Whose Likud?

In the wake of primary results, Netanyahu needs to tell the public what his party now stands for.

Bibi speaking 298.88 (photo credit: sasson tiram)
Bibi speaking 298.88
(photo credit: sasson tiram)
The next government of Israel will be headed by the Likud under Binyamin Netanyahu, the public opinion polls said. But that was before Monday's Likud primary, which shifted the party considerably to the right. Will centrist voters who might have been mulling abandoning Kadima because of its leftward drift under Ehud Olmert now put their faith in Tzipi Livni? With the campaign for the February 10 Knesset elections in full swing, Kadima was quick to charge that the Likud's primary results will make Netanyahu a prisoner of his party's "extreme Right," unable to pursue a diplomatic process and leaving Israel internationally isolated. The Likud's membership deliberately chose representatives, many of whom are sincerely and firmly opposed to any territorial compromise - not because of the way things now stand with the Palestinians, but, it seems, always and forever. Such policies, however, cannot be reconciled with the need for Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state. Israel cannot forever manage the lives of millions of antagonistic Palestinian Arabs. It is thus in our interest to separate ourselves from them. This newspaper has taken Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian "moderates" to task for failing to meet Israel half-way at the negotiating table. We've argued that they should budge from their unrealistic and maximalist demands, which call on Israel to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines and accept the Palestinian "right of return" to Israel proper. We can point to any number of further obstacles the Palestinians have created that have made achieving an agreement impossible. For instance, Hamas's stranglehold over Gaza; the lack of transparent and legitimate political institutions in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank; and the PA's failure to earnestly prepare its people for the idea of coexistence. There is, too, its unwavering refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Even if these obstacles were overcome, a deal would not be easy because of a range of life-and-death security concerns. There would be a need for Palestinian demilitarization, and for modalities to keep a nascent Palestinian state from becoming a launching pad for attacks against Israel. UNTIL now, therefore, the most pressing question has been: Do the Palestinians want a deal? What we do not want is to see a situation develop in which Washington and our allies in Europe begin to wonder: Does Israel, led by the Likud, want a deal? We advocated for a Likud that was a "big tent" party of the Right and Center-Right, capable of accommodating such diverse players as Dan Meridor and Moshe Feiglin. To signal voters that it was indeed also a center-right party, Netanyahu recruited, along with Meridor, Uzi Dayan and Assaf Hefetz. But the attempt failed miserably when only Meridor won a realistic shot at making it into the Knesset - No. 17. We accept that the Likud Knesset list is far from monolithic. Feiglin, No. 20, and several others would oppose territorial concessions under any circumstances. Feiglin also "endorsed" 19 of 36 winning primary candidates, but most of them have no particular allegiance to him. So-called Likud rebels (those who opposed the Gaza disengagement and remained in the party after Ariel Sharon stormed out to establish Kadima) and figures such as Bennie Begin and Moshe Ya'alon are security hawks. They believe no deal is possible given the current constellation of Palestinian partners. Then there are relative moderates including Meridor, Silvan Shalom, and Netanyahu himself. Begin argues that "the most far-reaching concessions declared recently" by Olmert have not been able to deliver a deal with the Palestinians. "The reason is the fundamental position of the Arabs." He may well be right that the Palestinians will, for the foreseeable future, remain unwilling or unable to reach an accommodation. But relying on their intransigence does not a party platform make. Last month, Netanyahu declared that he would "advance peace talks with the Palestinians in order to gain a stable, safe and prosperous peace." He said he wanted to "move both the political negotiations" and an economic peace plan "forward." In the wake of the primary results, Netanyahu urgently needs to tell his Knesset candidates, the voting public and Israel's allies abroad what his party now stands for. Otherwise others, to his detriment, will be only too ready to define it for him.