The greatest tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that everyone knows
how it will end. We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of
the West Bank, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in East
The only unanswered question is how many more people will have
to die along the way. And so we will fight against the extremists on both sides,
including our extremists, the settlers.
– Yair Lapid, Der Spiegel, May 8.
We must strive to return to the negotiating table with the
intention of attaining peace with the Palestinians on the basis of “two-states
for two-peoples,” in which the large settlement blocs (Ariel, Gush Etzion,
Ma’aleh Adumin) will remain within the area of Israel.Jerusalem is the
eternal capital of Israel and its unity is a national symbol of the first
order.Jerusalem is not merely a place or a city but the center of the
Jewish-Israeli ethos, to which Jews turned their eyes throughout the
– Yesh Atid’s 2013 election platform.
In a recent column,
“Bennett’s buddy. Or blunder?” (February 21), I severely criticized Naftali
Bennett’s post-election conduct.
I strongly condemned
his decision not only to form a seamless alliance with Yair Lapid, conditioning
his Bayit Yehudi’s participation in a Netanyahu-led coalition on that of Lapid’s
Yesh Atid faction; but also to make a priori endorsement by Binyamin Netanyahu
of Lapid’s proposal for ultra- Orthodox conscription into military and/or
alternative national service a sine qua non for such participation.
each passing day, this criticism is proving increasingly well-founded, as is the
concern which prompted it. Indeed, as I write these lines, news has just come in
of Bennett’s latest buddy, Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz, with whom he has, together with
Lapid, formed a countervailing bloc of 33 MKs, to coerce Netanyahu to comply
with the their collective demands.
Now, while Mofaz is certainly worthy
of commendation for his military career, he is equally worthy of condemnation –
some might claim, contempt – for his political one.
He is a politician so
bereft of any credibility that he has brought grave disrepute to the theory and
practice of cynical, unprincipled opportunism. After all, who can forget that it
was Mofaz, who just prior to the 2006 election, gave Likud members his solemn
commitment that he would not leave the party for Sharon’s newly formed Kadima –
on the very day he did just that.
Stranger than fiction
So there you have
it. Naftali Bennett, who was supposed to spearhead the opposition to territorial
withdrawal and uprooting of Jewish communities across the 1967 Green Line, has
locked arms with two of its most prominent proponents: Mofaz, who was defense
minister at the time of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and oversaw its
implementation, and Lapid, who shamelessly exploited his widely read Friday
column to vociferously endorse it and vehemently vilify any opposition to
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Quite apart from the fact
that this is pretty close to a nightmare scenario for many of Bennett’s
supporters, there are more troubling and perplexing aspects to his behavior. One
can only shake one’s head in bewilderment as to why he would chose to weld
himself to an alliance with individuals whose core political credos are so
divergent from his own and whose political judgment has proved so defective.
Perhaps even more baffling is why he would insist so stubbornly that they should
be given key positions in determining the fate of the nation – particularly at
this challenging juncture in its history.
Poorly conceived pact
way you slice it, Bennett’s decision to bind himself inextricably to Lapid – and
now apparently to Mofaz as well – is a poorly conceived initiative which can
only precipitate undesirable outcomes – at least for a major portion of his
As I pointed out, Bennett’s primary banner was that of a
security hawk rather than a socioeconomic crusader. True, he did broach –
commendably – numerous socioeconomic issues during his campaign, not all that
dissimilar from those raised by Lapid. But this is not what brought him the bulk
of the ballots he received.
Had he presented precisely the same views on
his socioeconomic agenda, but adopted a more dovish stance on security matters,
it is virtually certain that a substantially different, and probably
significantly smaller, sector of the electorate would have voted for
By contrast, Lapid did place his major emphasis on societal and
For him, the issue of the ultra-Orthodox (together with
the purported distress of the middle class) did comprise the cardinal elements
of his campaign. Thus, his insistence on this matter, as an imperative for his
coalition participation, seems far more understandable.
So, if the Bennett-Lapid pact entailed making what was a cardinal issue for
Lapid’s voters a sine qua non for partaking in a Netanyahu-led government,
surely a commensurately cardinal issue for Bennett’s voters could – indeed,
should – have been made one as well– particularly if such an issue could be
fortuitously found in Yesh Atid’s election manifesto.
For example, as the
introductory excerpts indicate, the unity of Jerusalem and the retention of
major settlement blocs both feature in the party platform. Should not Bennett
have, therefore, tested Lapid’s mettle – and his true intent – by insisting that
these elements also be made a sine qua non for participation in a Likud-led
government? Should he not have elicited a pledge from Lapid that he would not
take part in such a coalition without a commitment to preserve a united
Jerusalem and to retain the major settlement blocs? Surely this would have been
a far more balanced approach to the pact – and a far more acceptable approach
for Bennett’s supporters?
Practicing political prudence
It would intriguing to
find out just how “unbreakable” the pact with Lapid-cum- Mofaz would be, should
Bennett decide to insist on an a priori pledge on these issues as an
indispensable precondition for joining the coalition.
