When Israelis vote for a new prime minister Tuesday, I will be crossing my fingers that victory goes to the right-wing Likud Party and its hawkish leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.
I have traditionally been a leftist, so this decision may sound strange. Still, I think that everyone who wants peace in the Middle East should root for Netanyahu -- for history has taught us that only the political right wing has a real mandate from the people to swap land for peace.
During the 29 years it held power in Israel, from 1948 to 1977, the left-leaning Labor Party succeeded in winning four wars against Arab countries. Yet, after each war, it failed to turn these victories into lasting peace with its neighbors.
On the contrary, after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel started building settlements in the West Bank. And after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it was once again the Labor Party that went about encouraging young families to settle in the recently annexed Sinai Peninsula. The Labor Party's policy at the time was summed up best by then-Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan when he declared: "I prefer to have Sharm-el-Sheik without peace than a peace without Sharm-el-Sheik."
Banished from Paradise
In 1976, when I was seven, my family moved to the Yamit settlement on the Sinai Peninsula. Unlike today's settlements, Yamit was not a religious place with ideological residents. Instead, it was just a town full of hippies who wanted to make the wilderness blossom and live near the beaches of the Mediterranean, golden dunes and palm trees.
Later that same year, Menachem Begin, who headed the Likud Party at the time, came to visit Yamit with his wife Aliza. "When I retire," Begin told the cheering residents, "I want to come and live here."
In May 1977, Likud won the elections, and Begin became Israel's first right-wing prime minister. Two years later, Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat signed the historic Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt under whose terms Israel agreed to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.
In 1980, Begin's helicopter landed among the dunes of Yamit. He tried to explain to us that he understood that the price we would have to pay by leaving our houses there was steep, but that the peace won at Camp David was worth the price.
Tempers ran high. At the time, I was 11. All I can remember is a woman running out of her kitchen toward Begin and shouting: "Begin, you son of a bitch! You promised to be my neighbor, and now you stole my house!" I remember the woman very clearly. It was my mother.
Hawks for Peace
Camp David and the right wing's ability to make peace with the Arabs wasn't just a fluke. When Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's hard-line prime minister in the early 1990s, joined the 1991 peace talks in Madrid, he was the first Israeli leader to accept Palestinians as participants in regional peace talks.
The talks in Madrid laid the groundwork for the 1993 Oslo Accords, which marked the first and only time that a left-wing Israeli government has entered into a peace process and relinquished land as part of the concessions. This peace process faltered in 1995, when a hate campaign against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for making such concessions ended in his assassination.
Netanyahu, who replaced Rabin in 1996, gave up much more land than Rabin, including the holy city of Hebron. Ariel Sharon -- at the time, another hard-line Likud leader -- won the 2004 elections by promising Israel's unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip, a promise he kept.
The two leading candidates for Tuesday's election, Netanyahu and current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, both come from very hawkish families. And they have both already proved their willingness to trade land for peace.
To understand the awkward link between the political right wing and a successful peace process, you only have to look at the makeup of Israeli society and the voting patterns of its respective groups. The Labor Party is traditionally supported by Ashkenazi Jews, that is, those who came to Israel from Europe. The Ashkenazi Jews built the state of Israel and -- influenced by the horrors of the Holocaust -- decided to make sure that they would negotiate with the Arabs only from a position of strength.
The Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, are those who came to Israel from non-European and mostly Arab countries only after the country was founded. They were sent to desolate areas to build cities and be used as human shields on Israel's borders. Unemployment rates among Sephardic Jews have been -- and continue to be -- high. They lack education and financial means. And they have felt humiliated and disenfranchised because the ruling Labor Party has failed to put their expertise and knowledge of oriental habits and customs to use in dealing with the Arabs.
A Voice Finally Heard
All of this agony and suppressed rage finally came out in the 1977 elections when the Sephardic vote brought the right-wing Likud and its leader, Menachem Begin, into power. Begin found the right tone for Sephardic ears: He promised to restore their pride and give them more opportunities. He promised them a better education for their children and a chance to participate in and influence Israel's future. He lowered taxes so they could afford to buy luxury goods. And, in return, Sephardic Jews gave Begin carte blanche to deal with Egypt and return the Sinai Peninsula.
Indeed, another reason why Sephardic Jews -- who make up the majority of Israeli's population -- have not voted for Labor is that they have long felt that its candidates ignore their desire to negotiate for peace with neighboring Arabs. They want to be part of the process; they want the leadership to use their knowledge of the Arab world to help secure peace between Israel and the countries many of them used to live in.
This is what I think will happen Tuesday. The right-wing parties will win the election and, following a brief transitional period, they will be forced to abandon their demagoguery and campaign promises in favor of dealing with reality.
Netanyahu will ask the new American administration for help in countering the Iranian threat and ending weapons smuggling into Gaza. In return, Netanyahu will have to present President Obama with new proposals for peace on both the Palestinian and Syrian fronts.
This is just how things work in Israel. Wars last six days, military operations last 18 years, and the election of right-wing parties -- the hard-liners -- paradoxically happens to be a sign that a new path to peace may be emerging.
Zeev Avrahami is a journalist who lives in Berlin and writes for the Israeli daily Haaretz.