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Natural bedfellows: Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua and the Green Movement

Israel’s environmental and social conditions will improve only with progress in peace talks

There were those who raised an eyebrow on Thursday night when the Green Movement party joined Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party with green candidates integrated into her Knesset list. The Green Movement today has some 1300 members and dozens of city council members who represent green lists at the local level. Even so, the party did not succeed in the 2009 Knesset Elections when it ran with Rabbi Michael Melchior’s Meimad party, and this despite considerable public attention and enthusiasm. This time it will be different. A few points for the cynics that don’t understand the clear ideological and political logic behind the move:

First of all, at the substantive level, meaningful improvements in Israel’s environmental and social conditions will not occur until there is progress in the peace negotiations. The only period in recent Israeli history when investment in Israel’s educational system was seriously increased was during the heady days of the 1990s when the Rabin government’s Oslo process led to cuts in defense spending. The Ministry of Environment’s budget was doubled twice during this period as well – all as a result of relatively modest reductions in the budget at the Ministry of Defense.

Israel in 2012 still has some half a million citizens who live without basic sewage systems. In practice there is no policy for reduction of greenhouse gases or promotion of solar energy. There are hardly any funds worth mentioning for restoring our toxic rivers and contaminated ground water. And that’s without even considering our shockingly crowded classrooms and neglected public transport infrastructure. To make Israel a country we can be proud of will require massive investments. If Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich thinks she can produce such funds through new taxes she clearly hasn’t visited Greece as of late. There can be shifts of priorities on the margins that will improve our environment and educational system a little bit. But only cuts in military outlays will provide the necessary resources for a true social and environmental transformation.

A partnership between a green party, with an agenda of sustainability, and a party with the potential to get the peace process rolling again not only makes sense from the point of view of defense, but also from a social and environmental perspective.

Secondly, unfortunately we live in a highly polarized period, when Israeli society is divided between two blocks: right and left. This dynamic requires small parties to act responsibly. Naturally, the Green Movement is concerned about the moral implications of the present government’s pro-settlement anti-peace policies and Israel’s resulting international isolation. But it is Netanyahu’s economic perspective – one that that seeks to sell off the country’s natural resources; promotes a disastrous evisceration of our planning system’s safeguards’; that privatizes land and evades international responsibility to address climate change – that prevents the Green Movement from joining a right-wing government.

Sadly, every election, tens of thousands of votes in the center-left block are never really counted because they go to small parties that don’t pass the two percent voting threshold. In practice, vast numbers of idealistic voters throw their votes away. The Israeli public understands this quite well. According to one estimate, in the 2009 elections 74 percent of the people who supported the Green Movement-Meimad list did not vote for their dream party due to concerns that their votes would go to waste. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Joining a larger party allows Israelis who identify with a green vision and who aspire for a sustainable society to vote for the Green Movement without worrying that their vote will in practice support Bibi Netanyahu.

Finally, it is true that Tzipi Livni has never been much of an environmental advocate in the past. Yet from the perspective of values – there is much, much more in common between our green values and her Zionist values than divides them. While the press chose to ignore the debate, those who were involved in the efforts in 2010 to fight the Netanyahu government’s privatization of national lands found Livni to be an inspirational and tenacious head of the opposition. She spoke a green language, about the shameful retreat in Israel’s commons and the historical tragedy associated with applying Netanyahu’s right-wing, ultra-Capitalist ideas – that would convert the Promised Land into real estate. A love of the Land of Israel and a commitment to the long term and future generations are common values shared by the two parties that allow for an authentic basis for cooperation.

In our agreement, it was determined that the Green Movement would lead the party’s agenda in the area of environment, planning, transportation, animal welfare and energy. These are the very areas of policy, so neglected in Israel, that are critical to the green transformation that the country desperately needs. The opportunity to green the agenda of a large party that constitutes a true alternative to the present government is unprecedented. You surely won’t find any serious green flags in Shelly Yachimovich’s camp or among Yair Lapid’s steadily dropping Yesh Atid list. Today, Israel’s green public has a party for whom it happily can vote. The Green Movement’s decision to join Tzipi Livni’s list as an independent party, with full rights as an independent faction in the Knesset, was a smart and responsible step. Tzipi Livni also made a very important green step forward. Some might call it “synergy.” I would call it “hope” for a healthier state of Israel.

About the Author
Professor Alon Tal is a professor of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University, a veteran environmentalist and a former member of Israel's Knesset.