A Few Good Men & Women

As a dedicated, sometimes even astute (hopefully) observer of Israel and America’s relations and politics, I pride myself on some farsighted observations throughout the years of writing this blog. And yet, I didn’t see this one coming. Had you told me last year that in the space of a little over six months both Trump and Netanyahu would be gone, no longer in power, I would’ve found it hard to believe. But here we are, with the most surprising development of the two being the fall of the house of ‘King Bibi,’ after more than twelve years as Israel’s Prime Minister.

I’m in good company, not seeing it coming, though I gave it some 25% possibility before the elections. But let me tell you: On the first day after the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas had ended, I listened to my favorite Israeli political observer talking about the possibility of a new government being formed. Here is what he said, more or less: “The only question is whether Yair Lapid (head of Yesh Atid, who had the mandate from President Rivlin to form a new coalition, H.D.), would hand the president his mandate now, saying he’d failed to form a coalition, or he’ll wait the 14 days left for him and then give it back without any positive results.”

Well, you know the outcome. Bucking all predictions and expectations, Yair Lapid was able to go back to the president before the hour struck midnight and tell him that he had succeeded, where others had failed. He, and not the current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is the true, and first good man of this semi-political revolution. He started during the elections, when he directed his campaign, and asked his supporters too, not to attack the parties to his left, Labor and Meretz, since he wanted them to be able to enter the new Knesset. What a noble act. And he reaped the rewards, since they joined his coalition.

His second noble, and novel idea was to put aside his ego, and though he is the leader of the largest party in this coalition with 17 members in the new Knesset, he offered to hand over the premiership to Bennett for the first two years, even though Bennett has only six MKs in his party. Unheard off. And that despite Bennett declaring during the latest war with Hamas in Gaza that coalition talks with Lapid are practically dead, as far as he was concerned. And yet Lapid was able to pull him in yet again, and together with seven other parties—among them an Arab Party—to form a governing coalition. What a miracle: putting your ambitions aside for the sake of what’s best for the country and its shaking democracy.

Before moving on to the next ‘good man’ on my list, let me return to America and to the much welcomed, disgraced as it were, fall of former President Trump. Unlike other observers I read, and also what seems to be the common belief among the public at large, it was not the constitution that had saved American democracy from collapsing (though it was very close to it). It was a few good men and women who stepped up to the plate and defended the constitution, the rule of law, and the integrity of the elections. I won’t name them here (you probably heard of them plenty), but when push came to shove they—most of them Republican officials—stood by the walls of the castle and defended our fragile democracy.

Though the political process and system in Israel are different, in essence, the same happened there, and without a constitution. This brings me to the second ‘good man’ on my list. Benny Gantz, the Defense, or Security Minister. He is the only minister to remain in office from the previous government. He too did the right thing for the country and joined Netanyahu in government throughout the pandemic. He was supposed to become Prime Minister this coming November, but Netanyahu betrayed him, as he betrayed others. And then, when in the last moment Netanyahu offered to resign immediately, and to hand him the premiership for the three remaining years in the coalition term, he didn’t hesitate to refuse. He is the leader, also, of the second-largest party in this coalition, yet has put his ambition aside and didn’t demand to be a Prime Minister too.

Next must be Naftali Bennett. While he was regarded from the outset as the kingmaker, it was not clear at all that he would crown himself as king. Not the least because for the first time in Israel’s history, a leader of a very small party became the Prime Minister and leader of the country. So in a way he has the most to gain, but also the most to lose. The attacks on him from Netanyahu’s camp are indeed ferocious, and threatening with violence. He, originally an extreme right-wing leader, a supporter of not only the settlement endeavor but the annexation of a large part of the West Bank, now sits in a government with two parties from the left, and an Arab party to boot. The outcome of this government, however long it would survive, is of course unclear, and at the end of it he might find himself with a party without any significant public support.

His right hand throughout the years, from working together in Netanyahu’s office to forming their party and remaining united through thick and thin, is Ayelet Shaked, currently the Minister of the Interior. And while I’m as far as can be from being a supporter of her, she deserves some credit too. If for nothing else, then for standing by this coalition agreement, despite heavy threats from Netanyahu’s camp, including death threats to her and her family. Another woman worth mentioning here, in closing, is Merav Michaeli, the current Minister of Transportation. She resurrected the Labor party from the dead in an impressive fashion, didn’t hesitate to join this strange coalition, and seems like a safe bet for a leader with a bright future.

