Momentous challenges face Israel today – as always. Iran. Delegitimization. Islamic State. Hamas and Hezbollah. Housing. Arab/Palestinian hostility and intransigence. Social/economic issues. European and American growing antagonism. Electoral reform. Religious pluralism.
Re-read this list. It is striking how very similar the platforms, policies and pronouncements of Likud party head Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party head Isaac Herzog are. Yes, in the run-up to elections all focus is on what distinguishes them; but in governing, and in looking to create a coalition which can deal with many of these serious issues, what they have in common is not only more important, but is staring us in the face.
The term “national unity government” is not relevant here. That’s a concept for wartime, as in ‘67. What is appropriate now is to focus our attention on the policies we agree are crucial to pursue to resolve many of these issues. And it soon becomes obvious that the centrist elements in the Likud – including Netanyahu, Yuli Edelstein, Gilad Erdan, Bennie Begin, Israel Katz, Moshe Ya’alon, Yuval Steinitz and Ze’ev Elkin – and the centrist elements in Labor – including Isaac Herzog, Hilik Bar, Eitan Cabel, Omer Bar-Lev, Manual Trajtenberg, Nachman Shai and Eldad Yaniv – not only share mostly the same Zionist, liberal ideology but share also a strong sense of national determination, social justice, and a willingness to use military force defensively when necessary.
This is not the place to list the proofs, but even a cursory review of their positions on preventing Iranian nuclear weaponization, on Israel’s defensive military operation in Gaza last summer, even on building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and within existing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and on retaining the larger communities in the territories (the major “settlement” blocs), let alone on the need for housing reform, land reform, electoral reform, religious-services reform and more, demonstrate how close they really are. This is natural, as they are intelligent, cautious, experienced people who recognize the reality we live in. The differences between the Likud and Labor are a matter of nuance, not principle. Both groups lead the Hamahane Hazioni, the “Zionist Camp” (which is also the marketing name chosen for the Labor/Hatnua alliance, and usually in that case translated as the Zionist Union).
Don’t believe all the news reports – Israeli or international. Herzog may have campaigned on a platform that he can make peace with our neighbors, but he is on record as being skeptical of the motives and capabilities of the current Palestinian leadership – as is Netanyahu.
And Netanyahu may have been quoted saying that there will be no Palestinian state established with him as prime minister, but that was clearly a statement of fact – as there is no Palestinian partner at present to make it possible – which, though it may have served him electorally, in no way “disavowed” his however reluctant acceptance of the concept a few years ago. (As journalist Ari Shavit said Wednesday on CNN, Bibi is “one of the most moderate figures” in the Center-Right bloc.
And Shavit is no fan of Bibi.) This is a time, therefore, for courageous leadership – and the three men positioned to demonstrate visionary leadership for Israel today are Netanyahu, Herzog and President Ruby Rivlin (yes, they’re all men, but that’s a topic for another time). They can – and should – make up for Tzipi Livni’s most malignant mistake, when as head of Kadima, after the election in 2009, she refused for petty personal reasons to join Netanyahu’s government, in spite of the clear policy positions they shared.
Buji Herzog is not Tzipi Livni. His integrity, and concern for the national good, surpasses his ego. He can comfortably serve as a senior member in Bibi’s cabinet. But more: He can gain so much more by doing so than he can ever hope to reap as head of the opposition (read: whiny younger brother who complains a lot and does little). As defense minister, or finance minister, or foreign minister, Buji can not only pursue the issues most important to him, but he can position himself as a real leader, decision-maker and statesman.
Similarly, Bibi Netanyahu is not Ehud Olmert. Olmert refused to invite the Likud (his former party and natural ally) to join his government in 2006 due to his personal rivalry with Netanyahu, leader of the Likud then as now. Bibi not only can work with Buji; he respects him greatly, and of all people Bibi knows that the day after elections we all – and he in particular – can forget the various things said in the campaign. This is almost certainly Bibi’s last term as prime minister: He wants, and needs, to be seen as a national figure of historic stature.
For Bibi, this will assure his legacy; for Buji, this will demonstrate his leadership capabilities. For Netanyahu, it’s a stepping stone into history; for Herzog, a stepping stone into the PM’s office.
Carrying out the major reforms needed to stabilize the political system and the economy, and to improve our relations with our neighbors and friends/allies around the world, can only be done with a strong centrist government not held hostage by any of the smaller, sectoral and interest-driven parties.
There are a number of other natural partners for such an enterprise. Kulanu, Yesh Atid, even Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas all aspire to be seen as “centrist” (whether center-right or -left) and cull voters from various sectors. A government with any combination of them – or all of them – will be stable precisely as it will not be vulnerable to threats from any of them. Yet a government composed thus will be a true reflection of the consensus in Israel: fiercely proud, committed to social welfare and a liberal economy, strong on security, cautiously willing to pursue accommodation with our neighbors, respectful of tradition but championing individual rights and freedoms.
What a miracle it will be if over this Shabbat, when we are powerfully reminded of the humility of Moses as well as his far-sighted leadership of the embryonic Jewish nation, Bibi and Buji can rise above the petty politics of these past few months (and years) and create the stable, strong, visionary government coalition the majority of Israelis so clearly wants and deserves.The writer is the director of MediaCentral (www.m-central.org), a Jerusalem project of HonestReporting, and was a senior adviser to minister Natan Sharansky in the Prime Minister’s Office.