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Israel’s Surprising Consensus on the Palestinian Issue

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Israel’s new government is a hybrid—a mixture of left, right and center. While most hybrid governments suffer total paralysis, Israel’s has a good chance of being effective.

In the U.S., there is a rift between liberals and conservatives—a rift reflected in the divide between the Democratic and Republican parties. In most Western countries, the political divide reflects an ideological fissure in society. Israel, however, is an example of a curious political paradox: Political polarization does not reflect a divide within society but rather hides the fact that the ideological fissure in Israeli society has disappeared.

Two issues have traditionally split Israel into ideological camps: the relationship between religion and state, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Israelis, including ultra-Orthodox, traditionalist and secular Jews, love Judaism and seek a certain connection with their tradition. At the same time, most Israelis dislike the religious establishment and oppose religious coercion. How can this twofold consensus be converted into policy? Most Israelis would agree with the following formulation: more Jewish education, less religious coercion. More knowledge, less power.

But much more important is the invisible consensus that has emerged around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Israelis do not want to control the lives of the 2.6 million Palestinians living in the West Bank or, as many Israelis call it, Judea and Samaria. At the same time, most Israelis don’t want to withdraw from this territory, for fear of making their country so geographically small as to be indefensible. They agree on a paradox—they don’t want to control the lives of the residents of this territory, nor do they want to withdraw from it—and this paradox might definitely lead to paralysis and stagnation. But it doesn’t have to. In recent years, the Israeli political debate has been undergoing a paradigm shift toward an idea known as “shrinking the conflict,” which might convert this unusual consensus into an effective action plan that will transform reality.

The concept of shrinking the conflict means pursuing any policy that significantly boosts Palestinian self-government without jeopardizing Israeli security. At the heart of shrinking the conflict is an effort to create territorial contiguity between Palestinian autonomous islands in the West Bank, connect this Palestinian autonomy to the wider world, and promote Palestinian economic prosperity and independence. The purpose of this strategy is to transform the West Bank’s fragmented and fragile network of autonomous islands into a contiguous and prosperous polity. Shrinking the conflict would give the Palestinians what they currently lack: a critical mass of self-governance.

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