By Larry Gordon
Once again, it is election season in Israel. The great hope of the marriage of rightist ideology and centrist pragmatism just didn’t work out. Perhaps that is because the rightists flirt excessively with the political center and the centrists lean too far to the left. It’s all in a day’s work in the Middle East’s only real democracy, and now it is time for a divorce of sorts.
Disguised as a mere 66-year-old state despite her thousands of years of existence, Israel is still plodding along trying to discover her true political identity. Is she right or left, willing to make peace with incorrigible enemies at any cost or not? Has she finally realized that there is no choice but to go at it alone or will she still try everything to get 150 UN member states who constantly reject her to love her somehow instead?
These are the types of questions that could make a planet spin at high speed were it not already spinning. It is an approach that can easily lead to diplomatic bipolar syndrome as the population tries to figure out who they are and what everyone else believes about them.
What is clear after all these years is that Israel, for the most part, stands alone. And heading into a new election campaign once again, the idea of getting Europe, Asia, or even elements in Washington to do an about-face and embrace Israel from all directions is just not something that is about to happen anytime soon.
Still, as Israel’s first prime minister, Davin Ben-Gurion, said, “In Israel, if you do not believe in miracles, then you are not a realist.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu advanced the idea of dissolving the current government because his association with his largest coalition partner, Yesh Atid, was just not working out. Led by Yair Lapid, the party simply cannot get past the concept of making constant concessions to the Palestinians and believing that that is the only formula to a lasting peace. It’s an old and unsuccessful way of thinking, but if the left lets go of that direction they will cease being the left in Israel.
For now, the polls say that Netanyahu will once again be victorious and will be able to patch together a majority coalition that prominently features the chareidi parties. There’s an interesting dynamic at play here which is expressive of one simple certainty—no one knows which way the Israeli electorate is going to swing.
So let’s do some analysis. The providential thing is that the chareidim are the key to any new coalition, that is, right or left. Aryeh Deri is the new kingmaker as he once was not so long ago in Israel. But the chareidi parties have a score to settle with Netanyahu because he hung them out to dry after the last election and looked the other way as legislation was passed to draft yeshiva students into the IDF, at the same time drastically reducing student subsidies that hurt many yeshivas.
But it is the left more than any other segment of society that wants to reduce the chareidi commitment to a Torah lifestyle and blur the distinction between them and the rest of the population. If Deri and the others decide to go left, it will be based on a deal that scuttles the draft law. Essentially, Israel, as some have been trying to redefine the country over the last few years, will now be reset while making a fresh start on several levels.
It is a political oddity, but historically, with few exceptions, Israel has been tougher on their Palestinian neighbors when led by more liberal and left-leaning leaders than those who lean right. A brief glance at the history will tell you that it was Likud’s Menachem Begin who went to the original Camp David in 1979. It was Bibi Netanyahu who signed the Wye Plantation agreement during the Clinton administration, withdrawing Israeli forces from Arab cities and surrendering 80% of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority. It was Ariel Sharon who withdrew from Gush Katif, and we all know what an unmitigated disaster that has been.
At the same time, it was the Labor Party under the guidance of Golda Meir and later Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres that aggressively planted the seeds and facilitated the growth of the settler movement and settlement communities that now dot the landscape in Judea and Samaria. It was Rabin as defense minister who spoke about “breaking the bones” of would-be Arab terrorists living in Israel’s midst.
When Shimon Peres was prime minister and Hezbollah in Lebanon was first raising its ugly, terrorist head, it was Peres who ordered the relentless bombardment of Beirut. It was Ehud Olmert along with his incompetent leftist Defense Minister Amir Peretz who went to war with Lebanon in 2006, and again it was the ethically challenged Olmert who launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008.
On the flip side, it was Prime Minister Netanyahu—considered to be extreme right-leaning—who was maneuvered into declaring his support for an unworkable two-state solution and who instituted a discriminatory freeze, under pressure from the U.S., on Jewish building in certain areas of the country.
The left conceivably would not, or perhaps could not, institute any of these plans. They may even have a more difficult time keeping Jews off the Temple Mount because the underlying policy is so blatantly discriminatory.
There is such a plethora of combinations that can result in the next Israeli governing coalition that the prospects are almost dizzying. Choosing Labor leader Isaac Herzog to be the next prime minister would be a mistake for the country but it would set up an interesting dynamic in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, especially as Mr. Obama launches his final two years in office harboring an immense amount of hostility for the Jewish state.
When Menachem Begin as leader of the Likud was finally chosen as Israel’s prime minister in 1977, much of Israel and the Jewish world were very excited at the refreshing new leader and the prospects he brought with him to the office. At the time, I was hosting a daily radio show on the still fairly famous WFMU in New Jersey.
Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was a frequent guest on the program, made an appearance one morning to discuss the political events that had unfolded. I innocently asked him about Begin and how he felt a rightist prime minister would fare for Israel going forward. Kahane unhesitatingly pronounced into the microphone, “Begin will be the biggest disaster Israel has ever seen.”
I was taken aback and even a little stunned. Kahane went on to explain that when Begin becomes intoxicated by the international attention and makes concessions for an artificial peace, there will be no one out on the streets of Jerusalem to protest those Israeli concessions.
If Rabin, however, is prime minister, Kahane explained, and Rabin tries to make concessions to the Palestinians and the U.S., Begin will be out in the streets with 200,000 people decrying the moves.
This scenario is as true today as it was 35 years ago. Netanyahu says he is for two states—that is, an Arab state located directly in the Israeli heartland—and there is no one to object. He freezes construction only for Jews, including a stoppage of building in Jerusalem, and there is no one to protest.
If Buji Herzog becomes prime minister, both Bibi and Naftali Bennett will be leading street demonstrations declaring those policies as posing an imminent danger to all of Israel. As it was decades ago, so are the considerations similar today.
Make no mistake, I am not advocating for the left in the coming elections. Rest assured that even though the left talks about painful concessions for a peace agreement, they well know that it is the other side, the Arab side, that is opposed to peace and opposed to two states. They know that today there is no partner for peace on the Arab side. The left wants in on the power and control of the billions of dollars that flow through government. The great thing here is that despite what we think, it is the people of Israel who will ultimately decide which way to go. v
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