What Israelis Think

UPDATE: By Eyal Press

A couple of readers have asked about the state of opinion within Israel, wondering if there's a greater diversity of views among Israelis than the headlines here suggest.  In fact, Israel is one of the most fractious political societies on earth. Israelis tend to stand together when they feel threatened, as people in most countries do, but they also love to argue.  Consensus is about as common (and lasting) as snowfall.  And unlike in many other Middle Eastern countries, Israelis have the freedom to air just about any political opinion they want.  For a flavor, check out the columns in Haaretz, where you will find far more pungent criticism of the Israeli government than in the American press.  

The recent war might make you think a lot of Israelis have shifted to the right, resigning themselves to the idea that the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be occupied and subjugated forever.  But this isn't the case. A majority of Israelis still favor a two-state solution.  A great many revile the settlers.  The vision of a "Greater Israel" championed by the right for decades keeps losing advocates, and not just on the far left.  Last October, in an interview with the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, once a hard-line member of the Likud, conceded that building settlements and checkpoints will do nothing to bring Israel long-term security:

We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the [occupied] territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage [of territory elsewhere]--without this, there will be no peace.

"Including Jerusalem?" he was asked.  "Including Jerusalem," he said.  

Afterwards, the columnist Gideon Levy announced, "With neither sorrow nor grief it may be announced: The Israeli right is dead."

This may be a bit premature.  But the right has indeed lost the ideological battle.  The problem is that many Israelis on the center and moderate left are conflicted and confused.  More and more when I've gone to Israel in recent years, I've spoken to people who unequivocally oppose expending lives and resources to defend illegal settlements, but who also fear withdrawing from the West Bank will only lead to violence and chaos.  

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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