After all, one
would surely expect that for Bennett, ensuring the inviolability of Jerusalem’s
unity and the preservation of the large settlement blocs should be no less
crucial than the haredi issue? Accordingly, what possible reason – or
justification – could there be for Bennett not insisting on it with equal force?
Or for Lapid rejecting it, as these were both included in his platform? This
should not be dismissed as petty “tit-for-tatting.”
Indeed, it is merely
the sober practice of political prudence.
After all, even if one believes
that Lapid can rise above the venom of his preelection campaign positions, it is
quite another matter when it comes to the people who comprise his core
constituency and provided the initial traction for his political career. For it
is reasonable to assume that they were attracted to Lapid because of the views
he expressed in his newspaper column, which was a major component in building
his political profile and propagating his political credo. In it he frequently
sallied forth with invidious and indiscriminate indictments of the settlers and
settlements, irrespective of whether they were part of the large blocs or
It is far from implausible, then, to surmise that he may come under
increasing pressures from his political base to revert to the positions that
originally drew them to him.
The expected pressures from the White House
can only make such a prospect even more probable.
Surely it would have
been prudent for Bennett to lay down a preemptive and preventive bulwark to
ensure against it materializing?
Without wishing to belittle
the practical importance or moral merit in a resolute demand that the
ultra-Orthodox play a greater role in both the military and the labor force, it
is hardly the most severe or pressing item on the national agenda. Far more
urgent and harrowing matters need to be addressed.
following: In the north, Lebanon is descending inexorably into the radical
clutches of Hezbollah. Syria is in the throes of a bloodbath, with control over
stockpiles of potentially devastating WMDs evermore tenuous, and only ominous
outcomes on the horizon.
Slightly further afield, Turkey’s Islamist
regime is waxing increasingly belligerent, with its leadership displaying
troubling symptoms of demented delirium.
In the south, Egypt is edging
toward socioeconomic meltdown – the only foreseeable consequence of which is
severely diminished capacity of the central government to enforce any semblance
of control in Sinai, where ascendant criminal warlords and jihadists comprise an
ever-growing menace along Israel’s southern frontier.
In the east, the
relatively benign Hashemite regime appears less and less secure in the face of
mounting unrest, making the specter of an Islamist seizure of power more and
Beyond that, the tyrannical theocracy in Tehran is rapidly
approaching the point of no return in its quest for weaponized nuclear
Add to all these the increasingly blatant rejectionism of
the Palestinians and the looming visit of an unsympathetic US president, and the
haredi issue takes on a somewhat different perspective.
Given the gravity
and the immediacy of these dangers, making ultra-Orthodox conscription – for all
its undisputed importance and merits – a pivotal do-or-die issue seems to
reflect a seriously warped sense of priorities.
Sense of proportion
needed Israel’s socioeconomic ills need to be seriously addressed. But they need
to be addressed by an incumbent government, not by a premature and populistic
declaration of intent likely to shatter on the rocks of
Moreover, in admitting that much ails the socioeconomic fabric
of the country and many defects lay heavy on the nation’s middle class, it is
important not to lose our sense of proportion.
After all, since its
inception, Israel has made stunning progress in virtually all socioeconomic
spheres – both relative to its very difficult point of departure and in absolute
terms relative to many industrial nations today. In fact, had the average
Israeli citizen in the 1950s, when crushing deprivation and harsh austerity were
the order of the day, been informed that the realities of today would in fact
prevail today, he/she would surely have been incredulous.
In those days,
it would have been considered a vision of Zionist success beyond the wildest
Life in Israel for the middle class is hardly that of a gulag –
and it is a dangerous illusion that any government, no matter what its
priorities, can provide a life devoid of all difficulty.
So while there
is much room for improvement, let’s not get too despondent while sipping our
lattes, holidaying abroad, buying new SUVs and trying out the latest mountain
Just how sincere Lapid’s
professed concern for the allegedly beleaguered middle class is, is revealed by
his preference in portfolios.
Lapid has rejected the offer of the Finance
Ministry – perhaps the ministry with the greatest potential for impacting the
lot of the middle class and redressing the iniquities/inequities that allegedly
Instead, he has insisted on the Foreign Ministry, a portfolio
that by its very nature has negligible effect on the fate of the nation’s middle
class. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine one that has less relevance for that
Could all this middle-class prattle be merely a means to a far
more sinister goal in the field of foreign, rather domestic, policy? By possibly
helping to ensconce Lapid in the Foreign Ministry, Bennett is treading on
treacherous terrain. After all, if Lapid were to be given charge of Israel’s
foreign policy, what views would he advance? Those expounded earlier in his
anti-settler, left-ofcenter column, or those in his later more settler-benign
right-of-center manifesto? How would Lapid’s incumbency in the Foreign Ministry
resonate with that of Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni’s in the Justice Ministry – another
unfortunate consequence of Bennett’s obstinacy – especially with regard to the
fate of the “territories.”
Beware, Naftali – less you find yourself being
seen as a patsy, the victim of deception – whether well-planned or merely
Art of the possible?
It was the German statesman Otto Von
Bismarck (1815-1898) who famously defined “politics” as “the art of the
In Israel, it would seem that it is more “the practice of the