Savir’s Corner: In need of leadership

It is almost taken as a forgone conclusion that Bibi will win the next election. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. The people of Israel know that they deserve and need better.

July 26, 2012 21:44
Netanyahu and Mofaz

Netanyahu and Mofaz 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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For 70 days we waited, with bated breath, for the historic decision, promised to Israel by the odd couple of our political system – Bibi Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz - to create, after 64 years, a shared balance of burdens in serving in the army and society. The outcome of endless and futile committees and negotiations was, as predicted, no history and no decision.

The governmental coalition has shrunken to 64 MKs – Bibi and his traditional allies of the extreme Right and the ultra-Orthodox; a coalition that will not be able to pass a law replacing the Tal legislation, and probably will not be able to accomplish much, except possibly the expansion of some settlements.

Elections are in the air, likely to be held in the beginning of 2013. It comes at a time when Israel is at strategic crossroads on virtually all the important domains that determine the security and the well-being of the country.

We thus need to ask ourselves three important questions:

1) Are we better off than we were four years ago?

2) What are the strategic decisions that need to be taken by the next government to ensure a safer and better future?

3) What is the nature of the leadership that Israel needs to face these strategic challenges? There is hardly an important field related to our national existence in which Israel does not face a dramatic crisis. It is not just about being worse off than four years ago, it is sadly about a grave deterioration of our national security and well-being.

In the region, we have lost the alliances we had with two out of the three leading Muslim countries – Egypt and Turkey. Furthermore, our regional posture has been gravely affected by the Arab Spring. Official Israel always preferred the comfort of stable relationships with pro-Western Arab dictators to dealing with Arab public opinion in a more democratic process, given the Islamist tendencies of the Arab political landscape and the hostility for our handling of the Palestinian issue.

Instead of meeting these challenges, the government is hypnotized by the illusion of a nonexistent status quo. Much of this is linked to the total stalemate on the Palestinian issue.

Instead of a possible two-state solution, we have a plague on both our houses, and many more houses in the settlements. The Arabs and the Palestinians bear their share of the blame, yet it is primarily up to us to make a strategic and historical choice to divide the land – according to a partition accepted internationally, including by the United States – on the basis of the 1967 lines (with mutual land swaps), or to condemn future generations to live in a binational state, neither Jewish nor democratic.

Right now, Netanyahu is proceeding hand-inhand with the settlers toward the doomsday scenario, which would completely isolate us both in the region and in the international community, also in relation to the all-important Iranian issue.

Domestically, our society has in the past four years undergone a dangerous polarization on many fronts, including in the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, as expressed in the protest movement of 2011, which has emerged despite some macro-economic stability.

The schism within Israel is on the verge of creating social unrest, such as between religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, new immigrants (especially Ethiopians) and veterans, Left and Right.

These social crises are paralleled by a democratic crisis. Our parliament is striving not to control the executive, which is by definition its role, but rather to control the judiciary. The Right did not miss a rhetorical or judicial opportunity to undermine the clout of the High Court of Justice and to enact quasi racist legislation.

So four years later we are not only worse off, but we face possibly the most severe crises, in relation to our regional security, our Jewish and democratic identity, our social cohesion, and justice and our democratic system. There is a need for a national rescue based on historic and strategic decision-making of the next government. Most of the country already knows what the necessary directions and decisions are:
• A divorce from the West Bank and the settlements in favor of a two-state solution, with stringent security measures, strengthening our strategic posture in the region and our legitimacy in the world, also in relation to the need to build an anti-Iran coalition;
• A new social covenant, in which there is a return to the basic values of the Declaration of Independence – respect of the other, of human rights and of minorities;
• A more involved government vis-à-vis social services to reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots; and
• A clear balance between the legislative, executive and judicial branches, through basic laws, or preferably a constitution.

Yet most of the country is also resigned and disillusioned by petty politics and politicians.

In other words, the next election must be held with a view that Israel is in need of revolutionary reforms and strategic, historic decisions. In the 2013 election we are not just looking for a new government, but also for new and real leadership.

Historically Israel had two types of leaders: the fathers of the revolution – the founding fathers of the state – and the sons of the revolution, mostly people who rose from the army into politics.

The fathers of the Israeli revolution took the most dramatic strategic and historic decisions: the creation of the state, the creation of one army (the IDF), the ingathering of immigrants, the creation of a growing and just economy, a wide spectrum of international relations, victories in war, and the beginning of peace. Among them, the outstanding ones were David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

They acted according to strategic visions of the future, which could be achieved only with courageous decisions; vision, values and courage that turned Israel into a dramatic success story.

Then came the sons of the revolution, who are many but in leadership are most typified by Barak and Netanyahu. Aids to the historic leaders, brave IDF commanders, yet politicians of a new brand, technocrats led by popularity and partisan consideration, without the courage of the fathers and mothers to take unpopular and historic decisions.

The apple fell far from the tree; today’s Israel is the result of the actions of both types of leadership.

Given the crossroads at which we find ourselves, in the next election we must seek new leadership, one that can lead us into the next stage of the Israeli revolution – toward peace, security, social justice, cohesion, a prominent place in the family of nations, and a vibrant liberal democracy.

Who are such leaders? It is easier to answer who they are not – Bibi Netanyahu (and Ehud Barak for that matter). It is almost taken as a forgone conclusion that Bibi will win the next election. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. The people of Israel know that they deserve and need better.

Yet without any grand leaders on the horizon, the next leadership could be as in many European countries – a team leadership, such as Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yechimovich, or Yair Lapid and Ehud Olmert, Gabi Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan; we do not lack gifted, value-driven and courageous people.

First and foremost we need to comprehend what is at stake for the next Israeli government, and that we are in serious need of profound change.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.

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