Updated: August 4, 2013 6:26AM
Last January, I was one of 47 new members elected to Israel’s 120-member parliament, the Knesset. Most, like me, are new to politics, motivated by a deep desire to heal our nation’s pressing social problems while renewing our efforts to reach peace with our Palestinian neighbors based on a two-state solution.
I was elected as part of the new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, which gained 19 seats in the January election, emerging as the second-largest party. Our surprising success was propelled by a craving for change from voters disillusioned with our professional political class who have run the country for decades, neglecting the poor, allowing social divisions to widen and the peace process to languish.
Most of my party colleagues had established careers and satisfying jobs outside of politics but felt compelled to step into the arena by their sense that our country was moving seriously off-track, both domestically and in its foreign policy.
So many young, educated Israelis of my generation and younger have basically given up on politics as a vehicle for achieving social change and social justice. Many look for opportunities overseas rather than stay to try to build the kind of country they would like to live in. But hundreds of thousands of others have come out into the streets to demonstrate for social justice, forcing the government to listen to the voices of those they have neglected for so long. And now, several leaders of this grassroots protest movement have joined the political process and taken seats in the Knesset.
Visitors to the Knesset in the past few months since the election have been struck by the change in atmosphere. It feels and sounds different. There is a new energy and a new optimism.
In our first few months in the government, my party has focused on passing a budget to close a widening deficit and on enacting legislation to spread the burden of defending our nation to the burgeoning ultra-orthodox community whose members currently are able to avoid military service. We expect this legislation to pass sometime this summer.
Some have interpreted that initial domestic focus to mean that we do not care about our Palestinian neighbors and the necessity of achieving peace with them based on the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Such assessments are profoundly wrong. As our leader, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, told the Washington Post last weekend, “For me, there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution. The Palestinians must have their own country, and the Israelis must understand that the Palestinians should have their own country. I’m going to push for this as hard as I can because I think this is really important for Israel.”
I myself have many friends in Ramallah and often visit for open dialogues, which have taught me how fundamentally similar we are. I and my Palestinian contemporaries want the same kinds of things — a good, secure life; a decent job; a roof over our heads; good schools and a better life for our children. The Palestinians I know crave this kind of normality — and so do Israelis — but they can’t achieve this under occupation, and neither at the end of the day can we.
Both sides understand that there is no alternative to a two-state solution. It remains the only way for Israel to remain a Jewish homeland and remain democratic. American Jews understand this too. But we all need to stand up now and make our voices heard, otherwise the opportunity may be lost. And that would be a tragedy.
Adi Koll is a freshman member of the Israeli Knesset