Where is the alternative in our elections?

Reality Check: If Yacimovich is content in simply remaining in the center, and refuses to rule out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition after January’s elections, then what’s the point of voting for Labor under her leadership?

Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich 370 (R) (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich 370 (R)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It’s infuriating. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has had a particularly tough 10 days, but all Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich can do is go on Arutz 7 and express her “appreciation” for West Bank settlers as “an ideological community.”
First off, what in God’s name is Yacimovich doing appearing on the settlers’ radio station in the first place? There can’t be any potential Labor voters listening to Arutz 7 unless they’re stuck in a taxi with a driver who refuses to change the station.
And secondly, she was talking to this station only days after the 17th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, a murder that took place due to an atmosphere of incitement whipped up by the Right, the settlement movement in particular, and in which Arutz 7 played a prominent role. Yacimovich’s breach of the promise of “we won’t forget or forgive” Rabin’s murder for the sake of just a few minutes’ airtime is stomach churning.
Moreover, Yacimovich’s cozying up to the Right is pointless; there are no votes for Labor to be won there. Her belief that people will switch from the Likud to Labor because of the price of cottage cheese is baseless. Labor’s most recent election victories were not won on economic issues, but rather because the Israeli electorate was disgruntled with the go-nowhere policies of incumbent Likud prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 and Netanyahu in 1999.
INTERESTINGLY, both Shamir and Netanyahu were seen by Israeli voters at the time as having significantly damaged Israel-US ties. Shamir’s relations with George Bush senior were notably frosty, highlighted by then-secretary of state James Baker’s publicly reciting the White House switchboard’s phone number, and telling Israel: “When you are serious about peace, call us!” Netanyahu’s relationship with Bill Clinton was similarly poor. It got off to a rocky start – according to Dennis Ross’ memoirs, Clinton remarked in bewilderment after his first meeting with Netanyahu, “He thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do what he requires” – and the relationship never improved, due both to Netanyahu’s personal character and his determination to wreck the Oslo process and any attempt to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
More than a decade later, Netanyahu is once again facing a second-term Democratic US president who has no fond feelings for the Israeli premier. Netanyahu’s crass cheerleading for Mitt Romney will long be remembered in the White House. One of Israel’s most important diplomatic strengths is Jerusalem’s perceived closeness to Washington, something Netanyahu has single-handedly and foolishly weakened by placing all his chips on a Romney victory.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S election victory was not the only black cloud suddenly filling Netanyahu’s horizon over the past week or so. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas also suddenly popped up to remind the Israeli public that Netanyahu’s mantra that there is no Palestinian partner is as incorrect as his belief that a Mormon was about to become America’s next president.
As well as maintaining that there would never be a third intifada as long as he was president, and insisting that he believed the second intifada was a grave mistake on the part of the Palestinians, Abbas also made a far-reaching personal statement, telling a Channel 2 interviewer that if he was ever to return to Safed, the town of his birth, it would only be as a tourist and not as a Palestinian refugee seeking to implement his right of return to the place from which he was expelled.
“Palestine for me is the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as the capital, this is Palestine, I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, everything else is Israel,” Abbas told Channel 2.
But rather than seeking to build on the Palestinian leader’s remarks, which sparked demonstrations within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Netanyahu preferred to concentrate on Abbas’ comment to Egyptian media outlet Al-Hayat the following day that those remarks reflected his own personal opinion and should not be taken as policy and continued to recite his stale mantra of wanting “direct negotiations without preconditions,” which everybody knows is diplomatic-speak for doing nothing.
IN HER shameful interview with Arutz 7, Yacimovich tried to argue that Labor is a centrist party. “Calling Labor a left-wing party is a historical injustice,” she said. “Labor has always drawn its power from being a centrist party.”
While she is certainly correct in saying there have always been hawks and doves in its ranks, over the past two decades Labor has been the party prepared to break the mold of Israeli politics and turn leftwards, negotiating the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians under Rabin and seeking to reach a full peace agreement at Camp David, including the division of Jerusalem, under Ehud Barak.
If Yacimovich is content in simply remaining in the center, and refuses to rule out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition after January’s elections, then what’s the point of voting for Labor under her leadership? Israel needs an alternative to Netanyahu and, so far, in cuddling up to Labor’s ideological opponents, Yacimovich is failing to provide one.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.