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Israel’s Golden Moment

The coalition deal announced in the wee hours of the night on May 8th, had created an unusual set of opportunities for the people of Israel and its leaders. For Netanyahu, in particular. His stroke of genius—or political putsch in the dark hours of the night—of salvaging his term as Prime Minister and establishing the largest coalition in Israel’s sixty-four years of existence, and thus preventing an early election (the more usual course of action), brought with it accolades and condemnations alike. Friends and foes of the PM alike cannot deny the fact that now, should he so wish, he can shape the course of Israel for many years to come. He has the political power to survive, until now his main objective, but now also an opportunity to take, and make, dramatic moves forward. What will he choose remain to be seen. Here are, as I see it, his two main choices:

WAR. This is the more natural choice for Netanyahu, and the course he’s been taking about, and preparing Israel and the world for, the last three years or so. The attack on Iran nuclear facilities, which he has been threatening to launch, is now at hand for him. He can push the trigger at will, and on his left he would have the support of Ehud Barak, the former Israel’s army chief, prime minister and current defense minister; and on his right he now has Shaul Mofaz, admired chief of staff of the army himself, defense minister under Arik Sharon, an Iranian Jew who while not a declared supporter of such an attack, will go along with it as part and parcel of the coalition deal. Against the background of what seem to be forward moves, and then setbacks, towards Iranians compromises with IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency), an air attack would unleash—according to most objective observers—another, and disastrous, Middle East war. It will drag America into another war, just as a break from it is finally looking within reach, and would give a good opportunity not only for Hamas in the north and Hezbullah in the south to launch a missile attack of their own against Israel civilians, but the Arab Spring may turn all its fury—and frustration—towards Israel. The benefits of such an attack are very doubtful; the dangers are ominous and not doubtful at all.

PEACE. Should Netanyahu choose the course of peace and compromise, it would be unlikely for him, but just as unlikely as Begin and Rabin, and even Sharon did before him. He now has the power to stop all settlement activity in the West Bank, sit down with Mahmoud Abbas, his counterpart on the Palestinian side, talk peace and finally bring it about. If he chooses not to do that, he has a way, still, of bringing about an acceptable, if not desired, resolution of his own. His Kadima’s party partner, Mofaz, is designated to be in charge of dealing with the Palestinians. And he’s apparently a supporter of the 60/ 40 percent solution. It means evacuating unilaterally some 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory even before an agreement of two-state solution is in place. Deciding in advance, therefore, and regardless of the Palestinians’ position, what Israel can afford and be willing to give up, and “just do it”. A group of former army generals had created a political pressure group—“Blue White Future, Keeping Israel Jewish and Democratic—espousing taking such unilateral steps to insure Israel’s future as a Jewish State. In this scenario, the 40 percent remaining settlements, occupied territories and issues yet to be resolved, will be settled later while Israel is creating facts on the ground—this time facts of peace for a change, gearing towards a two-state solution—while the Palestinians, hopefully, will come to the realization of what’s best, and possible for them to achieve in order to have, finally, a state of their own. It is not an ideal outcome, of course, but real and achievable, now that there’s such a large coalition in power, not threatened anymore by extremists.

DEMOCRACY. There are people in Israel that view this coalition agreement as an unarmed “coup d’état,” at worst, and as a very undemocratic move at best. Let’s not forget that Netanyahu came to power following Aric Sharon’s sudden fall into coma, as the leader of the Likud, and did not win the last Israeli elections as the largest party in the Knesset. Still isn’t! Kadima actually won the election, but it’s leader, Tzipi Livni, was unwilling to capitulate to the demands of the extremist on the right, to which Netanyahu gladly agreed, and therefore was able to form a government. And the rest is history, as they say. But not so fast, the people of Israel have a say in it too. Time Magazine had a cover story on Netanyahu last week calling him “King Bibi;’ and Abbas actually termed him an “emperor” now—this does not sound good for democracy. And yet, this is also the golden moment for what used to be called the “Sane Israel.” The Tel Aviv of Israel, if you will, the secular part of Israel; and yes—the leftist side, the Labor Movement that had ruled Israel in the early and mid days and now is almost extinct. These people and forces, the forces of peace—and indeed that what we did with “Peace Now” when we pushed Begin towards peace with Egypt—should now rise for the occasion. Go out into the streets and push Netanyahu to choose the course of peace with the Palestinians; and to negotiate, for once, and not just dictate. And by doing so, not only protect and reinvigorate the precious Israeli democracy, but resurrect the left from the dead as, once more, a true force in Israel’s political life.

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