Olmert to ‘Post’: Netanyahu leaving opens new horizons for Israel

The former prime minister inaugurates a column explaining why a change of leadership will open up new horizons for Israel.

Ehud Olmert  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ehud Olmert
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The third round of Israeli elections, which are slated to take place on March 2nd, could have focused on a number of crucial issues that are extremely important for the future of the State of Israel, as every election campaign should. Election results are supposed to identify which individual will lead the nation and determine the course of action as a national priority.
The decisions made regarding these issues have the power to determine the future and fate of our country and will greatly affect the quality of life of its residents. Unfortunately, not one of these topics arose during public discourse leading up to the first two election campaigns that took place in 2019, and it appears that neither will they be discussed in the coming months.
First and foremost is the subject of talks between Israel and the Palestinian people, which were frozen by the Israeli government many years ago and have led to a total disconnect between Israel’s Netanyahu-led government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen. The absence of such negotiations is tantamount to a strategic attack on the existence of the State of Israel.
It must be said out loud that the Israeli government under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu is making every effort to evade engaging in political negotiations with the Palestinians. The irresolute statement Netanyahu made back in 2009 at Bar-Ilan University in support of a two-state solution has been erased, not just from public consciousness in Israel as well as abroad, but also from Netanyahu’s own memory. Instead of a willingness to enter into serious talks, Israel has engaged in ongoing conflict with the Palestinian leadership.
Abbas is viewed by the Knesset ministers as an enemy of Israel despite his repeated declarations that he is opposed to violent terrorism and the fact that the Palestinian security forces continuously assist Israel’s Shin Bet to thwart attacks and prevent terrorists from operating in areas under the responsibility of the PA. The Gush Etzion bloc, where the three boys were kidnapped and murdered in 2014, was under the control of the Israeli security agencies; therefore, the terrorists’ success was, we must admit, largely a result of Israel’s failure.
Of course, this does not absolve the terrorist organizations of the blame for the murders, but it does help us define the borders of land under Israeli versus Palestinian responsibility. Very few terrorist attacks are carried out in areas controlled by the PA, and yet we are not carrying out talks with the PA – only with Hamas. Evading serious discussions regarding the Palestinian issue, fearing to take an unequivocal stance on the two-state solution or withdrawing from settlements in Judea and Samaria, are a mistake; one day Israel will pay a dear price for these policies.
Not one party – not the Likud or the Blue and White Party – has presented a clear stance on this matter, except for the Joint List. Even the Democratic Union, which includes Meretz, resorted to general statements and empty slogans declaring their desire for peace.
Even the most serious security issues failed to arouse interest among the leading parties or elicit any meaningful responses. For example, how is Israel dealing with Hamas’s constant threat of rocket fire aimed at hundreds of thousands of Israelis? Is our government’s long-term strategy for the communities in southern Israel to suffer from a barrage of missiles every few months?
Does Israel have any desire to improve the quality of life of Gaza’s residents, the vast majority of whom do not engage in terrorism and do not threaten Israel’s security? Or will we just continue to suffer continuous rockets falling on Israeli territory, and then retaliate, harming innocent people in Gaza who were not involved? Will we continue to suffocate the residents of Gaza by restricting their electricity, water, food and building materials, which will further marginalize them, instead of cooperating with them in our struggle to rid the area of terrorism?
And what about the growing Iranian presence in Syria? What can or should Israel be doing about this issue? Israel’s failure to prevent this is a strategic security failure. While the Israeli government under Netanyahu’s command has been preparing for a military attack from Iran, located more than a thousand miles from here, the Iranian military has gradually and efficiently been repositioning forces in Syria, right on our border. What has Netanyahu been doing to deal with this problem?
And what about the quality of life in Israel? What are the various political parties’ plans for rehabilitating the health system? How can we increase the number of doctors working in our hospitals? How can we improve their working conditions – especially for specialists? How do you educe the waiting time for life-saving treatments?
How can we improve the level of teaching in schools and expand the resources available to educators? We need to reduce class size – the future of our children and grandchildren depends on it.
How do we reduce the growing social gap, which is threatening to create a deep social divide between those who thrive in central Israel and others who feel a bit neglected and live in the northern or southern periphery? What kind of social plan is the prime minister proposing? What about all the people who work for minimum wage or less? It’s not possible to live a dignified life under those conditions.
What about the hundreds of thousands of Israeli children who live below the poverty line, with little hope of ever escaping a life of deprivation and scarcity? And when will we finally accept that 20% of Israeli residents who are non-Jewish citizens, the vast majority of whom are Arabs, are entitled to live with complete equality and receive all the economic, social and educational opportunities for advancement the same as we do?
Moreover, it’s about time we took seriously the growing gap between the Haredi community and the rest of Israeli society? We must also treat Jews who belong to the Conservative and Reform communities with respect and tolerance, instead of alienating them. We cannot stand for this policy, which is promoted by a small minority, but backed by an irresponsible and cowardly government that favors temporary political convenience over strengthening a broad consensus, which has always been the foundation of the Israel’s strength and stability.
The recent election campaigns have not dealt with any of these issues, which are so vital to our quality of life. The sole burning topic has been whether Netanyahu will continue to serve as prime minister, or will be forced to step down.
More precisely: Will Netanyahu, with the help of his violent gang, including some of his family members, succeed in outmaneuvering the system and receiving immunity and avoid being brought to trial? This is the solitary issue that has featured in the campaign leading up to the March 2 election.
I am convinced that on March 3rd, we will all wake up and realize what was already clear this entire year. It’s time for Netanyahu to go home. We now have an opportunity before us to open up new horizons and offer the citizens of Israel a reason to remain hopeful.
In the end, Netanyahu will be defeated and the Likud under his leadership will fail. The violent, divisive public discourse that has been bringing about even greater conflict between us and our neighbors will finally give way to a more normal, sane and respectable leadership.
This is the heart of the political conflict we find ourselves in at the moment. In the end, change is inevitable.
The author was the 12th Prime Minister of Israel.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.•