharon decided to leave his Likkud party and establish a new central political party, what he wanted was clear. After the March 2006 elections he planned to continue the disengagement process entailing unilateral removal of settlements from the West Bank , east of the Wall. Based on most of the public surveys from that period, at least two thirds of the Israeli public supported such a move. This new Israeli agenda reflected a painful acknowledgement by the majority of the Israeli Jewish population of three major points, not addressed in previous elections:
First, after almost 40 years of occupation and two bloody Intifadas, there is no possibility to fulfill the dream of “Greater Israel” from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea . Second, using the Occupied Territories as a hostage for future peace negotiations was a mistaken calculation and its price has only increased with time. Finally, waiting does not bring more advantages. This is easily recognizable given the growing demographic danger, the changing political environment in the world, and the painful human and economic prices that Israel and the Palestinians paid and are still paying for continuing the occupation.
The majority of Israeli Jews have been slow to learn these three points. This caused the trend of violence among Palestinians that brought about Hamas. Our slow learning caused them to infer that " Israel understands only power," and that only through a bitter and violent struggle will Israelis change their minds and be ready for painful concessions. A friend in Northern Ireland once told me, "We had fast learners who were ripe for a peace agreement in the seventies. But we had many slow learners who needed another 25 years of violence to reach the same conclusion." I hope we do not need another twenty-five years to learn from our mistakes.
Sharon 's last political moves reveal an extraordinary change. He was the architect of the settlements, completely ignoring Palestinians in his aspirations to change the politics of the Middle East . In recent years, however, he talked of the price of occupation and the need for Palestinian statehood. He even forced the disengagement from Gaza . But even with his capacity to see the need for change, Sharon was unwilling to recognize the Palestinian leadership, or relinquish any power. He did not understand that claiming there is “no partner for peace” is a power-based argument that can just as easily be applied to Israel because Israel refuses to end the occupation.
Sharon 's remarkable changes were, thus, a paradox. He asked Israeli Jews to reconsider their understanding of the land, to consider dividing it, and sharing it with Palestinians. At the same time, however, he refused to communicate with these same neighbors who would share the land. This paradox between land and people gave rise to the unilateral pattern of Sharon 's moves on the ground. For Israeli Jewish society, these unilateral actions, along with the construction of the wall created a new illusion of security. It communicated that we could hide behind a wall, ignore “them”, and concentrate on a neglected social agenda for “us”.
This paradox is supported by three major emotions, rarely openly discussed in Israeli Jewish society:
- Grief over what is given up in land and power, after years of expecting that the other side would just "evaporate" one day.
- Guilt concerning the heavy human price (in many ways, quite unnecessary) which we paid and caused the other side to pay, for our inability to see the need to divide this land.
- Continued feelings of superiority and arrogance toward the Palestinians. Many of us still lack a basic understanding of the centrality of honor in Arab society, and this could go a long way towards improving our political relationships.
Perhaps Sharon would have been capable of supporting the Israeli Jewish people in working through these emotions. I doubt if his followers can do that. They do not seem to understand their role in helping us mourn our loss, address the guilt of the unnecessary pain we caused, and change our relationships toward the Palestinians.
For undertakings such as these, we need another leadership, which has not yet fully emerged. We need a leadership that can rid itself of a cheap sense of power (which resisted even the move out of Lebanon , not to mention Gaza ). We need a rooted leadership that can act with "sensitivity and firmness" - the slogan developed by the police during the days of disengagement. This is not an easy task, as the cycle of violence continues, and this cycle reinforces power-oriented slogans. Still, a new leadership should talk differently to the Palestinians (preferably in Arabic that was not learned in the school of security services). We should learn how to talk to them as respectable partners, sharing the same pain-ridden land, sharing a long common tradition of family-oriented faith. Even if some of them are not willing to acknowledge us (there was a time when many of us did not acknowledge them either), we should be willing to acknowledge them. We can acknowledge their humanity, their opinions, and especially their pain and suffering, which we have had a large part in causing, by our consistent blindness. Until such a leadership will emerge and speak up loudly, the Israeli-Jewish people will feel like a sheep without a shepherd.