Blue and White articulate the Rabin consensus

Israel’s April and September 2019 elections produced deadlock after the main issue, effectively, was “Bibi or not Bibi.”

BENNY GANTZ with his Blue and White leadership colleagues. They should embrace Rabin’s security principles. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
BENNY GANTZ with his Blue and White leadership colleagues. They should embrace Rabin’s security principles.
More than a few Israelis who believe that it is time for Israel to have a new prime minister have been disappointed that Benny Gantz has said little about the policies he would pursue if elected. Yes, he is a former IDF chief of staff and, yes, he comes across as a man of character. But where does he stand on some of the central issues that have divided Israelis, particularly with regard to the future of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria)?
Israel’s April and September 2019 elections produced deadlock after the main issue, effectively, was “Bibi or not Bibi.” If the upcoming election campaign focuses on the same issue, it is likely to produce a similarly unsatisfactory outcome.
There is another way forward for Blue and White. Some claim that there is little difference in the policies advocated by the Likud and Blue and White. However, given the growing number of calls for annexation by Likud politicians, this is no longer true.
Blue and White can emphasize the difference by embracing the key policy and security principles that were espoused by former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in October 1995 in his last speech to the Knesset. In that speech, Rabin presented his vision of a future settlement with the Palestinians. He rejected annexation of the West Bank and Gaza and argued instead for a permanent solution as follows:
• “We aspire to reach, first and foremost, the State of Israel as a Jewish state, at least 80% of whose citizens will be, and are, Jews.”
• Israel’s borders would be beyond the “June 4, 1967, lines,” consistent with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 242.
• Numerous communities over the June 1967 lines will be incorporated into the State of Israel.
• The Palestinian “entity” in the West Bank and Gaza will “be less than a state” – meaning it will be closer to autonomy than to full sovereignty.
• United Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of other faiths to freedom of access and worship.
• Israel’s security border will be permanently located in the Jordan Valley. Rabin added the weighty qualifier, “in the broadest meaning of that term.”
This vision is rooted in UNSC resolution 242 of November 22, 1967, which for a long time was the fundamental document guiding policies to resolve the conflict. As passed, the resolution called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
During internal Security Council deliberations, the USSR representative proposed to change the text to read “from the territories” but this amendment was voted down. The clear message was that a less than full withdrawal was consistent with resolution 242’s call for all states in the area (including Israel) to have the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
RABIN’S ADVOCACY of the Jordan River as Israel’s permanent security border was driven by his deep understanding of geography and of Israel’s security needs.
It should be noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s famous Bar-Ilan speech of June 2009 presented a very similar vision. But, as noted, the Likud Party has had a growing cadre of leading politicians in recent years who have called for annexation of part or all of the West Bank. Fortunately, Netanyahu steadily resisted those calls during most of the last 10 years, and no annexations have happened.
During the last two election campaigns, however, partly driven by the desire to win support for the Likud from voters who have favored even more right-wing parties, Netanyahu has advocated annexation of the Jordan Valley or even larger parts of the West Bank. For those who see Israel’s highest priority as being to remain a democracy with a large Jewish majority, this is a very dangerous development.
It is likely that part of the Likud’s electorate still supports the kind of future that was outlined by Rabin in October 1995, and by Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan in June 2009. If the real choice in the coming election is between a pro-annexation view and policies based on Rabin’s vision, enough Likud voters might switch to Blue and White to have a significant impact on the results of the election.
Rabin was the head of the Labor Alignment in 1995. However, the Labor Party had decisively moved away from Rabin’s vision by 1999-2001 when Ehud Barak was prime minister. It has not returned since. Were Benny Gantz and Blue and White to embrace this vision, it would truly cement the party’s position at the center of Israel’s political map.
Nearly a quarter century has passed since Rabin articulated his views. Much has happened since then, including the post-Camp David terrorism war of 2000-2004 with its horrendous Palestinian suicide bombings on Israeli civilian buses and in cafés and pizzerias; the violent June 2007 Hamas coup in Gaza; and the repeated rocket and mortar barrages since then aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. Given the size of the West Bank and its location, potentially threatening Israel’s population and economic heartland, security issues regarding its future remain paramount. At the same time, widespread support for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with a strong Jewish majority has remained firm.
Yes, some fine-tuning of the Rabin parameters may be in order, but their main points capture the broad Israeli consensus much better than the Likud’s current views. It is time for Blue and White to articulate this consensus and win decisively in the coming election.
The writer is a retired economist who has lived in Jerusalem for more than 35 years.