When Shelly Yechimovich was running to be Israel’s Labor party leader, she
needed to project an image that was different from her competitors’. In an
interview with Haaretz in August 2011, she made a comment that not only set her
apart, but also signified a dramatic revolution in Israel’s left wing. She said,
“I certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime.”
Yechimovich trying to gather support from settlers, or was she showing the
entirety of the Labor membership that she had a relatively conservative foreign
policy when compared to the other Labor leader candidates? Regardless of her
reasons, her ultimate victory in the primary indicates a new trend. Due to
several factors, the peace process is no longer the number one issue on the
agenda for left-wing Israelis.
One of the issues that has distracted the
Left away from the peace process is social justice. Last summer’s tent protests
had such an enormous affect that they forced politicians to take on platforms
dedicated to supporting social democracy above all else. However, while this
issue is an indication of a deep economic problem facing Israelis, it is
certainly not the primary aspect of this revolution.
But the main factor
is that from Yasser Arafat’s rejection of a Palestinian state at Camp David to
the second intifada; to the shelling of Israel’s northern population by
Hezbollah terrorists; to the shelling of Israel’s southern population by Hamas
terrorists; to the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula by Pro-Hamas Beduin
terrorists, many Israelis have realized that land for peace is not a holy
contract that the Arabs will respect.
Many leftists are sick and tired of
defending territorial concessions.
IN A recent poll by Dr. Miriam Billig
and Dr. Udi Label of the Ariel University Center of Samaria, 64 percent of
respondents said they support continued settlement activity in Judea and
Samaria. While Efrat Forsher of Israel Hayom has said that this poll indicates
Israelis have “shifted politically rightward,” perhaps this is not the case at
all. Maybe the very dynamics of Israel’s left wing are changing in such a way
that it is becoming acceptable to be hawkish on the peace process and still vote
for a left-wing party.
Yechimovich points out in the interview that “It
was the Labor Party that founded the settlement enterprise in the territories.”
Does this mean that the revolution is one with deep roots in the Labor party
itself, and therefore not alien to the Israeli Left? Is Israel’s Labor party
(and the majority of the Left) readopting the hawkish mindset that began with
former Labor leader David Ben-Gurion and continued with many of the Labor
leaderships’ successors? Recent polls show that Labor is most likely to be the
largest left-wing party in the next Knesset. Kadima’s leader Shaul Mofaz has
spent too much time discussing the Palestinian issue, such as when he declared
to the New York Times two months ago that he will “respond to 100% of the
territorial demands of the Palestinians.”
The Left is tired of daring
peace initiatives that risk the lives of millions of Israelis, and prefer that
politicians try to tackle simpler issues, such as the price of cottage cheese
(about which Yechimovich has been livid).
This may have powerful
implications for future coalition governments.
A unity government may be
more likely since Labor is under the leadership of someone who has more
ideological similarities with the Right on the peace process than former Labor
leaders. This may give Binyamin Netanyahu, who is projected to stay on as prime
minister, the ability to anger current coalition partners (for instance, the
haredi parties over a Tal Law replacement) and not worry that he is creating
future enemies that will make coalition building impossible.
this mean for the Palestinians? Twelve years ago, the Palestinian Authority
rejected a generous peace deal, initiated a war of terror, and in return was
given Gaza absolutely for free. Now, they may have to provide confidence
building measures to the Israeli government since Israeli voters are less eager
to sacrifice territory than before.
When the new Labor leader became
leader of the Opposition, she was provided with the traditional Audi. In the
theme of modesty, she declined the $280,000 vehicle for her own
This is the kind of left-wing leadership that Israel can expect to
see over the coming years. Cautious, conscious and unpretentious.
writer is a Politics and Hebrew & Judaic Studies student at New York
University. He is also the president of Violets For Israel, the
pro-Israel political organization at NYU.