By Omri Boehm
There is a famous quote, often attributed to George Orwell, which says that in times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. In last month’s Israeli election, it was Prime Minister Netanyahu who spoke the truth against a background of universal deceit: three days before the election he stated clearly that, if reelected, he would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. And he achieved something akin to a small revolution: In the last moment Netanyahu defeated not just Herzog and Livni, but Israel’s military, economic, and media elite, which had united against him. Exit polls gave Netanyahu twenty-seven seats in the Knesset, while earlier statistics predicted twenty-four seats or less. With the thirty seats that he eventually received, Netanyahu now has the power to establish, if he wishes, a coalition consisting exclusively of extreme right and religious parties. In order to begin to change where the country is going, the Israeli left will also have to start speaking the truth.
The universal deceit exposed by Netanyahu just before Election Day had two main lies for pillars. First, of course, his own lie, the 2009 “Bar Ilan Speech,” in which the Prime Minister, facing European and American pressure, pretended to renounce everything that he himself and the Likud Party had ever believed in, and publically endorsed the two-state solution:
The truth is that in the area of our homeland, in the heart of our Jewish Homeland, now lives a large population of Palestinians. We do not want to rule over them. We do not want to run their lives. We do not want to force our flag and our culture on them. In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence.
Non-experts may be unable to appreciate how dramatic this statement was. Ever since the 1930s, the ideological difference dividing Ben-Gurion’s mainstream Labor Zionism from Jabotinsky’s nationalist-revisionist alternative has turned on the question of the land’s partition. In 1947, Ben-Gurion enthusiastically supported the United Nation’s Partition Plan—encouraging the establishment of a two-state solution within today’s ’48 borders—while Jabotinsky’s successor as revisionist leader, Menachem Begin, fiercely objected.
True: some thirty years later, as Israel’s Prime Minister, Begin would hand over to Sadat the entire Sinai Peninsula. But this was a territorial compromise to the Arab Republic of Egypt, not a political-territorial concession to the Palestinian people, whose existence revisionists have always denied. Also true: Ariel Sharon, as Prime Minister, handed over occupied land to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and to that end evacuated thousands of settlers. But in order to do this, Sharon had to leave the Likud party, his natural home, and establish a new party, Kadima, with Labor leaders such as Shimon Peres.
So when Netanyahu stood in Bar-Ilan University and announced, as Israel’s Prime Minister and Likud leader, that the Palestinians deserve to get “their own flag, anthem and government,” he did something genuinely new in Zionist history. For die-hard revisionists such as Rubi Rivlin, Israel’s current friendly-looking president, Netanyahu’s two-state concession came as a shock. If the Likud Party kept relatively calm, it was because everybody knew that Netanyahu was lying.
Read more at the Boston Review