Netanyahu, recapture the center

Build on the trust voters have in your stewardship of the economy.

bibi netanyahu 88 (photo credit: )
bibi netanyahu 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Mr. Netanyahu: I am not a Likud member; neither are most of my friends. Over the past 20 years, we've given peace a chance with Yitzhak Rabin, stood firm in the face of terror with Ariel Sharon, and hoped for salvation from the Third Way, Yisrael B'Aliya, the Center Party and others. Given the current political situation, I and many others will consider voting for the Likud under your leadership. But only if you give us reason to believe we can rely on you to steer the ship of state evenly, with a firm hand, on a reasonable course. As a member of that elusive group, the moderate swing voters, I would like to suggest how you can still attract our support. Bring the Likud back to the center. Even before Ariel Sharon fell ill, many of us in the political center wondered what real alternative would present itself by March 28. Not only have we seen the "new center" come and go over the past few decades; we can see that Haim Ramon and Ruchama Avraham have little in common - and Dalia Itzik and Tzahi Hanegbi even less. And, as Caroline Glick astutely observed in Tuesday's paper, even calling Kadima "centrist" is a fiction. Forget Moshe Feiglin and those on the fringe in the Likud: focus on mainstream Likud voters and others in the middle of the Israeli political spectrum. Offer us: • Capitalism with a heart - promise to continue the reforms which you began as finance minister, while protecting the poor with more short-term measures than previously provided. • Concrete proposals on social issues - float a few centrist solutions like universal national service, civil marriage arrangements, and Shabbat agreements allowing places of entertainment to remain open while commerce is restricted, to bridge the religious-secular divide. • Security without peace - protect Israelis while cautiously seeking peace in light of the debacle which was Oslo and the encouragement of Palestinian (and Iranian) terror which resulted from the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. With the National Union and Israel Beteinu on your right and Kadima and Labor on your left you can lead the Likud back to the center, where it belongs and where it reached its greatest strength. Present a strategic plan for peace. You should acknowledge Palestinian desires for freedom, including using the formally-taboo phrase "Palestinian state," while recognizing our historical Jewish claim to all of the Land of Israel. Without the clear declaration on your part that you too bow to historical and demographic necessity - however unjustified and unfair - the Likud will be relegated to the minority status now accorded it by the polls. Following from this, though, you can offer a plan which is both a real alternative to the Kadima/Labor territorial withdrawal theory and an intellectually rigorous program for real peace in the region. First, state the obvious: Land-for-peace is dead and has been replaced, as analyzed succinctly by Herb Keinon in this newspaper, by a new paradigm - security-then-peace. But you can reclaim this concept as originally the Likud's, stemming as it does from both from the Likud's mandate from the 2001 elections and your own insistence as prime minister on "reciprocity." Your strategic plan should include specifics which can be clearly distinguished from those of the opposing parties. Include completion of the security fence within six months; support for natural growth of settlements; linkage of relations with the Palestinians to democratic reforms in their society, as advocated by Natan Sharansky; demands for a cessation of terror and anti-Semitic incitement by Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims, with policies to back up those demands; and a commitment to bring to a national referendum any territorial adjustments - annexation, withdrawal, federation or other initiatives involving jurisdiction over the land of Israel or its Jewish and Arab communities - including legislation creating the mechanism to carry these out. FOCUS ON the economy. Most people know you are to be thanked for the strength of the economy at present - Olmert's claims notwithstanding - so don't overdo your efforts to receive credit. By focusing on your prescription for long-term economic health you demonstrate your command of the issue and your strategic concerns for Israel's economic stability, while your opponents scramble to take credit or push unpalatable socialist alternatives. Make Ariel Sharon's repeated endorsement of your policies and praise for your performance as finance minister a central tenet of your campaign, along with the worldwide approbation you received. This is where you shine; it is also the most palpable demonstration of your ability to take real responsibility and stick to your principles - both policy-related and political (subduing your rivalry with Sharon for the good of the country). We need to know that you won't trade these principles for political points or coalition agreements. Be genuine. If your zenith was your financial and economic leadership, your nadir was your performance in announcing your resignation. Not a single objective observer believed for a minute you were resigning on principle rather than to position yourself in the Likud for the coming leadership battle. You voted too many times for the withdrawal from Gaza to then credibly claim you were against it. Decide on the principles you believe in, as you did on economic policy - and then speak from your heart. And mean it. You are believable when you believe in what you say. You're great at sound-bites, but everyone knows you're a media pro. So relax and be real. We Israelis need a leader and a party we can trust - to protect us and to pursue relations with our neighbors and the world without appeasing our enemies. You earned our trust as finance minister; to warrant our trust in you as prime minister you now have two months to convince us you've learned from your and Sharon's mistakes. The writer is a business consultant active in Israel's public diplomacy efforts, and served as an advisor to minister Natan Sharansky in the prime minister's office.