Welcome to Israel’s seasonal political charade
Mofaz is by no means a perfect candidate, but he at least came up with a peace plan and, regardless of its merits, presents a basic political platform to achieve peace.
Shaul Mofaz, new Kadima leade Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
With Shaul Mofaz’s victory in March in the Kadima Party’s leadership contest,
and recent political developments, the fractious nature of Israeli politics once
again haunts what remains of Israel’s peace camp. Mofaz is by no means a perfect
candidate, but he at least came up with a peace plan and, regardless of its
merits, presents a basic political platform to achieve peace. At a time,
however, when the Palestinian conflict places Israel in real danger of losing
its national Jewish identity and its democratic nature, its centrist and
left-of-center political parties should unite and form a partnership that could
provide a serious alternative to the Likud-led ultra-nationalist coalition of
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Unfortunately, all Israeli politicians
are driven by blind personal ambitions. I do not believe that there is a single
issue in connection with the Palestinian conflict that Labor, Kadima and even
Ehud Barak’s Independence party could not agree on to move along a unified
political agenda to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
them from doing so are personal struggles over who should occupy this or that
post and what prerogatives they may or may not be able to
Jealousy over the titles of “party leader” and “prime minister”
has manifested itself in outgoing Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s decision to
considering the establishment of a new party, and in television TV
anchorman-turned-politician Yair Lapid’s new party, Atid (Future), in which,
Lapid insists, no serving politician will be allowed, “only new people with new
ideas.” Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader, commented that Mofaz’s
victory makes her a “significant alternative” to Netanyahu.
only do these so-called “leaders” have huge egos, they are also suspicious and
distrustful of each other. Lapid does not talk to Livni or to Yacimovich, the
latter having accused him of having Ehud Olmert, the corruption-charged former
prime minister, as his political consultant.
Moreover, they have also
been outright dishonest with people as each one of them is trying to hijack last
summer’s social protest by Israeli youth over the high cost of living. In
newspaper headlines, one can read that Mofaz would lead Israel’s protest this
summer, Lapid is leading an anti-government campaign entitled, “Where is the
money?” and Yacimovich initiated serious socioeconomic legislation only after
the Israelis took to the streets.
The real test for these leaders, who
are capitalizing on the demands of the Israeli middle class, is to publicly
condemn the expansion of the settlements and the added expenditures of hundreds
of millions of dollars by the military to protect the settlers.
overcome Israel’s debilitating political party structure, there is an urgent
need to support the creation of a single party consisting of the Left and
left-of-center parties. The leaders of Kadima, Labor, Atid and others should
group their blocs of supporters to create a single party – something that is not
unprecedented in Israel’s political history.
The creation of the Labor
Party itself in 1968 was only made possible by the merger of similarly-minded
Mapai, Ahdut Ha’avoda and Rafi parties based on the commitment to a two-state
Mofaz, Yacimovich and Lapid are intelligent enough to recognize
the reality that it is security and the continued occupation of Palestinian
territories (rather than socioeconomic issues) that distinguishes the political
Left from the Right.
For these leaders to campaign on something other
than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to risk compromising the Center’s
internal logic by gathering points of disaffection from the Left and Right
instead of presenting a cohesive, distinctive political alternative. This is the
lesson that they learned from the late Yitzhak Rabin, who wished to
fundamentally change Israel, and campaigned in 1992 on peace and managed, thanks
to his willingness to rely on largely non-Jewish parties, to form a clear
majority of at least 61 seats in the Knesset.
National interest must
prevail and override any personal ambitions or party gains, and a single party
is the only chance to garner significant electoral support that can seriously
challenge the Likud-led coalition that currently has a majority of 63 seats and
could further increase its presence if the Left and left-of-center parties
remain in disarray.
Surprisingly enough, the sole politician who
recognized this reality cannot run for elections. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan
had the courage and vision to acknowledge that Israel should accept the 2002
Arab peace initiative, which demanded Israeli withdrawal from the occupied
territories in return for full peace and normalized relations between Israel and
the Arab world, and for good reason.
In Dagan’s words, “We have no other
way, and not because [the Palestinians] are my top priority, but because I am
concerned about Israel’s well-being and I want to do what I can to ensure
Right now, the Sunni Arab world is far more eager to
make peace, not because of its love of Israel but rather through its hatred of
Iran. True, the Iranian nuclear program is a serious threat to Israel, but the
greater threat to Israel is the colonization of the West Bank. If Israel
persists in its current path, it will neither remain democratic nor maintain its
Jewish identity, nor ensure its national security as the Palestinians might very
well abandon the two-state solution and opt for one state while focusing instead
on acquiring equal political rights.
That said, regardless of what peace
plans any of these parties come up with, they will not work unless the political
leaders demonstrate a real understanding of the critical need to change
Israelis’ and Palestinians’ public perceptions of each other.
and continues to be, the prerequisite for any peace agreement. Part and parcel
of any political agenda by any party is to have a plan on how to involve the
Israelis and the Palestinians publicly in the peace process and realize the
concessions needed to reach an agreement. Indeed, every conflicting issue
between the Israelis and the Palestinians has a psychological and emotional
dimension that must be mitigated by changing the public narratives on both
Even when Israel and the Palestinians have come close to an
agreement, as in the 2000 Barak-Arafat negotiations and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas
negotiations, they still failed to deliver because neither the Israelis nor the
Palestinians were publicly prepared to make the required
What is absolutely critical at this stage is for these
parties to prepare the public by encouraging think tanks, NGOs, universities and
synagogues to engage in public debate to seek a solution to the conflict only
through peaceful means while encouraging the Palestinians to do the
The Netanyahu government is charting a clear path towards disaster
and it must be stopped before it is too late. This can be done only through
forming one party comprised of centrist and left-of-center parties. Mofaz,
Yacimovich and Lapid do not have much time to lose.
Secure in the
knowledge that he would win another term because of the current charade of the
Left and left-of- center parties, Netanyahu might well call for early elections.
This is particularly attractive as he currently enjoys a perplexing popularity
and is preparing to pass a law in the Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living
overseas to vote in the next election.
Unless the leaders of these
parties act immediately by coalescing around one party and abandon, in the name
of national interests, their personality-driven ambitions, they risk becoming
politically marginalized while jeopardizing Israel’s very existence.
writer is a professor of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at
the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.