The saddest fact about this election campaign is that the first real opposition blows against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were struck by people not running for election.

President Shimon Peres landed the first punch with his call last week to renew negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a sharp jab which was quickly followed by Israeli ambassadors’ criticism of the government’s diplomatic policy at the Foreign Ministry’s annual conference. And this weekend, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin launched a blistering critique of Netanyahu’s leadership in an interview with Yediot Aharonot.

The common thread in all three attacks is the belief that Netanyahu is leading the country toward disaster, a fact that until now none of the larger parties opposing Netanyahu from the Center and the Left have been able or willing to enunciate clearly. Leaving it too little, too late, it was only over the weekend that Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich and Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni finally brought themselves to announce that they won’t join a Netanyahu-led government.

By waiting so long to state decisively that no good can come out of joining a Netanyahu government (and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid is still refusing to rule out the prospect of signing up to a Netanyahu coalition, such is his shameless eagerness for a meaningless cabinet seat), both Yacimovich and Livni have squandered the chance to make any real mark in this election campaign.

This failure to act is a political crime, given the enormity of Netanyahu’s mishandling of the levers of power.

FOR THE past four years, the prime minister’s policy has been to do nothing on the diplomatic front, spurning the chance to hold talks with the most pragmatic Palestinian leadership Israel has ever known while further bolstering Israeli settlement in the occupied territories.

At the beginning of Netanyahu’s term of office, Peres served as his fig leaf, lobbying Western leaders on the prime minister’s behalf, insisting that Netanyahu would surprise everyone. There’s a limit, though, to anyone’s patience and Peres’s finally snapped, with the president using his appearance before the country’s diplomats to call on the government to move forward with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, correctly noting that “there is currently no other Arab leader who is saying he is in favor of peace, against terror, in favor of a demilitarized state, and of...the Palestinian consensual right of return.”

But rather than engage with Abbas, Netanyahu has sought to weaken him at every turn. Instead of seizing the opportunity to prove that his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech of “two states for two peoples” was not just empty words, uttered to buy credit with the US administration, Netanyahu spitefully reacted to November’s Palestinian upgrade to a non-member observer state at the United Nations with the announcement of construction plans for the sensitive West Bank area of E1 between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.

As the country’s ambassadors made clear in their angry exchange with National Security Adviser Ya’acov Amidror at their annual conference, such government decisions are impossible to defend in the international arena and seriously weaken Israel’s diplomatic position.

CLOSER TO home, the damage Netanyahu’s policies have caused is even more apparent. Not only has Netanyahu ignored Abbas, he has also considerably strengthened Hamas. As the former Shin Bet head Diskin noted, from the mass release of Hamas prisoners in the Gilad Schalit deal to allowing Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal into the Gaza Strip following Operation Pillar of Defense, Netanyahu has consistently promoted Hamas at the expense of Abbas’s Fatah faction.

At the same time, due to a lack of progress on the diplomatic front, worsening economic hardship in the West Bank, increased settlement activity and the external influence of the Arab Spring, Palestinian society is closer than ever to another intifada, leading Diskin to warn: “The concentration of petrol vapor is there in the air right now, it’s now just a question of what will be the spark that sets off the explosion.”

Aside from attacking Netanyahu’s policies, including the prime minister’s attempt in 2010 to prepare for an attack on Iran without cabinet approval, Diskin also launched a damning criticism of the prime minister’s personality: “most of the time I saw that he [Netanyahu] zigzagged, going forward, then backward, refraining from taking a decision before finally being influenced by a temporary, opportunistic interest.”

Explaining the background to his unprecedented interview, the country’s former security chief said: “If I cause the Israeli voter to think twice before choosing parties and leaders that are not worthy – because they are not leading us where we should be going – I have done my part.”

Diskin has done his part, but by letting Netanyahu get away unchallenged for so long, the country’s political opposition, to their shame, have failed to do theirs.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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