One of the most important appointments made in our new government is Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon as defense minister. Judging from Ehud Barak’s stint in the Defense Ministry, Ya’alon will be second only to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his influence over a wide array of diplomatic matters, particularly visà- vis the Palestinians.

This is particularly true while Avigdor Liberman is on the sidelines awaiting the verdict in his ongoing trial and Netanyahu holds the foreign affairs portfolio for him. It is still unclear how the relegation of powers between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also tasked with reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Ya’alon and Netanyahu will play out. If Livni attempts to make far-reaching concessions similar to the ones she offered the Palestinians in 2008 as foreign minister in Ehud Olmert’s government, there is likely to be tension between Ya’alon and Livni.

Depicted as a hawk, Ya’alon’s roots are in Labor Zionism.

He grew up in “red” Haifa’s Kiryat Haim neighborhood, a stronghold of then-ruling Mapai. He was a member of Labor Zionism’s youth movement and embodied the Mapai ethos by combining military service with working the land on Kibbutz Grofit, just north of Eilat.

As can be suspected of someone with his ideological pedigree, Ya’alon supported prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Oslo Accords. But in the wake of their failure, Ya’alon gradually became disenchanted with what he referred to as the “top down” approach to peace with the Palestinians. In a 2008 article entitled “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy” that appeared in Azure, Ya’alon argued convincingly that confidence-building gestures made at the negotiating table or “ostentatious international summits and the celebrated declarations they produce” will never achieve peace.

Instead, argued Ya’alon, Israel must embark on a “bottom up” strategy. Before peace can be achieved with the Palestinians, Israel must first help them establish a stable society established on a solid economic, political and security basis. More important, Palestinians must reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence and recognize Israel’s right to exist as a uniquely Jewish state. It is not enough, noted Ya’alon, for the Palestinians to support two states between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, when one is Palestinian and the other is a bi-national state devoid of Jewish identity.

As Ya’alon noted, “My mother survived the Holocaust.

My father came to Palestine from the Ukraine at the age of 15 after one of his brothers had been murdered because he was a Jew and another brother had been arrested for his Zionist activities. My grandmother comes from a family that came to Safed after escaping the Spanish Inquisition… it is clear to that in a world divided into nations and countries, there must be at least one Jewish state.”

At the same time, Ya’alon also supports in principle ending Israel’s control over the Palestinians and establishing a new, safer and more stable order west of the Jordan River. But only once the foundations of the establishment of this new order are in place. Only once Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognizes the Jewish people’s historic ties to the Land of Israel.

Only once schools stop teaching Palestinian children to hate Israel and the official Palestinian media stop inciting against Zionism and misrepresenting places such as Haifa, Acre and Jaffa as integral parts of Palestine. Only once corruption is eradicated and Palestinians’ basic rights – such as freedom of the press – are protected by the Palestinian Authority.

We wholeheartedly agree with Ya’alon.

Asked once how it is that someone raised on the ideals of Labor Zionism has made such a dramatic ideological shift, becoming a leading figure in the Likud, Ya’alon answered simply that it was not he who had shifted.

The Mapai might have been pragmatic, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be described as leftwing in today’s sense. Not just figures such as Yisrael Galili or Yigal Allon, but also Golda Meir and a young Shimon Peres would be considered very right-wing according to contemporary standards.

In the last government, Netanyahu’s appointment of the Labor Party’s Barak was seen by many as an attempt to “moderate” his right-wing coalition. In a way, by appointing Ya’alon, Netanyahu will once again be getting a Mapai-nik, but this time of the old-time variety.

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