Chance for an inclusive Israeli Left

Israelis might well be ready for a party that combines a genuine drive for peace with socially responsible economic policies.

meretz hall 224.88 amir (photo credit: Amir Mizroch)
meretz hall 224.88 amir
(photo credit: Amir Mizroch)
The early demise of the new government of Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is being confidently predicted in the media. I disagree. I think it will survive for quite long - maybe even the whole four years. Bibi has artfully constructed an almost indestructible administration, locked together by the self-interest of the parties that make it up. Moreover, he will be careful not to rock the boat. He is unlikely to launch daring peace initiatives. He is even less likely to make war with the Palestinians, Iran or anyone else. He has enlisted Defense Minister Ehud Barak for that very purpose. It is no secret that Barak was the main force holding back the decision to go to war in Gaza recently. Caution is Barak's middle name, and his military record can be counted on to neutralize the screams of frustration on the part of those of us thirsty for battle. So we can expect four years of stalemate, where nothing really moves in the Israel-Arab arena. The Bibi-Barak duo, which will run the current government, doesn't believe in the possibility of peace agreements with either Syria or the Palestinians. Bibi and Barak will make the right noises to fend off international pressure, but they won't take any concrete steps. They may well limit aggressive settlement building, but will do nothing to dismantle existing settlements. The US and Europe will be too busy with their economic problems to exert any real pressure on Israel, as long as the situation remains relatively quiet. And quiet may well be the most likely scenario, as, in their present state of mutual exhaustion, neither we Israelis nor the Palestinians are likely to ignite a serious flare-up of violence in the immediate future. SO what does this mean for the internal political scene? The Labor Party, trapped in the government, has become irrelevant, except as a stabilizing factor for the said government. The opposition Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, and Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu are both offshoots of the Likud. In one way or another, they are likely to merge into a new super-Likud at some stage, and the Labor rump in the government will happily fit itself into this alignment. The resulting lack of an alternative to the current administration presents a tremendous opportunity. The left of the Labor Party - those who opposed joining Bibi's coalition - and the decimated left-wing Meretz should move to create a new framework, but they have to change direction in a fundamental way. Just before the recent elections, Meretz coopted some left-wing authors, journalists and former officials in an ostensibly promising lineup, but it failed abysmally, winning just three seats in the Knesset. This time around the Jewish left must not be afraid to join up with the Arab citizens of Israel. There are currently 11 members of the Arab parties in the Knesset, but there could be as many as 17 if the Arabs bothered to vote in general elections at the same rate that they vote in local elections. The Jewish left should invite the Arabs into an equal partnership, forming an inclusive social democratic party that could be an alternative to the Netanyahu regime. If the approach is made in the right way, the response would surely be positive. True, this is a very radical departure for both Israeli Jews and Arabs, who have long been used to separate political parties. The Labor-Zionist movement existed to create a Jewish state; the various Arab parties came into being to defend the interests of the Arab minority. Today, however, the situation is different and a new mind-set is required. Former British prime minister Harold Wilson used to say that a week is a long time in politics - and he didn't even know Israeli politics! We may have as much as four years in which to establish a genuine new left. That should be enough time to shed irrelevant prejudices and shibboleths. After four years of Bibi-Barak, Israelis might well be ready to vote for a party that combines a genuine drive for peace with socially responsible economic policies. Even if this is not the case, and the present government retains its popularity, there should be an alternative for the future. The creation of a new, attractive, left-wing party is not only important to those of us with liberal dovish views. It is in the interest of Israeli democracy as a whole. The writer, a former Jerusalem Post staffer, is a Jerusalem author. His last book was Holy Land Mosaic (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).