Thursday, December 8, 2011

Soul Searching Leads to Peace

By: Fadi Zanayed

In several articles I have written about the feeling of Israeli superiority over the Palestinians.  I mentioned that I believe that this feeling of superiority complicates or thwarts attempts at a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.  In my discussions on various internet forums with people about this subject, I have realized that I have not made myself clear.  So here is another attempt to explain my position.

When I refer to the Israeli mindset, I am talking about the political mindset—the political atmosphere.  Because of the power given by the Israeli political system to the minority right wing groups who feel superior to Palestinians (and maybe as one Israeli told me toward other Jews as well) and who will not compromise on the Greater Israel expansionist mentality, that superiority domination attribute transcends onto the government of Israel. I am not saying that Israelis as a whole possess this superiority feeling, it is the system of government that makes Israelis view that of the minority view.

Let me try to explain how much political power a minority Party within Israel has upon Israelis by explaining how a coalition government in Israel is formed.

There has been only one Israeli election (1955) in which one Party won enough seats, at least 61 seats out of 120 Knesset seats, to form its own government.  All other elections required the formation of a coalition government.   After every Israeli election other than 1955, the Party with usually the most seats is asked by the Israeli President to form a coalition government.  That is, that Party has to wean enough political parties to join it in a coalition so that taken their seats as a whole they form a majority of seats in the Knesset, i.e. at least 61 seats.

To form a coalition government, the Party tasked with this responsibility must seek other Party or Parties to join it. This system of governance begets the tasked Party beholden to the ideologies of the minority Party or Parties within the coalition who could tip the balance of power in the Knesset in a no confidence vote.  If a particular minority Party of the coalition did not agree with the ruling coalition, they have a right to call for a no confidence vote in the Knesset.  If the number of seats that the minority party or a combination of minority parties have is at least 61 seats (votes) when cast with the opposition, which is the other members of the Knesset who make up the rest of the 120 seats, then the no confidence vote will succeed and the coalition government would then collapse.

The Netanyahu Coalition is made up of Likud (28 seats), Yisrael Beytenu (15 seats), Labor (13 seats) and Shas (11 seats), a total of 67 seats.   Each Party’s seats are critical.  Any one Party could topple Netanyahu’s government, i.e. 67 minus any Coalition Party’s seats would be less than 61.

Thus Netanyahu has to walk a very tight rope.  He must appease the least of his coalition members to prevent the collapse of his government.  Thus, when Yisrael Beytenu leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman states in his United Nations speech that the peace process with the Palestinians will take decades, Netanyahu cannot reprimand him.  With 15 seats—only 12.5% of the total Knesset seats, Lieberman’s Party has enough power to topple the Israeli government if he does not get his way.  

The Shas Party, whose spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yousef calls for the annihilation of the Palestinians, does not want peace with the Palestinians and wants to continue to build illegal settlements in the West Bank, the land upon which Palestinians desire to create a State of Palestine. With 11 seats—just 9 % of the Israeli Knesset, it wields tremendous power—enough to pressure Netanyahu into concessions it favors.

It is my contention that the Shas and Yisrael Beytenu Parties believe that they are superior to the Palestinians—that they believe that Jews have a God given right to dominate the Palestinian people.  Because of the power they have in the Netanyahu Coalition that ideology becomes the ideology of the Netanyahu government and thus becomes the ideology of Israelis.

The issue of the settlement freeze that Netanyahu would not extend is directly on my point. For fear of the collapse of his coalition, Netanyahu would not extend the settlement freeze, although he may have wanted to do so. He was beholden to the whims of the Shas and Yisrael Beytenu Parties thus making his government decision on the settlement freeze that of the minority not the majority. 

I cannot tell Israel that there system of how they reach a consensus must change.

I can say however that Israelis need to reflect on the words of Mahandas Gandhi, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”  I believe the majority in Israel need to look deep into their "hearts and souls" and determine whether they want a culture which is subjected to the whims of the minority and whether they want to continue with a culture of dominance and occupation of Palestine and the Palestinians.  

Without this soul searching, I am afraid there will be no peace. 

(  © Copyright, Fadi Zanayed.  Publication or distribution of this material is allowed provided its content is not altered and the source and its author are cited.)

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