Wednesday, September 28th | 3 Tishri 5783

February 27, 2020 7:23 am

How Israeli Politics Can — and Should — Move Forward

avatar by Isi Leibler


From left: Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, shake hands at the memorial ceremony for the late President Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on Sept. 19, 2019. Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90.

When waking in the morning, Israelis need to pinch ourselves to be certain that our current position is not a dream:

  • The American administration headed by Donald Trump has emerged as Israel’s greatest ally ever — a stark contrast to its predecessor. For the first time, our narrative is being promoted and Palestinian lies and terror are being exposed. The Trump peace plan tells the Palestinians the truth and rejects the impossible concessions previously demanded, which would have led to the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
  • Iran is facing massive global sanctions initiated by the US.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer, clearly has a soft spot for Jews and, despite his ties to Syria and Iran, is cooperating with Israel and recognizing its security needs.
  • Israel now has and is in the process of developing unprecedented links with India, China, and several other states in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
  • Moderate Sunni Arab neighbors including Saudi Arabia have or are developing open or covert relations with Israel.
  • As a consequence of its innovations and technology, Israel has evolved from a country short of water and needing to import energy to a major exporter of natural gas and water desalination systems.
  • Israel has developed the most powerful defense forces in the region and has the capacity to deter all our adversaries combined.
  • Israel has one of the most resilient economies in the world, enjoying historically low unemployment and sustained relative economic growth.

Of course, we still face challenges:

  • Genuine peace with the Palestinians is far from the horizon.
  • Iran — with or without atomic capabilities — continues to pose an existential threat to Israel.
  • Hezbollah in Lebanon continues to threaten Israel’s security.
  • The need to integrate haredim into the work force is becoming increasingly crucial to the economy and Israel’s social stability.
  • The Chief Rabbinate continues be headed by extremists and means must be found to replace them with moderate rabbis.
  • The Palestinian Authority continues to reject Jewish sovereignty and, by continuing to provide financial incentives to terrorists, demonstrates its inability to be a genuine partner to any peace initiative. Hamas, supported by Iran, does not even try to hide its commitment to the destruction of Israel.

And yet, despite the incredible overall position of the country, we are unable to elect a government.  Both Likud and Blue and White claim to have broadly endorsed the Trump plan. If that is so, there is now a desperate need for the party leaders to set aside their personal political aspirations and short-term interests and unite to finalize and implement the Trump peace plan, bearing in mind that the US elections will soon become the primary issue engaging the American leaders.

The possibility that an openly anti-Zionist Jew like Bernie Sanders could become the next American president is a frightening prospect. The potential implications posed by the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on the economy combined with the danger of a populist backlash to Trump in the United States cannot be dismissed.

Large swaths of the Democratic Party over the past year have endorsed openly anti-Israel sentiments which have given grist to Sanders’ histrionic anti-Israel remarks. The fact that Democratic candidates have shunned invitations to the AIPAC conference should already be sending shockwaves through the pro-Israel community. Should Sanders be elected president, the danger to Israel would make the possibility of the antisemite Jeremy Corbyn being elected UK prime minister pale into insignificance.

For this reason, the Trump peace plan must be implemented immediately after the election. Once an Israeli national unity government, in coordination with the US, has extended sovereignty to the major settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley, it will be very complex even for a hostile US government to reverse the situation.

In the anticipated event of a fourth deadlock, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will be forced to prioritize the long-term security interests of the nation over everything else.

No one can deny the chemistry between Trump and Netanyahu and credit must be given to Netanyahu for the formulation of the Trump plan. It is difficult to envisage Gantz maintaining such a close relationship, particularly when Trump will be focused on his own reelection.

The first six months after the election will be absolutely crucial in determining if we are able to maximize the opportunity presented to us.

After the previous election, Netanyahu offered to step down after six months if Blue and White agreed to a national unity government. In hindsight, had Gantz agreed, he would now be about to become our prime minister without the need for further elections. He would also have had the opportunity to work closely with Netanyahu, gain desperately needed experience, and benefit from Netanyahu’s unprecedented close ties with all the major world leaders by seamlessly assuming his office.

The truth is that the lackluster Gantz should be relieved not to become prime minister at this time. Against the backdrop of a rejectionist PA refusing to come to the table, Gantz does not inspire confidence that he has either the finesse or leadership to advance the Trump plan. Can we confidently rely on Gantz to navigate such a delicately balanced political minefield in which we will need to engage not only with Trump but also Putin, the UK, Asia, the EU, and moderate Sunni states in order to ensure de facto, if not express, recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and major settlement blocs? On the other hand, if Gantz and Netanyahu were to join forces and put the combined weight of the two dominant centrist parties behind the Trump plan, it would consolidate the Israeli consensus and make it clear to those players opposed to Trump that his plan is the only viable option on the table at the moment.

Even many of Netanyahu’s detractors recognize his brilliant diplomatic role in bringing us to this current juncture. All the polls demonstrate that a substantial majority of Israelis, including those who will not vote for him, agree that on the international stage, he is the best equipped to finalize negotiations with the Americans, reinforce the relationship with the Russians, and mature the newly emerging alliance with moderate Sunni states. These three issues are vital to our long-term international and existential well-being and the next few months will be crucial to their progress.

All the polls indicate that neither Likud nor Blue and White will be able to realistically form a government alone. Thus, should Netanyahu again offer to step down after six months, for the sake of the national interest Gantz will be able to demonstrate true leadership by acting in the best interests of the country (even if it means splitting from Yair Lapid) and working with Netanyahu to ensure that the parameters of the Trump plan are set in place before succeeding him.

Netanyahu should also realize that such a scenario would be in his best interest, enabling him to retire in honor as the longest-serving prime minister with a legacy unmatched by any of his predecessors while available to address his legal troubles unencumbered by the office of prime minister.

Should our leaders fail to come to such an accommodation, they will go down in history as having betrayed and endangered the nation.

Isi Leibler is an Israeli columnist. His website can be viewed at He may be contacted at [email protected].

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