All in all, while the days ahead will provide answers as to how long this government will stay in power (the predictions are not for long), and how much good it will be able to do (the expectations are not high), it has already succeeded in its main and most important goal: kicking Netanyahu out of office and saving Israel’s democracy. Not bad for a start.

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What’s Behind the Latest Buzzwords: ‘Israeli-Palestinian Confederation’?

ipconfederation.org

A lot has been written lately, in respectable media outlets by respectable scholars and observers, about a new formula—a new magic word—of solving the eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Confederation,’ that’s the keyword. No longer a ‘two-state solution’ but a ‘two-state federation.’ A two-state ‘light,’ with ‘soft’ borders and such. Luckily for you, I did the hard work and the long reading, and I’m ready to report to you on the outcome. Is it for real? Does it change anything on the ground? Does it have a future?

But first, let’s hear from Dahlia Scheindlin, who wrote a long piece about it in ‘The Century Foundation,’ titled “The Confederation Alternative for Israel and Palestine.” She writes: “A loose association of two states, based on freedom of movement, porous borders, residency rights and a shared Jerusalem—a confederation approach, in political science terms—holds the most promise.” And also, she writes: “It provides national self-determination for both peoples, while providing better solutions for daily life, with incentives and concessions to each side that did not exist in the earlier model.”

Will be back to examine it later, but here’s more, this time from Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour in the NY Times: “Confederal institutions could begin to address thorny problems like the rights of Palestinian refugees and the interests, however arguable, of Israeli settlers; they could agree on how many Palestinian refugees could return to Israel and how many law-abiding Israelis could live in Palestine with permanent residency but not citizenship. As peace takes hold, confederal institutions could permit routine cross-border entry, perhaps to a chosen beach, with a signal from a car’s transponder.”

Science fiction almost, eh? And I like the authors’ “confederal institutions” expression, which they keep referring to in their article as if those institutions are already existing, or have any chance of existing soon. This is basically wishful thinking, a dreamy vision, or as we say in Hebrew: חזון אחרית הימים. Now, of course, the esteemed authors are aware of the situation on the ground in the West Bank and of the political forces in Israel and Palestine, who are opposed to any such resolution.

The thing is, a lot of what they are saying and what they are suggesting, make sense. You want it to succeed. But in essence, it’s still the same old two-state solution—declared dead here some eight years ago, now accepted almost everywhere as such—with different words and descriptions. I don’t see much new here that will change the facts on the ground. That will cause Israel, mainly—the occupier—to change its course an un-occupy. Currently, the one-state solution is winning. Big time. A one-state solution with two peoples, one the oppressor the other the oppressed. An Apartheid-in-progress. ‘Managing’ the occupation and situation, Netanyahu’s style. 

Admittedly, though, the idea of the federation—not that new, really—appeals to me. If only it could happen. They talk about soft, open borders, but Israel has already built a huge, awful wall; a ‘security barrier’ that separates the two peoples. The settlers travel on a separate expressway; they uproot Palestinian olive trees at will; they beat, maim, and kill Palestinian at will, sometimes with the Israeli Army looking the other way or in fact cooperating; Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land for new settlements, new roads, or army training grounds at will. The Israeli public and political forces at play, therefore, allow for no such solution.

What gives, then? I tell you what. Good, wise people keep looking for solutions to the intractable conflict, spreading around some good ideas. But the bottom line is nothing changes. And nothing will change as long as the political situation in Israel remains deadlock at best, right-wing controlled at worst. The ‘confederation’ supporters call yet again for greater pressure from America on Israel to get moving in this peaceful road and direction. And yet there is no sign that such pressure will possibly come from Washington, due to its own political forces at play.

Furthermore: For almost fifty-six years now that the Israeli occupation is in force and expanding, under the leadership of both the Labor and Likud; mostly, though, the Likud. Peace with Egypt and Jordan had been achieved, with help from America. Only once an American president pressured Israel, and to good results. It was George Bush the father, now dead. The Trump administration, with Netanyahu in tow, pulled a rabbit from the hat in the form of normalization with some Arab countries; i.e. sheikdoms really. Mainly to distract from the main problem: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Which remains intractable, unsolvable, as long as the political situation in Israel stays the same. And it will. I don’t see it changing any day soon. Actually, it is getting worst. While over 70 percent of United Nations member states recognize Palestine as a state, and while the International Criminal Court is getting ready to investigate Israel’s crimes as an occupier, Palestinians are no closer to control their own destiny, and unleash themselves of the occupier. In reality, it’s now one state. And the future, in regard to solving this conflict, looks bleak.

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