Centrist Convergence Deserves Respect



As we go to press this week, the votes cast in Israel's parliamentary election are still being tabulated. Though the exact outcome is unknown, the outline of a new centrist consensus built around the ideas of stricken Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was a consistent theme in opinion polls taken throughout the campaign.

If those polls are correct, that will mean Ehud Olmert will become prime minister in his own right, and begin the process of assembling a coalition led by the Kadima Party founded by Sharon. If, as expected, Olmert patches together a Cabinet with the Labor Party and a few smaller groups, he will probably have the freedom to implement his plan to withdraw from some areas in the West Bank, while incorporating settlement blocs and unilaterally defining the nation's new borders.

This is a departure from the policies of both right- and left-wing Israeli governments since it's based on two ideas: the impossibility of ever arriving at a real peace agreement with the Palestinians, and the need to guarantee a Jewish majority within Israel proper.

The popularity of such a platform is no great mystery. Many Israelis are sick of waiting for a Palestinian peace partner they feel does not exist, while at the same time fearing that holding on to all of the Jewish communities in the territories (and the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around them) will undermine the Jewish character of the state.

Dissent from the right – which says that Israel is giving away its land for nothing – and the left – which believes that the only answer still lies in peace talks – against this centrist convergence is to be expected. But if Kadima wins the election, then Olmert will be justified in considering that he has a mandate to act as he said he would.

That is the point American Jews need to take to heart.

The fate of Diaspora Jewry is strongly linked to that of Israel, and every Jew – no matter where he or she lives – has a stake in Israel's future and a right to an opinion about measures that will affect its security. But the only ones who have a right to decide Israeli policies are the people who live there, pay taxes and send their children to serve in the military.

As much as it may rankle some Zionist idealogues who follow Israeli society from afar, Americans must be spectators – and not players – in the Jewish state's political dramas. Israel's government has no right to ask us to march in lockstep with every individual policy it promulgates. But it does have a right to expect Jewish institutions and organizations to respect the will of the Israeli people, and offer support when appropriate.

That leaves plenty of room for dissent from the government position, whether it comes from supporters of the settlements or advocates of more concessions to the Palestinians.

But what this ought not to mean is a blatant attempt to override the decision of the voters via an end-run in Washington. Those who attempt to use their American political clout to pressure Israel to abandon policies that its voters have endorsed (something that both the left and the right have done in the recent past) are way off base.

Olmert may not be everyone's favorite Israeli, and his potential coalition partners may prove even less popular. But with Hamas terrorists in charge of the Palestinian Authority, Iranian extremists plotting to build nuclear weapons and a worldwide propaganda campaign to delegitimize Zionism in full swing, this is no time for Americans to be undermining Israeli democracy. No matter who is chosen by Israel's voters, the need for Jewish unity in the face of rising anti-Semitism remains greater than ever.

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