Finally, after all these years, we have a solid, right-wing government.
There’s not even one left-wing minister to “pollute” the agenda. No left-winger whom we can blame for all the terrorist attacks. No doves to prevent the IDF from winning the war, or to get in the way of the hawks while they eradicate terrorism.
But look at what’s going on around us: The waves of violence are increasing in frequency, and this current intifada has progressed from stones, to knives, and now Kalashnikovs and Carl Gustav submachine guns.
For years, the Right preached that we needed to keep IDF units in Lebanon, that we must sacrifice soldiers’ lives every year in order to keep our northern border secure.
Then one day, Ehud Barak came along and withdrew all our soldiers from Lebanon. It brought about a political settlement that may not be ideal, and of course we remember the Second Lebanon War which was 10 years ago, but Israeli farmers on the border can till their fields every day, and tourism is thriving. In the scheme of things, it is apparent that Barak made the correct decision after all.
For years, the right has been exhorting that if we ever agreed to talk with the PLO, the Zionist enterprise would cease to exist.
But then Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres sat down and negotiated with Arafat. They reached an understanding that turned the PLO into a diplomatic entity with which we are able to coordinate political and security matters.
For years, Menachem Begin, one of the greatest right-wing leaders in Israel’s history, proclaimed that Israel would not give up even one inch of land. But when he reached the Prime Minister’s Office he made the historic decision as the leader of the Jewish state to prefer life over death, even if it meant turning his back on the very doctrine he believed in.
Throughout his military career, Ariel Sharon became a symbol of the aggressive struggle against terrorism. His life of heroism and sacrifice took on mythological standing that has been almost unparalleled. But when he entered the Prime Minister’s Office, Sharon succeeded in doing the unthinkable. Just like his predecessors, Sharon understood that if Israel were to engage in a new process, many civilian and soldiers’ lives could be saved. As a result, Sharon gave the order for the disengagement from Gaza.
Begin, Rabin, Peres and Sharon were all ready and willing to strike out against terrorism and other threats to Israel’s security. All were willing to risk their personal standing for the sake of their country, and they will be remembered among Israel’s greatest leaders.
During the most recent wave of terrorism, which we’ve encountered in the last year, I identified a different path offering the possibility of real change, in the form of a unique opportunity for regional peace. I’ve been exploring this venue both directly and indirectly with international and regional leaders.
Other prominent leaders and officials have also been working on similar initiatives both on their own and in conjunction with others.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, a bold leader who is playing a central role in calming the region and quelling extremism, in particular made clear his desire to engage in this process in a historic speech that he delivered to his own people in Egypt. This is a clear glimpse into what I am talking about.
But Egypt is not the only potential partner.
Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, and Bahrain, amongst others, who are also potential partners in this initiative to create a stabilizing force in the region.
Unlike the previous generation, today’s Sunni leaders are more open to cooperating with Israel. They are bolder, younger, more independent and willing to work with Israel, so long as it serves their national interests.
These leaders are willing to engage in discussions about issues that are important to both sides – supporting Palestinian aspirations for independence while at the same time recognizing Israel’s security needs.
For years, they’ve considered the Saudi and Arab Peace Initiative as an appropriate starting point for dialogue. These moderate Sunni Arab nations form a kind of informal Middle Eastern NATO sub-group that is concerned about the same threats that Israel is.
It’s an alliance that is threatened by Iran, which continues to support and export terrorism, as well as by ISIS.
These leaders view this diplomatic and security cooperation with Israel as having the potential for a positive outcome. However, for them, Israel’s continued conflict with the Palestinians requires a solution, or at least some substantial progress, as a condition for upgrading these relations.
They are demanding, therefore, that Israel and the Palestinians take concrete steps towards the two state solution. This is a major item on their agenda.
They now have an interest to propel the Palestinians and Israelis towards a process based on elements of the Arab Peace Initiative, and its spirit, as well as security principles that will be satisfactory to both sides.
History has taught us that the Palestinians and Israelis do not trust each other enough for it to be possible to hold direct negotiations, especially considering the current political leadership of both sides.
Today, we have a golden opportunity available to us: the US can lead an initiative that the international community can support along with the regional leaders in the Middle East.
With a bold and courageous leadership, we can realize this opportunity and create a better future for ourselves and our children.
It’s important to understand, though, that in order to proceed with this initiative, the Israeli coalition structure must be changed, so that it may fulfill the basic precondition of confidence-building measures on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians.
Such measures have been repeatedly blocked time and again by members of the government closely affiliated with the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria.
Therefore, just a few weeks ago, when I identified that this historic opportunity was on our doorstep, I decided to take an unprecedented move, for which I could pay a steep political price – including losing my current position. I decided that this is my duty, since I believe in this vision whole-heartedly, and know that this is the path Israel should now take.
It is worth noting, that just moments after this newly formed right-wing government came into existence, high level sources from the defense minister’s bureau were already pointedly making clear their plans for an upcoming war in Gaza.
In light of this, I am making the following warning: War is not a game! Making a decision to go to war should not be made recklessly or without calculating the risks.
Such decisions must not be made for media spin by opportunist politicians.
My recommendation to Israeli leaders is to be very careful before using bombastic words which can have serious ramifications on the stability of our region. Words can accidentally and unnecessarily ignite a huge fire.
I repeat: there is another way, even in the Gaza Strip, by leading a strong regional process. We must make these changes in order to prevent another round of war and unnecessary funerals. Change is possible, and we must not let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
To this end, a few weeks ago, I extended my hand to my political rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. I told him: You are the engine driving the Israeli right, and I the engine driving the center left. For 10 years you’ve been saying that there’s no one to talk with, but now there is. So, why delay talking until after the next round of war? Why would you want to be the one responsible for hundreds of families who will have to go to cemeteries to visit their loved ones? But Netanyahu preferred a narrow right-wing coalition, adverse to Israel’s national interest, and so contrived an all right-wing cabinet which threatens our potential to realize true long-term security. This right-wing engine cannot get its ignition to work, and will not succeed in leading the country anywhere; and when the engine repeatedly fails, we must understand, it’s time it was replaced.
The author is the Knesset opposition leader, and chairman of both the Zionist Union Party and the Labor Party.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.