Herzliya Conference, day two: optimistic about Zionism and pessimism on peace

If the first day of the Herzliya Conference outlined the threats facing Israel from the outside, the two plenary panels of the conference’s second day dealt with how Israelis view these challenges from within.

One evening panel, on Zionism in the 21st century, called for dynamism in Israeli thought on national identity.

The chairman of the KKL-Jewish National Fund, Eli Stenzler, called Zionism “the most successful revolution” of the 20th century.

Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky said that while Israelis used to dismiss the Diaspora as a dying sector of the Jewish world, because they assumed Jews would be “either In Israel or assimilated,” now they realize that the growth of Diaspora Jewry helps Israel.

“If we want more olim,” he said, using the Hebrew term for Jewish immigrants to Israel, “we need more Jews.”

But while discussing Israel’s future with its Palestinian neighbors at another panel, optimism was scant and, when present, restrained.

The deeper questions the conference addressed involved not the technical details of a negotiated agreement, but rather how and whether Israelis, Palestinians and their leaders can become amenable to making any agreement. None of the arguments presented were particularly original:

Those who believe an agreement is necessary, like Hatnua Party Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, said that it would safeguard Israel’s Jewish and democratic future by giving the state international legitimacy, secured borders and a large Jewish majority.

“Israel needs to be part of the free world, but the conflict casts doubt on our legitimacy,” said Livni, who is slated to head Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the next coalition. “It will bring a new budget, a new agenda and a new vision for the Jewish people.”

Those who opposed a two-state solution, like Danny Dayan, former head of the Yesha Council, a settler lobby, said that ideological gaps between Israelis and Palestinians were simply too large to bridge.

“The problem is not technical,” he said. “The problem is that you cannot reconcile the aspirations of the Zionist movement and the Palestinian national movement.”

The consensus among the rest of the speakers was that a two-state solution was worthwhile even if the gaps between the two sides right now are too large to bridge. In the meantime, some said, leaders should try to convince their constituents that a peaceful future is possible.

“We should strive for an interim agreement,” said Yoaz Hendel, chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategy. “If we do not want to continue the status quo, we should create an Israeli initiative and define the limits of the Israeli consensus.”

NEXT STORY