Question for the center/left: what do you do if there really is no one to negotiate with?

Now that Shelly Yacimovich has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the diplomacy/security debate we at last have a picture of what the four center/left parties would do in the pursuit of peace. While Binyamin Netanyahu’s sole approach has been to offer Mahmoud Abbas negotiations without pre-conditions, we now know that Yacimovich, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid and Meretz’s Zahava Gal-on would all… offer Mahmoud Abbas negotiations without pre-conditions.

True, unlike Bibi, they would not completely undermine confidence in the peace process by giving succor to the settlement movement at the same time. And unlike Bibi, their support for a two-state solution would not be made to look completely ridiculous by the total opposition to it by almost every one of their own MKs. But not one of them has said what they would do if negotiations founder on Palestinian demands – not exactly an improbable scenario when you consider that Mahmoud Abbas did not respond positively to Ehud Olmert’s parting gift of a two-state offer, unprecedented in its concessions to Palestinian demands.

Do these leaders understand what Israel’s genuinely “peace-seeking” Prime Ministers understood? Namely, that a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas is not the end-goal, but is the means to an end.

If one looks at the three prime ministers who made serious efforts towards peace with the Palestinians – Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Olmert – none of them were ‘Peace Now’ lefties. For all three of them, the real aim was to end Israel’s rule of another people, to disentangle Israel from the Palestinians and to establish clear, defensible and internationally recognized borders for the state. They were not fighting for the cause of the Palestinian national movement, but for the future of the Jewish national movement; for Zionism. They recognized (as did Ben-Gurion back in 1948) that the future of a Jewish democratic state depended on Jewish demographic superiority, within secure borders. Not on a Jewish state necessarily occupying all of the land of Eretz Israel. They knew also that Israel’s place among its allies in the liberal democratic west would not survive the permanent denial of civil rights to 2.5 million Palestinians under Israeli control.

So I want to hear which of the center/left parties has a Plan B, which of them has a unilateral option. In the words of Amos Yadlin, the former head of Military Intelligence, speaking yesterday:

“Israel will be wiped out if there is no two-state solution… Israel needs to take ownership of its own destiny and not wait for the Palestinians to give consent.”

Yadlin is the latest in a very long line of security professionals to state that staying in the West Bank is a bigger threat  to Israel’s future than leaving it. Of the last six IDF Chiefs-Of-Staff, all but one – Likud MK Moshe Ya’alon – have publicly taken this view. Former Shabak head Ami Ayalon is one of the most outspoken advocates for an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank as a matter of urgency, as is former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy.

Now, they might try, but ideological rightists in the Likud and HaBayit HaYehudi will not succeed in painting these men, who have given the best years of their lives to the defense of the state, as naïve peaceniks.

A unilateral withdrawal does not have to mean a repeat of the Gaza disengagement. Lessons can be learned: from a phased evacuation of settlers – with serious steps taken this time to re-house and compensate them ahead of time; to keeping an IDF presence in certain positions until such a time as the Palestinians are willing to sign up to permanent peace.

Netanyahu and Lieberman we know are not interested in this. They will keep the status quo going for the next four years, paying lip service to the two-state solution while continuing to strengthen and encourage the settlement movement.

But the leaders of the left are guilty of their own intransigence. Too many of them ignore the very real indications that so-called ‘moderate’ figures in the Palestinian leadership remain attached to the same rejectionist motifs as their terror-supporting predecessors. Certainly no one who heard Abbas’s propaganda-strewn UN speech last month, depicting Israel as a brutal ethnic cleanser “wiping out entire families, their men, women and children murdered along with their dreams”, could feel confident that here was a true partner, willing to make a lasting peace.

As things stand, the voters have no confirmation that any of the parties to the left of the Likud would take any unilateral steps towards ending the occupation of the Palestinians in the event of there being no partner. Livni has as number two in her new party, Amram Mitzna, who ran in the 2003 election as Labor Party leader on a platform of unilateral withdrawal should negotiations reach a dead end. (He lost by a landslide to Ariel Sharon who, low and behold, embraced the unilateral option himself two years later.)

Will Livni follow his lead?

Will Yacimovich adopt the creative solutions of the number two on her list, Isaac Herzog? He had proposed, rather than looking to beat the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, joining it; pushing a two-state solution in the Security Council that would recognize Israel’s security requirements.

Lapid has said the “two-state solution is the only option” and that he “doesn’t want to live in a bi-national state” but little else beyond that on this issue. Meretz meanwhile remains the party least likely to admit that, maybe, just maybe, the most that Israel can offer the Palestinians will still be less than they will accept.

For those of us who are committed to a State of Israel that is part of the liberal democratic world, the Likud is no longer an option. A Likud that has Danny Danon in fifth place on the party list – and Moshe Feiglin anywhere – has moved a long way from the liberal and civil rights values of Jabotinsky and Begin. But before deciding who to vote for, I want to know which of the other parties is both realistic about the possibility of the failure of peace talks; and has a plan to extricate us from the control of another people that has deformed our democracy for the past 45 years, and will permanently derail the Zionist project of a Jewish and democratic state if left unchecked.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.