Reuven Hazan, Prof. of Political Science,
at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

By Rhonda Spivak, May 13, 2010

“Israeli politics have been more pragmatic, and more consensual in the last three years than they have been in the last 43 years, ” according to Reuven Hazan, a professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who was in Winnipeg on May 12.

Hazan who spoke to about one hundred people at the Berney Theatre here said “There is common ground between doves and hawks.”

Hazan said that although in the last the years the difference between Likud, Kadima, and Labour has narrowed (in that all are on record as being committed to a two-state solution, resulting in a demilitarized Palestinian state next to Israel), Palestinians have become more polarized.

“Israel is [relatively] united and is ready to be tested in regard to making concessions. But the Palestinians aren’t ready to challenge us. Palestinian politics are polarized into two rivals [Hamas and Fatah] who don’t recognize each other and have killed each other…Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is too weak. He is incapable of making an agreement. He will say that he can’t speak for Gaza and is not willing to make a deal [only] with the West Bank either.”

Hazan, who is a visiting professor at Harvard University this year, added that the government in Israel is more stable than a government has been in a long time. In the event that Prime minister wanted to pursue peace negotiations and make concessions, the government could always be expanded to include Kadima, if the more right-wing parties balked at this.

Hazan said that it’s not really clear what the approach of Likud, Kadima, or Labour would be in negotiating a peace deal.

All three of these parties would want to include the major settlement blocks within Israel. As Hazan said,

“Even [Labour’s leader]Ehud Barak says that Ma’ale Adumin and Ariel aren’t going back, and will remain part of Israel…We no longer have real doves and hawks…Everyone in [these three parties] talks about compromise…It’s hard to tell the difference between the Likud Prime Minister who talks about a demilitarized Palestinian State and Labour’s Minister of Defense.”

Israel is being led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who Hazan labeled as “centre-right, and Ehud Barak, whom he labeled as “centre left.”

In Hazan’s view, the Obama administration has failed in its first year office to understand that the gap between hawks and doves in Israel has narrowed.

“When Obama demanded a complete settlement freeze[including Jerusalem even the doves [Labour] said no…Hopefully the new administration has had its learning year..I wouldn’t give Obama a passing grade this year, but hopefully he’s learning and Hillary Clinton is gaining influence.”

In his lecture, Hazan said that from 1967 until the until 1996 when Itzhak Rabin was assassinated “doves’ [those who wanted to return territory to improve Israel’s security} and hawks {those who wanted to hold on to territory to improve Israel’s security] became more polarized..

In 1977, Menachem Begin began the process of settling the territories, which were first located on the high grounds for strategic needs. But by his second term, Likud wanted to place enough settlements, like swiss cheese throughout the territories so that they couldn’t be returned.”

On the other hand, the doves, like Yigal Allon originally were willing to giver back about one half of the territories.

“But over the years the doves decided they were willing to give back more land, even including partitioning Jerusalem..They began to maintain that there was no middle ground, there’s no such thing as keeping half the territory,“ said Hazan.

With the increasing polarization, however, “each side [the doves and hawks] began to see the other side not as a democratic rival but as a hostile threat…you reach a point where you begin to delegitimize the other point of view”

As Hazan added, ‘Rather than saying “I understand that the other side if it wins has a right to govern, the [losing] side began to say they don’t have a right to govern. They are a danger to the country.”

Yet, “democracy is based upon pluralism…upon the concept that if I lose an election, my opponent has the right to govern.”

In 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party returned to power with a “razor-thin” margin in the Knesset [61 seats vs. 59 seats] Rabin entered into Oslo process of negotiations with Yasser Arafat and the P.L.O, “the hawks began the process of delegitimizing Rabin.”

According to Hazan, the fateful assassination of Itzhak Rabin in Tel-Aviv which Hazan personally witnessed was a turning point in Israeli political trends.. Following his assassination of Rabin in November 1995, the doves and the hawks “ became less polarized.”

After the Olso accords were signed, Israelis didn’t understand why more Israelis died of error than before they were signed. This is not what had happened when Israel had signed a peace agreement with Egypt or Jordan.

“Why was there this problem? Because we were not negotiating with a sovereign state but a national liberation movement. At that point, even the doves began to say this will be a long process of peace negotiations and there will be violence.”

When Netanyahu the Supposed “hawk” was first elected in 1996, “he met with Arafat even more times than Rabin and later Ehud Barak did as Prime minister.” It was Netanyahu who negotiated the “Hebron Agreement” with Arafat, whereby the Israeli military withdrew from 95 percent of Hebron. Netanyahu then negotiated the “Wye Agreement, whereby Israel transferred responsibility for control “of large parts of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.”

While Netanyahu showed he was capable of making concessions that would have previously been unthinkable for true hawk, according to Hazan, Ehud Barak who became the Labour party leader was in fact the “the hawkish leader of the dovish camp.”

According to Hazan, while Barak’s proposal at Camp David with Arafat included a division of Jerusalem, after it failed Barak announced, “I went to Camp David and I made Arafat a proposal that I knew he would turn down because I wanted to unmask him.”

In 2001, it was Ariel Sharon, the “hawkish of the hawks”, who as Prime Minister admitted that “Israel has to make painful concessions.” By this time, Hazan noted that polls showed that “a majority of Israelis were willing to leave Gaza.”

“The hawks were now saying we no longer have to hold on to territories to achieve peace…So, who’s a hawk now?,” Hazan said. In 2003, Sharon won Israeli elections in a landslide.

In 2005, under Sharon Israel not only disengaged from Gaza but it withdrew from three settlements in Northern Samaria.

“Why? asked Hazan. “ Because Sharon’s plan was clear. Gaza first. The West Bank is next.”

This agenda created a schism in Likud, and as a result Sharon founded Kadima and called early elections.

“Kadima was the first successful attempt to create a middle party in Israel, that is pragmatic,” said Hazan. He noted that even after Sharon’s stroke, Ehud Olmert, who was not considered to be a strong leader but rather had been chosen by Sharon because “he posed no threat to Sharon’s leadership” was elected by the Israeli people.

Hazan reminded the audience that Kadima, not Likud actually got the most seats in the actually2009 election.

“But Netanyahu did a very intelligent thing,” he said. “He jumped over Kadima and brought in the dovish Labor Party into the governing coalition.

Thus, the situation in Israel today is Likud, Kadima, and Labour are “all in the centre,” such that the hawks and the doves have become hard to distinguish.

Hazan added that not only could “a Kadima-Labor-Likud government cut a deal with the Palestinians”, it “could compromise to reduce the number of parties in the Knesset”.

He said all three of these parties agree on a need to reform Israel’s political system.