Time magazine last year crowned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as “King
Bibi,” as he seemed filled with Israeli omnipotence and popularity.
monarchy did not last very long; last year Netanyahu waged his first war in
Gaza, only to discover that Hamas was strengthened by it. On the domestic front,
he feared passing watershed legislation on an equal burden of military duty and
was even unable to pass a budget, leaving a deficit of NIS 40 billion, while
ignoring the wide protest call for social justice.
This was the
continuation of the poor performance in his two first terms.
Israel is at conflict with all its neighbors, at odds with the rest of the world
on his settlement policy, and has an economy in debt, with one of the biggest
gaps between rich and poor, and a shaken democracy suffering from the right-wing
onslaught on our democratic institutions.
And yet Netanyahu was
reelected; a rare case of popularity despite colossal failure. He is now the
longest-serving prime minister after David Ben-Gurion. He is a good politician,
a master of public relations and a dreadful statesman.
Yet, at the dawn
of this new government, statesmanship is what Israel needs. It is not just about
implementing better policies. The real challenge is to change the ideological
outlook that has brought Israel to the brink of the abyss.
Today we are
facing the most critical crossroads in our modern history: Between war and
peace – the Middle East is in turmoil, witnessing a prolonged struggle among
fundamentalist Islam, pragmatic Islam and liberal secularism. The Palestinian
problem remains an open wound at the core of the region. Distractions and
frustrations are mounting in the West Bank and Hamas has been strengthened at
the expense of the more moderate Fatah. An eruption of Palestinian violence
would probably bring in its wake a cycle of regional violence, with the
involvement of Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaida; an axis of radicals, thriving on
an unresolved Palestinian problem. In the background, there is also Iran, not
yet curbing its nuclear military ambitions. The alternative to the axis of
radicals is a coalition of pragmatists including Israel, the Palestinians,
Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, with the support of much of the Gulf and the Maghreb,
and headed by the United States.
We are at a crossroads between a
possible doomsday scenario and gradual stabilization and security.
difference for us lies in a viable American-led Israeli-Palestinian peace
process leading to a two state solution.
Between economic recovery and a
deep socioeconomic crisis – Israel has become a society of growing contrasts and
gaps – millionaires in north Tel Aviv and large families who can hardly feed
their children in the periphery; a relatively wealthy bourgeoisie in most of the
Dan district and people who lack employment and education among haredim and
From this point of view, we hardly belong to the OECD club
and are beginning to behave like a developing country. This creates
unprecedented social tension among the different strata of our
The tension is exacerbated by the fiscal crisis; the state is
in debt after having spent recklessly on yeshivot and settlements, while being
generous to the oligarchs and cruel to the poor.
We are in need not only
of drastic budget cuts, which the new finance minister will serve us as a
bittersweet pill, but also of fundamental socioeconomic reform. The main
investment has to be in education of the young – our future – in their
capacities and values, as well as in the creation of jobs in the high-technology
field, also in the periphery, not only in the Tel Aviv area. The incentives for
the private sector, the engine of the economy, have to be matched with fair
regulations, and with affordable housing inside the Green Line. Foreign
investment and tourism must be attracted by less red tape and more
Such reform in policies and priorities can only come as a result
of a major cut in the defense budget, which again depends on the peace process
front, not to speak of what is wasted on settlements.
Between a vibrant
Western democracy and a dangerous deterioration of our democratic fabric –
President Obama told us in no uncertain terms that our strategic relationship
with the United States is based on a commonality of values and on our vibrant
Yet it is a democracy with dark clouds, described by The
Economist as a flawed democracy. A democracy in danger of virulent affronts by
the Right against the High Court of Justice, racist legislation by Avigdor
Liberman and Co., attempts of extremist Knesset members to curtail the freedom
of speech of the media, the refusing of equal rights to minorities, a third of
the country expressing overtly racist views toward Arabs, in between Beitar
Jerusalem and the Hebron settlers.
Israel’s success story is a function
of its democracy; a democracy in danger means an Israel in danger.
Between international isolation and belonging to the respected family of nations
– Israel is more isolated than ever, despite the recent American charm
At every vote in international forums, all countries in the
world vote against us, except for the United States and four or five other
countries such as Micronesia.
For a country as small as ours, this is
dangerous. We depend on international support for our very legitimacy in the
region, on international trade, on investment and on tourism.
begun boycotting goods produced in the settlements and many call for a boycott
of Israel altogether. We are on the road to being South Africa and need, in all
urgency, to make a Uturn.
This is especially true in a world of greater
interconnectivity and interdependence with new, growing powers such as China,
India, Brazil and South Africa. Globalization is benefiting economies on all
continents; we must and can belong, or become an isolated pariah.
of these crossroads, the new government under Netanyahu must take a sharp turn
for the good, not only in terms of policies, but also in terms of underlying
outlooks and values. We are in need of a renewal, of a deeper reform, not only
of policy, but also of ideology: The government has to understand that the
rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank must stop. The international
community will never accept this. Colonialism, in whichever form and from
whatever motive, is over. More important, the Middle East region in which we
live will never accept their Palestinian brethren living under occupation, no
matter what the causes may have been. And even more important, unless we
withdraw from the West Bank into an acceptable, secure two-state relationship,
we will cease to be a Jewish and democratic state, the Arabs will become a
majority between the Sea and the River. And most important, there is a moral
predicament – Israel, the Jewish state, should know best that running the
destiny of another people is morally unacceptable and corrupting.
freedom is bound to our neighbors’ freedom. Equality, not superiority, must be
our guiding light. The new government, and its prime minister, must internalize
this view if it wants a chance to secure our democratic and Jewish nature, and
with it, our security in the region.
It is time for Israel to break out
of the walls that surround us physically and psychologically. The rebirth of
Israel was a dramatic break from the Jewish ghetto where we found ourselves in
the Diaspora. Now it is time to finally get the ghetto out of us. It is almost
part of our national ethos – “the whole world is against us” – which is a
popular and generally believed assumption. We must make the distinction between
Israel – that is still widely accepted and supported in the world as the
homeland of the Jewish people – and Israeli policies, which for years now have
been rejected by the world, even the United States, with regard to the
settlements, as an expression of our will to hold the grip over the Palestinian
This is mostly not related to anti- Semitism; Israel is the
victory over anti-Semitism, but is not immune to international
We must understand that we live in a changed world – economic,
scientific and technological development know no boundaries. We have to decide
if we want to belong to the family of nations, or to be sidelined as an isolated
pariah state. We therefore must adhere to the values prevalent in the Western
world, real democracy and true respect for human rights within Israel and
vis-à-vis the Palestinians – for our own good and for the benefit of our
Israel’s dramatic success story is based on
its democracy. Despite massive immigration and wars, we kept our democratic
fabric. In recent years, dangerous ideologies of superiority, xenophobia and
even Jewish racism became stronger and infiltrated the center of our political
We, the government and the people, must reverse the trend and
adhere to equality, fundamental freedoms and respect for human rights; a return
to the values of our Declaration of Independence. We must deal with all groups
within our society with equality and justice – veteran residents and new
immigrants; secular, national-religious and haredim; Jews and Arabs; rich and
poor. There must be justice and fairness on a national, ethical and social
basis. The outcry of the Rothschild Boulevard protests must penetrate the halls
of the Knesset and the government.
Our new government needs to move the
country to new horizons of security, economic growth, democracy and peace. It
cannot do so only by reforming policies. It must fundamentally reform
ideological concepts toward greater equality at home, equality with our
neighbors and an equal place within the family of nations. Such an ideological
reform is the real challenge of our new government and its prime
minister.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and
served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
edited this piece.