By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Writing out of my customary ignorance about what’s really going on in Israeli politics, I’ve nevertheless ventured to suggest that the election of the centrist – and by all accounts very sensible – Yitzhak Herzog as the new leader of Israel’s Labor Party opens up new possibilities for Labor joining the Netanyahu government. Labor would replace Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi which has become the party of the settlers.
The statement by Finance Minister Lapid, who leads the Yesh Atid Party about the cardinal importance of peace with the Palestinians has been interpreted in some quarters as a signal of a cooling or even a break between him and Bennett, once a close ally.
It’s tempting to see this as a further sign that Herzog may come to replace Bennett whose latest proposal that Israel should unilaterally annex part of the West Bank is a telling re-statement of his hard line position which would make peace impossible.
Should Herzog replace Bennett as a collation partner, Israel would have something that resembles a liberal government. Though Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud is the largest party and has within it many hard-line anti-liberals, he may wish to manipulate or intimidate them to accept the prospect of peace with the Palestinians, because the alternative is too grim to contemplate, even for them.
No, we aren’t there yet, but we could get there one day. The fact that the ultra-Orthodox are no longer in the government has removed another obstacle. Even if Shas, the largest of the haredi parties, one day returns to the coalition, it’ll be with the pragmatic Arieh Deri as its leader and without Ovadiah Yosef as its supreme leader.
The active involvement of the United States in promoting negotiations with the Palestinians suggests that it may agree with a former Israeli intelligence chief who argued recently that peace with the Palestinians is more important for Israel than a nuclear-free Iran. Though the supporters of the Prime Minister read this as sour grapes by a man who didn’t get the top spy job, they may nevertheless suspect that he’s right. Perhaps Lapid’s stress on peace with Palestinians is saying something similar.
He may be saying it because as Finance Minister he’s sensitive to the threatened economic pressures on Israel from Europe and elsewhere, reflected in various efforts to curtail dealing with Israeli firms who’ve connections to and in the West Bank.
Similarly, though the Americans insist that there’s no linkage between their negotiations with the Iranians and the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, it’s not at all impossible that the US will be tougher with the Iranians if the Israelis and Palestinians are softer with each other.
Nothing of the above is to imply that peace with the Palestinians is solely or even primarily in the hands of the Israelis. Both sides seem to have their myths and suspicions. But Israel as the far stronger side may be called upon to make more concessions. A government with Lapid, Herzog and their ilk could get the public to approve sacrifices for the greater good and a more secure future.
Perhaps the intelligence chief is right. Though peace with the Palestinians is far from becoming a reality, it’s difficult to envisage a future for Israel – despite the Iranian threat – without such a peace. If Netanyahu is the problem, Herzog, Lapid, and their like-minded colleagues may be part of the solution.