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Can Israel survive this coalition?
By Gershon Baskin
Jerusalem Post, 16/02/2010
I have little faith in the ability of the current government to make peace with the Palestinians or with Syria. It seems that the international community largely shares this assessment and as a result Israel is on a collision course diplomatically with much of the world.
Israel’s good diplomatic relations are predicated on the assumption that Israel is truly interested in peace with its neighbors and at least is trying to advance a process in that direction. The aggressive style and attitude of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have placed Israel in direct confrontation with neighboring states and others in a way that create a real strategic danger for us.
A recent study by the Reut Institute describes the newest national security threat to Israel as the global campaign to delegitimize Israel’s existence. Part of the campaign is based on what is portrayed as the inability to reach a “two states for two peoples solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The advocates of this position claim that Israel’s settlement policies have entrenched the Israeli system so deeply into the West Bank that a binational reality has already been created there which cannot be unscrambled. This reality, however, is not one based on equality – one person, one vote – but rather on a system of forced separation, discrimination, and the creation of two completely different systems of life, with the Jewish system serving as sovereign and protecting the rights of the Jews at the expense of the Palestinians.
The use of the term “apartheid” by those who work to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist is aimed at advancing the South Africa solution to the conflict, creating a single democratic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. No one really believes that the current government has any real intention of implementing a “two-state solution” and, therefore, coming to the conclusion that this solution is no longer viable, or in a short time will no longer be viable, automatically brings into question Israel’s very legitimacy as a democratic state.
The utterances of Lieberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, as well as other senior members of the Israel Beiteinu party together have endangered Israel far beyond what can be acceptable, even in the name of coalition politics.
I was glad that Kadima was left out of the government. I believe that Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, failed several important tests of leadership, but more importantly, I believe that Israel’s democracy needs a strong opposition. The opposition has an important role in our system; its job is to show the public the alternative to the policies of the government. But today, there are few differences between the Likud’s policies and those of Kadima. There is no real opposition in the current Knesset, Kadima does not fill the role and what remains of the Left is too small to be effective.
AS A strong advocate of genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace based on the two-state solution, and in light of the difficulties of the past to reach a negotiated agreement, I was pleased that a right-wing government would serve and would surely fail to reach peace, thereby helping to convince the public that the Right had no magic solutions. In that respect, I should be pleased that we have backtracked and have spent a year negotiating over negotiations and that a major achievement of this government will be the launching of “proximity talks” in which Israelis and Palestinians will not even be sitting in the same room.
The Israeli public, unfortunately, blames only the Palestinian side for the failure to renew the peace process. There is no real critical look at the failures of the current Israeli government. The public is also living in a false sense of security and temporary normalcy which they credit to the government, but be aware, our security forces and intelligence community failed to predict both the first and second intifadas and they are not more skilled today in predicting the future than they were the past.
I am not pleased nor satisfied that the State of Israel is under attack and that our very legitimacy is being challenged. The damage done to Israel over this past year by the Likud-Israel Beiteinu alliance is too costly and too dangerous to our future. I have little confidence in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s true desire and ability to reach peace with our neighbors, but I accept the logic that if he can do it, the acceptance of a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians that he presents to the Israeli body politic and public will be broad enough to see it implemented.
IN ORDER to advance any chance, slim as it may be, towards genuine negotiations with the Palestinians, we need more responsible politicians in positions of leadership than we have today. Netanyahu, as a statesman, needs to reshuffle his cabinet. He needs to approach Livni and propose to her that Kadima fill the positions in the government held by Israel Beiteinu and that the latter take on the challenge of becoming the opposition. Netanyahu would strengthen his government, place a person viewed favorably by the international community in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and create a new partnership between Likud, Kadima and Labor which could then merge into one political bloc in future elections.
The strength of such a government could potentially enable it to be bolder in negotiations with our neighbors, without fearing coalition blackmail politics from smaller parties. Perhaps it could also take on other important reforms that are always blocked because of coalition mathematics: With a coalition of 70 they could begin to work on broader issues such as depoliticizing religious affairs and even adopt policies that would advance true equality for all of Israel’s citizens.
In this scenario, I would continue to challenge that government to adopt policies that would advance peace, social justice, environmental sustainable development and the rule of law. I would, however, sleep a little more soundly than I do today knowing that one of the greatest threats to our democracy were no longer in positions of power.
The current coalition is strong enough to survive until the next scheduled elections. I am just not sure if Israel can survive this coalition.
The writer is the Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and an elected member of the Leadership of Israel’s Green Movement Political Party.
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