Winston Churchill in a 1941 file photo.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu will more than likely – in this wonderful unpredictable Israel – continue to be prime minister. It is time to stop yammering about which shticks and tricks influenced voters, and to recognize the political reality. It is also time geopolitically to realize that while the Middle East burns, the West – governments, media and people – is more and more turning against Israel. Again, let’s look at reality, not slogans. The problem is not hasbara (“information campaigns”). It is real.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs and probably wants to put together a cabinet which can create a dynamic solution to the social and economic issues which his own populist Likud wants. Assuming that he will come in with a first-100-days plan agreed upon by Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon and the ultra-Orthodox parties, this would be doable and praiseworthy.
Now Israel must seize the initiative in the Middle East. Let’s face it, the voting public feels that creating a Palestinian state threatens its security. Regardless of who said what in the campaign, the facts are that fears of such a state cut across much of the political divide. The Zionist Union avoided the question or coded it in words like “hope.” Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog knew how complicated it would be to restore hope in negotiation with our immediate neighbors.
Therefore Israeli parties have proposals ranging from “autonomy” (Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi) to something more tangible that Kulanu’s Michael Oren, the former and successful ambassador to the US, has put forward, whereby we initiate Palestinian self-rule step by step, and maintain control of the Jordan River and of course the blocs surrounding Jerusalem.
How can we merge our two realities? Provided Kahlon is given the Finance Ministry, a promise Bibi made, and provided that the Construction, Welfare and Health ministries can be headed by politicians acceptable to Kahlon, the Foreign Ministry should go to Oren. In this mandate, the prime minister must agree that Oren is, as well, the minister for Middle East affairs.
Iran is a Netanyahu purview. Forget the errors he has (or has not) made. Netanyahu, Oren, the secret services and Military Intelligence should deal with Iran with Netanyahu as the spokesman. For Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, Oren together with the Mossad weavers of indirect relations and our representatives in Egypt and Jordan should present an official warm and positive reaction to the Arab peace plan with a request to negotiate directly. The Gulf states may be both partners in this and provide a venue.
Is this possible? It depends on one man. On Netanyahu. He has never been my darling, but he seems to have the mandate of the voters.
If he uses Oren and Kahlon as ploys in a fake move to ease Western and Arab public opinion, Bibi will go down in history neither as a Churchill nor a de Gaulle. “Tricky Dicky” Nixon with his brilliant secretary of state Henry Kissinger did get the US out of the Vietnam mire and outflanked the Soviet Union by making the grand opening with Red China. His being a paranoid politician destroyed him. Netanyahu could emulate the statesmanship if he can forgo the less praiseworthy aspects of politics.
The “fly in the chicken soup” is a weakened and embittered Bennett. He has a score to settle with Netanyahu who brilliantly captured four Bayit Yehudi Knesset seats in this week’s election. However, there is a major issue which will create heated contention.
The new government must find the funding for the housing and other necessary social programs, and take funding from the national- religious education platforms and settlement budgets for these purposes.
Here is where the Zionist Union can show its true colors. Herzog can promise Bibi his 24 Knesset votes – staying outside of government – if Netanyahu displays the statesmanship he wishes to project. Labor is on record for such parliamentary support.
This is a rock-strewn road. To shift metaphors, it is a mine field. Can Bibi trust his competitors within the Likud and the ambitious internal opposition in that more and more Bennett-like party? Does he have the iron nerves to lead in a proactive way, cutting across party lines? Will he regain the trust of the secret services and the military? Will the foot-dragging attorney-general and police find grounds for acting against Netanyahu? Will he present a more modest life style? (Perhaps he could ask Bennie Begin to become a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office for dealing with the office budget, ceremonies like the incrementally increasing extravaganza for Independence Day, the Israel Prize and other important matters which involve state dignity.) Finally, Netanyahu will probably be able to cobble together a government only with Bennett and also Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu, both of whom he in effect crushed in this election.
If Bibi can create a workable and reasonably sized cabinet, the bottom line is straightforward. To heal Israel internally. To create a regional and international momentum. To find a modus vivendi with a hostile US president. To do battle with Muslim/Palestinian-inspired anti-Israel, anti-Semitic efforts on campus, in media and by politicians in too many parts of the “enlightened” as well as “unenlightened” world.
This column has been very critical of Netanyahu’s past leadership. But I am first and foremost a Jewish Israeli, living in dreams, hopes and very vivid reality. We need bold and visionary leadership.
Though my heart sends me warning signs, my head tells me that we must respect the results. If Benjamin Netanyahu is, as is likely, tasked with forming the next government – our government – next week, we wish him good luck. In that case, let’s have a moratorium on the weeping, teeth gnashing and the wearing of sackcloth and the daubing of ashes. A moratorium – with a reasonable time frame.
Go ahead, Bibi! Choose statesmanship over politics. Prefer regional and international pragmatism over unreachable principle.
Speak Churchill! Act Ben-Gurion! Avraham Avi-hai’s book
David Ben-Gurion: State Builder, carries the subtitle “Principles and Pragmatism in Government.” His long public record in government and academia gives him a unique overview of Israel’s policies in theory and in practice.