Time for a Center-Left government

Since Ehud Barak’s short, tumultuous rule in the late 1990s, Israel has had one Likud prime minister after another.

Tzipi Livni speaks with Labor head Isaac Herzog in the Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Tzipi Livni speaks with Labor head Isaac Herzog in the Knesset
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrogantly claimed that a Palestinian UN proposal to end Israel’s rule in the West Bank by 2016 would definitely be defeated. Even if he is correct, it is yet another reminder that Israel faces an increasingly hostile environment abroad that this present government has not been astute in confronting.
That is partly because, for more than a decade, Israel’s politics have been dominated by rightwing governments.
It is time for new leadership to shape the course of the state’s future.
Since Ehud Barak’s short, tumultuous rule in the late 1990s, Israel has had one Likud prime minister after another. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in the first years: Ariel Sharon was the right politician to confront the second intifada.
But then followed the disastrous years of Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu.
When you look back at the years since the Gaza disengagement, what has been accomplished? Is Israel better placed economically? Are Israel’s poorest and marginalized communities living better lives? Has the situation of the middle class improved? What about Israel’s security situation and international relations? On every account, the answer is no. When the response to every litmus test is negative, it means it is time for change.
The Israeli electorate is naturally centrist. The old ties that bound voters to parties in a cradleto- grave manner are gone. People are searching for hope. Every time the people have been confronted with an option for peace, they have shown that in massive numbers they want it – they want a two-state solution.
And yet, despite the fact that large groups have given their votes to centrist figures such as Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, they have been deceived and found themselves saddled with yet another Netanyahu government. That is why the partnership between Livni and Labor is so fortunate; finally, the electorate can vote for a truly Center- Left party and not find itself ending up in a coalition with the Right.
Let’s examine the Right’s claims as to why it is better for Israel. Its primary selling point is security and being tough on terrorism. But over the last half decade, the Jewish state’s position internationally has eroded. One after another, EU parliaments have voted to recognize Palestine.
The international community is tiring of Israel’s intransigence on the Palestinian issue.
Netanyahu’s answer has been to blame Europe as being out of touch, but that talking point isn’t working. Just like the buffoonery of the UN speech about the redline on Iran’s nuclear bomb, it is all talk and no substance. Iran is still marching towards a bomb, and Israel’s constant boasting and bombastic statements have not encouraged the international community to take it seriously.
The global community’s view of Israel as a regressive, anachronistic, right-wing basket case is only encouraged by the antics such as the Jewish Nation-State bill and other legislation proposed by the Right. Has any of the nonsensical legislation like the Anti-Boycott Law actually had any impact? No. And each one erodes our standing.
Rather than working for a Nation-State law, a Center-Left government could spend time strengthening the existing Jewish nation-state – through investment in infrastructure, housing, social justice and peace.
Peace with the Palestinians would bring dividends that are economic. Rather than focusing on wasting money in building more Jewish communities over the Green Line, the government can refocus its efforts on building communities for the 95 percent of Israelis who live inside the Green Line.
It is amazing when you think about it, but the government has been plowing money into an enterprise in the West Bank that benefits only a tiny minority.
Livni and Labor leader Isaac Herzog bring an excellent background to the table. Both of them are sons and daughters of the land, of old Zionist families who sacrificed and gave to this country.
They have devoted their lives to public service, and they represent the story of Israel in miniature.
One comes from a Labor background and the other Likud, but they see eye to eye on what is best for the country.
IN 2011, momentous social justice protests broke out across Israel. The youth congregated in the public squares and demanded housing reform and a better answer to their future.
It was a beautiful moment. Yet the hopes it engendered in people like myself who thought that finally Israel will live up to its promises, were dashed when the machinations of politics got in the way. The social justice demands went unfulfilled. Leaders like Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli were frustrated in the Knesset.
We can see evidence in the increasing number of talented Israelis who go abroad to Berlin and other locales. They have lost hope. It is not because they are radical-Left post-Zionists. These are former soldiers, the cream of the country in some cases, who simply want to afford a house for their family.
Consider the fact that in Israel, if you are middle class, the dream of home ownership is beyond your grasp. With average salaries at a paltry NIS 5,500 and home prices at NIS 1 million, a family can never afford to live decently.
What the Left must show this election season is that it will follow through on the promises of 2011. It must articulate an agenda of housing reform and investment in infrastructure, so that people can have a normal life in Israel.
We have a chance this election to reverse course and make a real change. The centrist and leftist voters are ready, and the public is tired of the present situation. The problem is they have been told there is no other option.
Israel is on the cusp of an economic boom; it is full of talented and dedicated individuals, and has a workforce that has been willing to sacrifice many things to support the country – whether it is people going to reserve duty year after year, or accepting less pay than abroad.
Netanyahu had his chance three times to make changes – and his only answer has been more prevarication, more putting off important decisions and mismanaging our relations with the EU. He has also offered no answers to the simmering problems in the West Bank and Gaza.
His answer is more of the same. He had his chance – and it is time for change.
The writer is a veteran pro-Israel campus activist who recently made aliya.