Time for a strong, genuine and united opposition

Now is the time to present Israeli citizens with concrete steps that could enshrine our democratic character and Jewish majority, ameliorate our security and boost our international legitimacy.

May 25, 2016 22:44
3 minute read.
Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni

Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Last week Israeli politics experienced some significant drama.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a choice between the Center-Left’s Zionist Union and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beytenu, and opted for the latter.

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I strongly opposed entry to the coalition, long before and throughout the negotiations, assuming that Netanyahu would only allow us in as a fifth wheel to an ultra-right-wing government.

I did not believe Netanyahu would adopt Berl Katznelson’s ideas on the socio-economic issues, nor Menachem Begin’s courage on state and security issues. Precisely for this reason, a few weeks ago I passed to Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog a policy memo written as a letter to Netanyahu regarding Israel’s policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, describing what should be the Zionist Union’s threshold for even beginning to think about joining the government. The letter explained to Netanyahu that if he would accept at least two of the four ideas it contained, then it would be clear that the government indeed intends to promote the two-state vision, which is the sole way to secure Israel’s character as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people.

The government, the letter specified, should go beyond merely renewing negotiations by pursuing concrete steps that create movement toward a two-state reality. If the government implemented any pair (or more) of the four steps then the Zionist Union would be able to at least consider joining the coalition. It was emphasized that all four steps do not require forcefully removing a single settler who decided to reside in the West Bank with the government’s support. Nor do any of the four require removing a single soldier from the task of ensuring Israel’s security. Yet, all four steps take Israel closer to a two-state reality between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The first suggested step is passing an evacuation compensation law according to which settlers would be offered the money to purchase an alternative home within Israel proper (in polls some 40 percent of settlers say they would take this option if it existed).

The second is implementing territorial commitments from previous peace agreements (Wye, Hebron, etc), which in effect means rezoning some 20% of area C as area A and dismantling some illegal outposts. The third is renewing negotiations toward a final-status agreement with the participation of Egypt, Jordan and maybe with some other pragmatic states from the Arab League. The fourth is freezing settlement construction, at least for the negotiations period.

I knew there was virtually no chance that Netanyahu would respond positively.

The point was precisely to ensure that he would not be able to sweet talk us into the coalition. Indeed, it seems all he is reluctantly and partially willing to do is the fourth step I suggested.

These four policies therefore define now more than ever the difference between blind ultra-nationalism that leads Israel to losing a Jewish majority and sane Zionism that leads Israel slowly but surely toward enduring prosperity. Netanyahu, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon draw Israel closer and closer to the edge of a cliff. An entirely different leadership is needed for Israel to truly prosper.

Now is the time to present Israeli citizens with concrete steps that could enshrine our democratic character and Jewish majority, ameliorate our security and boost our international legitimacy.

Such steps would slowly restore trust of both the Palestinians and the Israelis in the process and the future negotiation – simply because both would see that our policy is aligned with our stated goals. Even more importantly, such steps would restore the trust of Israel’s citizens in their government. After the political earthquake of the last week, dominated by the cynicism of Netanyahu and Liberman who acted oppositely to what they repeatedly declared during the past year, regaining such trust is an urgent need.

It is high time for the Israeli opposition to join hands and boldly propose these steps. Now is no time for Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid to keep quiet on this existential issue in order to win a few votes from the Right, or for Meretz’s Zehava Gal-On and the Joint List’s Ayman Odeh to criticize Herzog for not being progressive enough. It is a time for a strong, genuine and united opposition.

The author is deputy speaker of the Knesset and secretary general of the Labor Party.

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