We are three weeks away from our fourth general election in two years, and once again the electorate is kept in the dark about the detailed policies of most participating parties. Search for the mandate of Likud, and all you learn is that it is a right-wing political party. This term is so broad that it could mean aiming to extend complete sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, or something like the Trump plan, incorporating as part of Israel isolated locations within a Palestinian state. Voters for that party have no idea what its legislative plans are. It relies totally on “Only Bibi” blind loyalty.
One week prior to the election in September 2019, in a speech broadcast live on Israel’s main TV channels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “Today I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” calling the area “Israel’s eastern border”.
It is patently clear that it was nothing but a ploy to siphon votes from those parties that have long declared that same intention. Today, as we are again about to vote, I say for the first time ever, “Prime minister, you did not speak the truth and you cannot be trusted again.”
Netanyahu also reaffirmed a pledge to annex all the settlements Israel has established in Judea and Samaria. He added, however, that this step could take longer and required “maximum coordination” with Washington.
Because Trump’s priority was his reelection, Netanyahu allowed that decision to evaporate. On reflection, it is doubtful if he really meant it. Now, the new president of the United States, Joe Biden, is unlikely to support such a move.
Just like before every election in Israel, failed or new would-be leaders emerge to start new political parties. This year it is Gideon Sa’ar, former Likud #2 to Netanyahu, who served as education minister and interior minister. Following a long period away from politics, he started the New Hope Party to challenge for the country’s leadership.
In conversation with Rob Satloff of the Washington Institute, Sa’ar said, “The current prime minister failed in bringing back stability even though he led a 70-something coalition in the Knesset, but unfortunately, he preferred his interests over the good of the country, as I see it.... Unfortunately, we are facing a situation where a cult of personality came instead of principles and values.... We need a government that will not rely on extremists.”
And this is what Sa’ar said about the COVID-19 pandemic: “Israelis don’t think this government has succeeded in managing the crisis.... We have had a lot of issues from failure in enforcement of the law, to failure to check those people who came from abroad through our one international airport.... People are not satisfied with the way the government hasn’t worked enough so that the kids are able to go to school.”
What we’ve heard from Sa’ar so far is criticism of Netanyahu, and general platitudes of what the country needs, but no details of his own definitive plans.
Only on the issue of a two-state-solution was he clear and explicit: “How can we protect the security of the citizens of Israel with a sovereign state in the heart of our land, a few miles from the most populated areas in our country? We uprooted all civil and military presence in the Gaza Strip. Since then, we did not get more stability and security, we got less. I support the maximum autonomy of the Palestinians to rule their life with the minimum ability to harm the security of the State of Israel. This can be the formula.”
That, too, requires a great deal more clarification.
ISRAEL TODAY is in the midst of a depression, a depression of the people who are at the end of their tethers, caused by the government’s handling of the coronavirus. There is an urgent need for policies that bring us back to normality.
Another of today’s main players in Israel’s forthcoming election is Naftali Bennett, who heads the Yamina Party. However, his policies are also muddy and have never been clearly spelled out.
He originally presented himself as a right-wing religious Zionist but has fallen prey to ambitions of national leadership. Rumors abound that Bennett is considering all options, including some sort of alliance with centrist and left-wing parties to form a voting bloc that will unseat Netanyahu and bring him to power.
About the Palestinian Arab problem he said, “There’s two million Palestinians who govern themselves. They have their own parliament, their own government, their own elections, their own tax system. I don’t want to govern the Palestinians. No one does. They already govern themselves.”
This ambiguous statement leaves the Yamina sympathizer completely in the dark about the direction Bennett is leading the party and could bring about a split.
Bennett, too, has not put a clear policy before the Israeli electorate, but thought to satisfy the electorate with empty rhetoric like: “The time has come for change. Israel needs new leadership. Therefore, I am running for prime minister to finally bring that change, so Israel will have leadership that sees its citizens and not itself.”
Yamina has one important asset. She is their #2, Ayelet Shaked, astute politician and Justice Minister from 2015-2019, with a determination like that of a pit bull.
Her resolve to bring Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley totally within Israei sovereignty is being restrained by the ambitions of her leader.
It seems to be a tradition that former IDF chiefs of staff – following the mandatory period of exclusion from political office – become members of Knesset and are appointed to cabinet positions.
Few are successful in politics. Commanding an army with executive powers is far different from running a country with a measure of accountability to its citizens. Nevertheless, they all try it, and form political parties that usually last until the next election.
Recently it was retired chief of staff Benny Gantz, who established Blue and White, a coalition of his Israel Resilience Party with Telem, led by former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon joined by Gabi Ashkenazi – who also served as chief of staff – and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. In good-old Israeli fashion, the policies of the party leaders diverged when Gantz saw an opportunity for advancement and cooperated with Netanyahu. He was given the position of defense minister and alternate prime minister, with an arrangement to take over as prime minister after 18 months: a forlorn hope from the start.
With the declaration of the election in March 2021, that arrangement is now void, and so is the manifesto of the former three-party alliance that included rescinding laws barring businesses from opening on Shabbat. For the new election, no definitive policy statement for Benny Gantz’s Resilience Party has been issued.
Of that alliance, besides Gantz, only Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party have made it to this election. It is also only Yesh Atid that has published a detailed policy statement covering 10 subjects, from fighting public corruption to immigration and absorption. These sections are divided into subsections that provide a very detailed picture of Lapid’s policies. It is, of course, easier to make statements than it is to fulfill what they promise, but he leaves the public in no doubt about his plans.
Several other center-left and far-left parties are also in the running. The aims and objectives of the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties are well known and their support varies only minimally, assuring them of several Knesset seats each.
Of all the published polls, it will only be the last, on the 23rd of this month that counts.
The writer, 97, is the world’s oldest active journalist and radio show host. His weekly ‘Walter’s World’ is on Israel National Radio and ‘The Walter Bingham File’ is on Israel News Talk Radio, both in English.