National unity, but not national decisions

Savir's Corner: Elections in US still taking place; elections in Israel postponed, may take place on time in 2013 or earlier.

Tal Law Protest 311 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Tal Law Protest 311
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
At the beginning of the week, I intended to write an article about the decision processes that would have been necessary in Israel and United States following the 2012 national elections in each country.
The elections in the United States are still taking place; the elections in Israel have been postponed and may take place on time in 2013 or earlier.
In the meantime, we now have a national unity government in Israel and will likely have one after the elections as well. Let us look at the critical national decisions that have to be taken in 2013 alongside and beyond the events in the domestic political scenes.
Shaul Mofaz has succeeded in outsmarting his caricature in Channel 2’s Eretz Nehederet (A “Wonderful Country”) satirical program, where he is depicted as never saying or doing anything.
The only thing that Mofaz actually said, except for expressing his disdain for Tzipi Livni, was ferocious criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom he described as a danger to our national security. Days later he becomes Bibi’s closest partner.
Some things can only happen in Israel. Mofaz has set a new record for an opposition that is ready to make a fool of itself just to prolong the political longevity of his opponents and of the government. All in return for some empty rhetoric.
Most likely nothing will come out of the coalition agreement in regards to changing the Tal and election laws, given Netanyahu’s weakness for the religious parties.
With 94 coalition MKs this agreement makes a mockery of our democratic system.
This agreement does not and will not change the record of the Netanyahu government, which is catastrophic in many respects and quite good in others.
When it comes to Israel’s standing in the region, in the wake of the Arab Spring, Netanyahu did what he does best – nothing. He preferred a coalition with Avigdor Liberman and the settlers (and their racist, nondemocratic positions) over negotiations with probably the last of moderate Palestinian leaders. This will most probably not change with Mofaz at his side.
Netanyahu is not capable of evacuating one illegal house in Beit El, not to speak of making a territorial deal in which tens of thousands of settlers will have to be relocated.
On Iran, Netanyahu flexes muscle, with messianic Holocaust rhetoric backed by an adventurist defense minister, Ehud Barak, but gave in to Barack Obama’s demand to play by the rules of the international community. Yet Israel under Netanyahu is more isolated and delegitimized than it has ever been – a dangerous predicament.
On the socioeconomic front, the record of the government is somewhat better although there is unemployment among the young and in the periphery and tremendous socioeconomic gaps in today’s Israel; Netanyahu did not heed the protest movement’s outcry for social justice. As for macro economics, there is better news. At a time of dangerous global and European crises, the Israeli economy is in relatively good shape, one of the best in the OECD club, with a moderate growth rate of almost 4 percent and low inflation.
To a large degree, this is to the credit of Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer, a brilliant man who does a brilliant job. His appointment was perhaps Netanyahu’s best policy decision, except for the release of Gilad Schalit.
In regards to what remains of the opposition, and Netanyahu’s future electoral opponents, he does very well or is simply lucky. Kadima has probably self-destructed by entering this government and has lost its raison d’être in the Center.
The Labor Party too lost 50 percent of its raison d’être and identity when its new leader, Shelly Yacimovich, decided to overlook the fact that Israel needs a clear peace agenda, and that the end of the occupation has to be part of the moral cause of the Left. With Shelly we may have a new Golda, albeit without her leadership and rhetorical abilities. Yet she may link up successfully with the protest movements and gain Knesset seats.
As for the ambitious Yair Lapid, he has shown us a new version of party democracy that could have made Stalin proud, and he too has forgotten how to spell the word peace.
On the Right, with which I disagree, there is energy, conviction, ideology and determination, and it will most probably win whenever the elections are finally held.
The outcome will likely be, again, a national unity government, but perhaps with a lesser role for the haredim.
As for the United States, given the bloodletting during the Republican primaries and the rather dull character of the GOP’s candidate, the elections will be a referendum on Obama’s record as president. On peace and security, Obama did rather well – containing the fundamentalist Islamists, pulling out of Iraq, enacting crippling sanctions on Iran and adapting gradually to the Arab Spring.
On the economy, as always, it is about “is America better off than it was four years ago” – less so than expected by many, but most probably yes. So we can expect that Obama will be reelected, after an abundance of mutual negative campaigning.
However, changes may occur in his foreign affairs and security teams. It is not clear if Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton will stay on.
As for secretary of state, we would like to make a proposition, as the United States in 2013-2017 will need a proactive leader of its diplomacy.
If actors can make it in American politics, then why not senior, experienced journalists? Tom Friedman of The New York Times could be a brilliant secretary of state, as he is incredibly knowledgeable and an expert on all facets of globalization. He has written a best-seller, From Beirut to Jerusalem, and it would be beneficial for this region if he would ride this route again.
So we can predict that in 2013 we will witness, both in the US and in Israel, more of the same (whenever the Israeli elections finally take place), but with some compositional changes in the administrations.
In any case, the balance of interests across the ocean will be similar (even in the unlikely case of a Republican victory) and we should begin to prepare for how to deal with our region beyond the domestic scenes. On Iran there will be important developments this year on the diplomatic and the economic fronts – the united interlocutor front of the P5+1 talks should continue to pressure and attempt to work out a deal with the supreme leader in Tehran. This coalition, which Israel should coordinate with, will dictate activity also in 2013, with all options on the table.
As for the Middle Eastern region – 2013 should be a year in which the West strengthens the economies of the Arab Spring countries, encourages modern institution building and the young generation. Yet for both regional development and for the Western coalition vis-à-vis Iran, the solution to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict is of cardinal importance.
The American and Israeli governments will have to embark on a new peace initiative, with a clear timeline in order to achieve a permanent- status agreement – along the parameters known today to everyone: two nation-states, 1967 lines, mutual land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of two states, stringent security arrangements, a just and mutually agreed (including in Israel) solution to the Palestinian refugee problem with the right of return to the new state of Palestine, full normal relations and cooperation, and an end to all claims.
The choice before all in 2013 is clear: for Israel – settlements and a binational state, or an end to occupation and a two-state solution with peace and security. For the Palestinians, this solution and the creation of a state, or futile efforts at the UN.
And for the United States – a dangerous stalemate that endangers American long-term interests in the region, or a comprehensive peace policy initiative.
If 2012 is the year of cynical politics, 2013 must be the year of national decisions.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.