The awkward conduct of the prime minister on the election of a new president had even some of his staunchest supporters in the Likud asking whether Bibi had lost it.
The anti-Ruby Rivlin obsession drove him to a frantic candidate hunt – from David Levy to Elie Wiesel, as long as your name wasn’t Rivlin. Binyamin Netanyahu is giving political paranoia a bad name. If he can’t make peace with Rivlin, how is he expected to make peace with the Palestinians? Behind the scenes, another political race has thus begun: Who will succeed Netanyahu? The knives are out in Likud Beytenu; Ya’alon, Sa’ar, Shalom, and Liberman have their eyes on the biggest prize. Herzog and Lapid share this ambition; so do the possible newcomers to the political race, Moshe Kahlon and Yuval Diskin.
Netanyahu has not given up, but if it looks like a lame duck, walks like a lame duck and talks like a lame duck, it is a lame duck! The Bibi III government is a story of failures. It failed to decrease the cost of living, to reform the housing market, to reduce the number of people living under the poverty line and to rehabilitate the floundering health services. It also failed in conducting the peace process, which was sacrificed in favor of settlement construction. The all-important relations with the United States are now at a low point and Europe is threatening economic boycott.
Success in this government is measured by how each party scores with its own constituency: Netanyahu with rightwing demagoguery to his Likud base; Lapid with the legislation on equal military service that was only of rhetorical value to his Yesh Atid upper-middle-class crowd; Tzipi Livni with her best efforts on peace and democracy for those who still believe in both; and Bennett and company with thousands of housing units in the West Bank for their ultra-nationalist followers inside and outside of the West Bank. The highest score definitely goes to Bennett. Bennettism has become government policy.
Bennett, a radical ideologue in the clothes of a pragmatist, has skillfully manipulated the government to adopt his policies and basic outlooks. He aimed to sabotage the peace process and did not rely on the prime minister’s assurances that nothing will come out of it. He added 14,000 obstacles to the peace talks, in the form of new or planned housing units in the West Bank. Netanyahu insisted on having him in the government rather than the alternative unity government with Labor.
Bennettism is also the tune to which this government marches. To him, every Palestinian leader is a terrorist, every compromise a capitulation, a Palestinian state a catastrophe. At least he is honest and outspoken; his megaphone spoke louder than the hesitant mumblings of the prime minister about a two-state solution. For all practical purposes, the government has now espoused a policy in favor of a binational apartheid state.
That is the direction; Bennett is the locomotive. He marches at full throttle in front of thousands of fanatic followers, chanting nationalistic slogans, through Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem (like Sheikh Jarrah) to scare the local population. This serves as inspiration for the “price-tag” hooligans and takes the ugly form of Jewish Fascism.
Historically and universally, it’s not only that the radical Right wins; it’s no less that the moderate Center-Left loses by not fighting for its positions. This is the predicament set before the relative moderates in the government, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni.
Both of them ran in the last election on a liberal agenda in favor of an Israel engaged in a peace process, with more democratic and liberal legislation and improving the well-being of the middle class. Now that the prime minister and virtually all Likud ministers have taken sides with Bennett, and the country has taken the course for a binational state in favor of settlements at the expense of democracy, it is time for both to leave.
They can learn from Bennett in terms of commitment to ideology.
At such a dramatic crossroads about the very identity of Israel, the country is in need of national elections – now. It is a matter of national emergency.
Israelis behave as though they were on the Titanic, not noticing that they are soon to crash into the iceberg. We are in the process of losing not only the majority in our own country but also the very moral identity on which the state was founded, not to speak of the all-essential support of the world. This predicament should be the choice in the next elections: either a binational state, with an apartheid regime in the West Bank, with a messianic worldview, delusions of superiority and in dangerous isolation from the world, or a state striving for a realistic two-state solution, with Western democratic and liberal values and laws, with good diplomatic and economic relations with the world.
The Likudniks and Bennetts will undoubtedly effectively offer the first alternative, and, during election time, move to the center in order to “fool all of the people all of the time.” The Center- Left must propose a realistic alternative and not empty slogans regarding the middle class.
Tzipi Livni was right in the last elections: Without a realistic peace process, Israel will face the danger of a binational state and international isolation with growing economic burdens.
Netanyahu’s two-state solution was never intended to be realized and has zero chance. His so-called two-state solution leads to a binational state. Now that his bluff has been called, the center-left parties, including Yesh Atid, must offer a realistic alternative.
A two-state solution can come about only with a readiness for a strategic deal: almost all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem (without the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall) in return for security arrangements, no right of return and normalization with all Arab countries; and naturally a settlement freeze.
The bases for such a solution are the visions of President Barack Obama, president Bill Clinton and the Arab Peace Initiative. It’s time for an Israeli peace initiative.
Such a peace process will open us up to the many opportunities that the globalized world has to offer our Start-up Nation – investments, trade, tourism, as well as the Arab market of 300 million people. This can turn the economy around, improve the standard of living for the middle class and decrease poverty.
The Right will use the usual scare tactics – the dangers emanating from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. These are real threats, but a political solution and good relations with the West can only strengthen our hand in tackling them. If we wait until the Middle East becomes Switzerland, we will cease to be a Jewish democratic state.
This is the choice, and it should be made before it is too late. All elements of this choice are mirrored in the settlement question. Further expansion is a choice for a binational state, while a freeze of construction is a choice for Israel.
The election results will reflect the 50-50 split within Israel, probably with a slight edge for the Right. But there is no 50 percent on the issue of a binational state or a two-state solution. After the next election, it’s one or the other. Bennett or no Bennett, this is the question.
Therefore, realistically speaking, the best outcome would be a national unity government, only this time with the Labor Party and without the settlers.
The center-left parties must predicate their participation in a future government on the acceptance of realistic positions for negotiation in the next term in favor of a two-state solution, based on the pre-1967 lines and a settlement freeze. This scenario may be strengthened by Yuval Diskin joining politics; he represents the security-based view favoring a realistic solution, while understanding our Palestinian partner better than others.
This may also be true for the new Moshe Kahlon party – the former Likud minister’s view of social justice – which may also lead to political realism. His participation will weaken the hand of the Likud leaders who are held hostage by the settlers within their own party.
Such a change in the political landscape after elections is not only possible but a national must: a coalition of parties setting clear conditions within the next government that will rescue us from a binational state. More of the same is a prescription for national disaster.
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.