Israel is not Italy

It would take a cataclysmic change similar to the end of the Cold War – for example, a universal Middle East peace – to change the Israeli political landscape.

By AMIEL UNGAR
July 11, 2019 10:43
4 minute read.
Israel is not Italy

Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian prime minister and leader of Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, shows his ballot for the European Parliament election in Milan on May 26, 2019. (photo credit: GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE / REUTERS)

 
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When Benjamin Netanyahu, the apparent victor of the last election, failed to cobble together a coalition, we were treated to witticisms that Israel had descended to the political level of Italy. Italy remains the typical butt of such jokes although Belgium, Holland, Sweden and others have also experienced coalition building failures.

If the comparison was meant as a slap at Netanyahu for the corruption charges, then we are dealing with debatable penny ante stuff compared with what went on before and after the mano puliti clean hands investigations, to say nothing compared with countries such as Japan during the factionalism of the ruling LDP. It is doubtful that we would catch Netanyahu at a bunga bunga party immortalized by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
 
There is, however, a problem with this election that is reminiscent of pre-1991 Italy – the impossibility of contemplating a transfer of power from the Right to the Left. Italians could vote for the Italian Communists in local and regional elections, but when it came to national elections they could not bring themselves to oust the Christian Democrats and install in power the Italian Communists. The voters held their noses and returned the usual suspects to office. Secure in the knowledge that they would remain in power whatever the case, the Christian Democrats had no reason to avoid elections or bring down governments. The same faces remained in countless cabinets – they merely exchanged portfolios. It took the collapse of Soviet Union Communism to produce the upheaval in the Italian political system.
 
Netanyahu could convince the Likud to dissolve the newly elected Knesset rather than have President Reuven Rivlin give another Likud member of the party the job of forming a government, because the Likud rightly or wrongly believes that on September 17 the results will be no worse, and it will remain the only party capable of forming a government. The Likud reckons that it will be in better shape this time around, when the 260,000 voters on the Right whose parties did not pass the electoral threshold will have the good sense of achieving at least a technical unity.
 
It would take a cataclysmic change similar to the end of the Cold War – for example, a universal Middle East peace – to change the Israeli political landscape. The discrediting of the Oslo approach and unilateralism in Gaza have made the Left toxic to the majority of Israeli voters. Even the old trick that had worked successfully for the Left in the past with Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak – putting an illustrious former IDF chief of staff at the head of the list – crashed in the last election. Blue and White tripled down on that strategy by assigning three of the first four places on its list to former IDF chiefs of staff – Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi – and still came up short. In the next iteration we will get more brass in the return of Barak seconded by former deputy chief of staff Yair Golan.
 
Barak’s reentry as the Bibi killer with fire in his belly actually marks a regression. If Barak’s policies had borne fruit, the Assad clan would be ensconced on the Golan Heights and the PLO would control the Temple Mount. All Israel would have shared the hell experienced by the Gaza perimeter.
 
When Oslo was the rage, the late Yossi Sarid, a major figure on the Israeli Left, claimed that opponents of Oslo would be out of power for generations until they had renounced their opposition to the peace process. Ironically, the very opposite of Sarid’s prophecy has proven true: Oslo’s adherents face the same fate until they can bring themselves to say that Oslo, however well-intentioned, was a grievous mistake.
 
There are voices within Blue and White who would like to move their party in that direction. Predictably they are members of Ya’alon’s Telem bloc within Blue and White, such as Dr. Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, as well as Ya’alon himself. They formerly served under Netanyahu and then fell out with him. They encountered immediate pushback however from the more dovish segments of the party, such as MK Yael German, who object to the move ideologically. Others are afraid that such a change would cost the party votes from the Left that the party vacuumed up as the great anti-Bibi hope in the last election, and Barak’s return only compounds that threat. Blue and White’s dilemma was highlighted at the May 25, 2019, “pro-democracy” rally. One of the speakers was Ayman Odeh of Hadash. Odeh, to paraphrase former French premier Guy Mollet’s quip about the French Communists, is neither on the Right or the Left – he is in Ramallah. Hendel and Hauser did an about-face and boycotted the demonstration.
 
The Israeli Left does not have to embrace the position of total annexation. It could return to the Allon Plan of the Labor Party, with modifications mandated by demographic changes. It could simply embrace the formula of US Ambassador David Friedman, who, without excluding a Palestinian state, said that Israel was entitled to annex territories liberated during the defensive Six Day War.
Since the Left’s constant refrain is that Israeli democracy is in danger, it could help sustain democracy by offering the Israeli electorate a genuine choice. 

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