I confess I have something of a soft spot for Tzipi Livni, for two principal
reasons. Firstly, and it’s worth remembering, she could and would have been
prime minister had she given in to Shas’s extortion and continued the government
she inherited from Ehud Olmert on the back of increased funds for haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot and schools. That she preferred to stick to her
principles was admirable, and a marked contrast to the man who did become prime
Binyamin Netanyahu often acts as though being in power is the
end rather than the means.
Secondly, she is the only leading Israeli
politician in recent years to have made a point of speaking out on the need for
Jewish pluralism in Israel and for really trying to ask questions about how to
strengthen Jewish identity in Israel in a pluralistic way. In 2010 she even held
a daylong conference in the Knesset on the subject.
However, it can’t be
denied that she has been politically cack-handed as leader of the opposition.
She has been completely undiscriminating in her criticism of the government,
even attacking Netanyahu for steps that she would almost certainly have taken
herself in the same situation.
She has (rightly) condemned the government
for its failure and/or unwillingness to act proactively or creatively to change
the status quo with the Palestinians, but she’s let Mahmoud Abbas completely off
the hook, refusing to condemn his numerous evasions of negotiations and steps
away from the peace process and towards rejectionism.
So what of her
replacement? As defense minister under Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz was one of the
most uncompromising and hawkish figures in the cabinet (in an administration not
lacking uncompromising hawks). He also embarrassed himself hugely by publicly
pledging to stay in the Likud after Sharon had left to create Kadima, then
jumping ship to join the new party only when it became clear he would have no
chance of beating Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.
Despite all that,
the labeling of him as a simple “right-winger,” or the accusations from many
that there is no significant ideological difference between him and Netanyahu,
are wide of the mark.
On the contrary, the one thing that marks Mofaz out
as different, not just from Netanyahu or Livni, but from any other senior member
of Knesset, is that he has proposed a serious and thoughtful alternative to
negotiations with the Palestinians.
(And I said serious and thoughtful,
so I’m not including the “do nothing” option of much of the Likud or the “kick
out the Arabs” ethnic cleansing of the far Right.) The plan he launched at the
end of 2009 (which he discussed at length in an interview with this newspaper
published at the end of Passover) was not dissimilar in essence to those of
others who understand that there is an urgency to ending the occupation and
separating from the Palestinians, and have been ready and able to think outside
the box – such as leading Arab affairs journalist Ehud Ya’ari and the Tel Aviv
think tank the Reut Institute.
Mofaz’s proposal would see a gradual
process of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Settlements
in areas that would have to be given up in order for this state to be contiguous
would be evacuated (with a comprehensive resettlement and compensation plan
drawn up first) while the settlement blocs would be de facto incorporated into
Israel with all restrictions on building lifted.
Mofaz has said: “My main
idea is to start with a Palestinian state. The state is not temporary, the
borders are temporary. The moment they have a state, they could build their
economy, law and security apparatuses. They could build a better life for
the Palestinian people.”
There would be a Palestinian state and an end of
Israeli occupation, but the final borders would be resolved in negotiations. The
onus would be on Palestinians to return to the negotiating table to finalize the
borders – the temporary borders would be dictated by Israel and its security
Let’s be clear, the polls do not look good for Kadima and the
chances of Mofaz being in a position to advance this plan are not high. In
addition, he is completely untested as a political leader and the demands of
Israeli coalition politics could well see him make concessions to right-wing
However, whether or not he ends up as prime minister, I for one
hope he can use his new prominence as leader of the opposition (and, currently –
lest we forget – the largest single party in the Knesset) to get more support
for his plan or something similar.
Shelly Yacimovich has had precisely
nothing to say on the peace and security question since becoming leader of the
Labor Party. There is no reason why she could not endorse Mofaz’s plan as way to
break the current diplomatic impasse.
Then there is Yair Lapid, the other
main contender for center-left votes in the next election. It is clear that he
sees the demographic, diplomatic and moral dangers of remaining in control of
another people, but that he has little trust in the Palestinians as negotiating
partners. At the very least, he should have something about to talk to the new
Mofaz is an unlikely savior, and I did not write the above
with a great deal of optimism. But for those of us tired of an Israeli
government and a Palestinian Authority that seem equally unwilling to go that
extra mile to end an occupation that is ruinous for both peoples, straw-clutching
is preferable to imagining that Netanyahu and Abbas will remain co-captains of a
The writer worked in the Public Affairs department and as
the ambassador’s speechwriter, at the Israeli Embassy to the UK, and has been
active in Israel advocacy and education in the UK and Israel.