In recent days, liberal Zionists have been confronted with a sobering prospect. Even if the center-left opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu manages to cobble together a slim majority after the April elections, and the great bogeyman of Netanyahu is finally brought down… Israeli policy may not change at all on what liberal Zionists regard as the country’s existential question: establishing a Palestinian state.
This is because the leading party in polls, the centrist Blue and White bloc of Gantz and Lapid, needs to run to the right to try and gain crucial seats, and in doing so they have come out firmly against a Palestinian state. As Guy Frenkel wrote three days ago at the Israel Policy Forum:
Voters and observers of Israeli politics hoping for a major sea change in Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians in the event of a Kachol Lavan victory may be disappointed if the party’s newly released political platform is any indication: its policies regarding the conflict include maintenance of the settlement blocs, retention of the Jordan Valley, and a united Jerusalem…
[A]ny mention of a “united Jerusalem” (along with a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley) often coincides with a refusal to divide the city and share sensitive religious sites, leaving the idea of negotiations with the P.L.O. dead on arrival.
As James Zogby wrote:
I can’t see the difference twixt [Yair Lapid’s] position & Netanyahu’s on peace w/ Palestinians. Basically it adds up to Palestinian must surrender
Liberal Zionists have been frank about their dismay.
Yossi Alpher at Peace Now calls Blue and White’s positions a “Likud-like platform.” While Evan Gottesman at the Israel Policy Forum admits that the Israeli right has smashed the left to bits, using racism and the threat of terrorism; and that while polls suggest a majority still want a two-state solution, even Labor, with 9 seats in the latest poll, only speaks of “separation.”
Only two parties still lean in to the term “left:” Meretz, a social-democratic faction, and Hadash, the predominantly Palestinian-Israeli communist party [the two have a combined 15 seats in the latest poll]. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are likely to shun Hadash (and its electoral partners, Ta’al), while Meretz is a very small faction.
In recent weeks, Labor has to some extent restored its vocal advocacy for two states… [but] Even when Israelis do speak positively about the two-state solution and ending the West Bank occupation, it is in language that may sound foreign to outsiders. “Separation” is the codeword du jour, encompassing both an actual two-state outcome and incremental steps to prevent Israel becoming further embedded in the occupied territories. Separation, not two states, made it into Kachol Lavan’s [Blue and White’s] official platform…
The bottom line is that if Gantz Lapid do win, nothing is likely to change in Israeli policy. And liberal Zionists will lose their biggest argument for Israel as a democracy: Netanyahu got elected for the same reason Trump did, and we only have to get rid of him for Israel to be restored. Oh just save us from Netanyahu!
Instead, the election is shaping up to be a crisis for liberal Zionists. They have been telling us for many years that Israel is a successful “Jewish democracy” in a very tough part of the world.
But if it’s so successful, why does its Jewish society keep trending right? Why is the racism so embedded? Could there be something wrong with the recipe?
To his credit, Michael Koplow at the Israel Policy Forum examines the racism in the politics.
Across the political spectrum, there is a rush to assure Jewish Israeli voters that nobody is looking to form a government that includes Arabs; not Likud under Netanyahu, and not Kachol Lavan under Benny Gantz. Netanyahu, naturally, has made this pledge a centerpiece of his campaign.
Gantz on Monday ruled out forming any coalition with [Ta’al’s Ahmad] Tibi as well, and lumped him in with Kahane, which is an unfair comparison by any measure. Unlike Netanyahu, Gantz and Yair Lapid have not explicitly ruled out using Arab parties to form a blocking coalition, as Yitzhak Rabin did, and it is to their credit – factoring in the soft bigotry of low expectations – that they have not definitively closed that door…
Koplow is reminding us that no government coalition could actually include a Palestinian party, which is a sad reflection on a Jewish democracy. And that grieves him:
[I]t is hollowly cynical to use Israeli Arabs’ participation in political life to tout Israel’s greatness, and in the next instance portray Israeli Arabs’ participation in political life as something that must be negated and combated. The entire spectacle of using Israeli Arabs as props, raising them up for geopolitical benefit and keeping them low for domestic political benefit, is ugly and should stop. The best thing that Israel’s current election campaign could accomplish would be to demonstrate that this tactic does not work.
Of course even if Netanyahu’s race-baiting doesn’t work, you get a coalition that also disdains Palestinians and will only use Palestinian parliamentary seats as a block against Netanyahu.
What liberal would want anything to do with such a system? In the United States, we struggled to rid the south of segregation, and boycott was a primary tool in that struggle, 50-60 years ago.
This is why the Israeli election is shaping up to be a crisis for liberal Zionists. If they get their wish (and I’m pulling for them) the bogeyman will be gone. But then Israel will have to show itself capable of change. When the historical record is that Labor Party did as much to create the colonization of the West Bank as the rightwing Likud did.
So it appears that the policies that liberal Zionists have been inveighing against for nearly ten years now under Netanyahu are going to stay the same. Then what will they do? Or more to the point, if they continue to do nothing to pressure Israel over its racism, what does that say about their liberalism? That’s a crisis.
P.S. The best answer a centrist Zionist can make re Blue and White is, Keep hope alive.
The difference is that Gantz/Lapid support the 2-state solution without saying so explicitly, whereas Netanyahu opposes it despite having explicitly endorsed it. The former will strive for peace, the latter won’t.
While Yossi Alpher says that best hope is founded on a Trump peace proposal that will not be a real proposal.
“economic peace” [is] an idea promoted by Netanyahu and Trump based on the proposition that prosperity will persuade Palestinians to drop some of their most basic demands like a capital in Jerusalem, the right of return and a state based on the 1967 borders, and to coexist with the settlements (where they will work). It pretends the conflict is economic when in fact it is territorial, religious, and an issue of clashing historical narratives. It assumes wrongly, and condescendingly, that Palestinians with “full stomachs” will be compliant.
Thanks to Scott Roth.