Our sixth president, the late Chaim Herzog, would be proud of his son, Isaac,
the new leader of the Labor Party. Herzog, the father, was one of the leaders of
the Israeli Left, the son of the chief rabbi of Ireland, chief of Military
Intelligence, one of our most eloquent ambassadors at the UN and an outspoken
president in favor of peace with our neighbors. His son is now walking in his
Another father, one of our founding fathers on the Right, the
late Eitan Livni, chief of operations of the Irgun, a devout Jabotinsky
disciple, would be proud of his daughter, Tzipi.
While she does not walk
in her father’s footsteps in aspiring to a “Greater Israel,” she is the one
person in government, as Israel’s chief peace negotiator and justice minister,
who fights to ensure the preservation of Israel as a Jewish
Can these two children of Left and Right nationbuilders bring
Israel to a new road of hope, away from the current dangerous deterioration
towards the abyss of conflict, isolation and right-wing extremism? As for Livni,
she is not the first from the Right to have seen the light of realism in the
face of the peace challenge.
Before her came Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon
and Ehud Olmert, all ready to pay a price of peace, understanding that our
future identity and security are dependent on it. The Right, if it acts in
realism, has a better chance to galvanize public support, as Begin did for the
full withdrawal from the Sinai to the 1967 lines. Yet it must first divorce the
archaic ideology of a greater Israel – the dangerous colonization of the West
Bank through settlements and the mythology that “we will forever have to live by
In the last election campaign, Livni took a very courageous
position in favor of peace with the Palestinians as the key to preserve Israel,
its identity, security and economy. In this, she was alone, as the Labor Party’s
Shelly Yacimovich claimed that there is no important peace agenda, which is
probably the main reason for the latter’s recent defeat.
Livni fought an
unpopular struggle and got her way by convincing Binyamin Netanyahu to appoint
her chief negotiator with the Palestinians. Livni comes with experience, as a
former peace negotiator in the Olmert government. She is perceived by her
Palestinian partners, then and now, as a tough but fair negotiator – someone
with whom peacemaking and resolving permanent- status issues is
That is the view of the US administration, both the past
Republican one and today’s Democratic one, led by Barack Obama and John Kerry,
who have high respect for our minister of justice.
Livni is the
quintessential Israeli, a Beitar youth group member who served in the Mossad and
loves Hebrew folk songs. Yet she has the ability to engage in cosmopolitan
dialogue. She can convince Arabs, Americans and Europeans of our fundamental
cause and concerns.
Above all, this former Likudnik understands that the
occupation of the West Bank cannot and should not be sustained as it is
dangerous to our very identity, morality and existence, and totally unacceptable
to the whole world, including the US. The issue is only if our withdrawal from
it will be imposed on us, without peace, or will be part of a sensible trade off
of territories for peace, with the support of America and the
Livni can make the difference given the appropriate
She is a woman of principle and values – as justice minister,
she fiercely defends our democratic system, standing up against the right-wing
onslaught on the High Court of Justice and dangerous, often racist legislation
by Avigdor Liberman, Yariv Levin and co.
Livni stands for justice and
equality, for those who are different, for minorities and for women.
may not have the charisma of a great leader, but in her determination and
pragmatism, she is the best we have.
As for Herzog, despite being quite a
brilliant and independent man, he became a good politician and symbolizes
renewed hope to many in the center-left.
He won because of style and
content. Unlike his party rival and most Israeli political leaders, he practices
participatory politics. He is a liberal democrat by upbringing and conviction,
and will not run the party in the quasi-dictatorial style of Liberman, Netanyahu
and Yair Lapid.
He continues the legacy of his predecessors, except
Yacimovich, of peace with the Palestinians being a political and moral
obligation and necessity. Already in his victory speech he spoke of the need to
make courageous decisions on the Palestinian issue. Herzog proved himself,
unlike many previous Labor leaders, as someone who prioritizes social justice,
mainly for the Israeli periphery, in his tenure as minister of welfare in the
last unity government.
These two children of right and left represent a
new hope for Israel. First and foremost, by coming from opposing convictions to
the same conclusion – that the key to Israel’s well-being, security and growth
is peace with the Palestinians, thereby getting rid of the corrupting
occupation, forging new ties to the Arab world, and strengthening Israel’s
allimportant position within the family of nations.
They bring new hope
to rescue us from the slippery slope of deterioration towards losing our
democratic and Jewish values to right-wing religious Jewish fundamentalism, in
dangerous isolation from the rest of the world.
Livni and Herzog also
stand, as experienced and liberal lawyers, for the predominance of the rule of
law. They are Israelis to their bone, while belonging to the more upper class
elite; they empathize far beyond the “Tel Aviv state.”
Israel is in
urgent need of leaders who can lead her to peace, democracy and social justice
and good relations with the world.
Yair Lapid, another “son of", was
perceived to be such a hope, but disappointed his constituents by his alliance
with the most right-wing element of the government, his “brother” Bennet, and by
espousing ambiguous positions of consensus on the peace issue. He stood for new
politics, yet has so far failed with old politics.
Livni and Herzog, if
they act on their convictions, can represent new politics and new hope. They
must act in favor of peace, with an independent Palestinian state, giving up on
the occupation of three million Arabs. It’s peace and security without
settlements, not with settlements as Netanyahu would like us to believe. A
smaller and stronger Israel, in prosperity and good relations with the United
States and Europe, is not only desired but possible. It is a matter of
leadership and decisions. The next election will focus on this question; it very
well may be between Buji (Herzog) and Bugi (Ayalon).
Until then, time is
of the essence. The question before Herzog will be, sooner or later, whether or
not to join a unity government as Livni has called him to do.
volatility in the region, and the urgent need for decisions on the Palestinian
issue during the second Obama term, it may be the right thing to join forces
with Livni in the Government on certain conditions that will ensure a viable
serious peace process at last, mainly insisting on a full freeze of settlement
construction. If accepted, Herzog should join the government, even right away.
Then we may witness better days, also brought about by a new generation of
Israeli leaders.The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for
Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. Barbara
Hurwitz edited this column.
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