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The practical alternative for peace and prosperity: Labor

Labor's vision for the future and able leadership makes it the practical alternative for peace and prosperity

The Labor Party headed by Shelly Yachimovich can promise you something that no other party has been truly willing to promise. That things can be better here. So much better.

But when? When Israel will be led by a group of people that has an expansive vision for how life can be in this country. When Israel stops living with the sense that everything is bad and there are only threats to deal with, and instead embraces the opportunities that we have been given. When this country shakes off this kind of dark spirit that is passing over us, these shadowy elements in our democracy, and begins to open up to the real challenges facing us, and the opportunities that lie therein.

The Netanyahu government has survived because it speaks to these deep, shadowy feelings in our society, of omnipresent and unshakable threat and terror. Netanyahu speaks well to these deep feelings, and campaigns to this fear: “I am the nation’s father,” he seems to be saying. “I know how to protect it from Iran.” As if the rest of us aren’t bothered about Iran, or as if Iran were the only issue on the national agenda. It is not for nothing that the Likud’s campaign “stars” are Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Khaled Mashaal. He avoids speaking even one word about welfare and society. He does not want to debate these issues deeply. He is afraid. He is afraid of Shelly Yachimovich. He is afraid of the Labor Party.

And he has good reason to be afraid. The polls have shown Netanyahu’s unholy alliance with Avigdor Lieberman plummeting in the polls. He has lost as much as one-third of his support since the beginning of the campaign and the merger of Likud and Beytenu. Netanyahu knows he can be defeated: there are at least 25 seats in the hands of undecided voters, and another 10 seats that the polls say will be going to parties that cannot pass the electoral threshold, and will therefore be wasted.

We have seen a precipitous decline for Netanyahu in the polls, and there is a real sense now that we are within reach of replacing him. Our goal is to get at least 24 seats – which, granted, would have been easier had Livni decided to join us instead of going it alone – but it is certainly within reach now. Yes, we can replace this government, and we can do better here.

Indeed, we must do better. Twenty per cent of this country lives in poverty – 20% of our people are living on less than 2300 shekels a month. That’s twice the OECD average, and it is unacceptable in a modern democracy. This situation is a real strategic threat to Israel. This is why the Labor Party, under Shelly Yachimovich, will seek to reduce poverty to below 10%, and stop both the poor and the middle classes from feeling the pinch. This is a move that requires the full funding and resources that our party’s detailed economic plan calls for, endorsed by Netanyahu’s former chief numbers man, Professor Yaron Zelicha (who has said that Bibi’s “policies will cause an economic disaster.”)

By now, voters have heard a great deal about our economic plan, and they know it has been fully costed by asking that the richest and most profitable companies and extractors of Israel’s natural resources pay their fair share. In this way, Israel can pump public funds into the economy during these tough economic times – as opposed to the next Netanyahu budget, which we know to a certainty will be an exercise in austerity. And still our plan ends up in surplus over a five year period.

The other big issue is the strategic situation and the peace process, and this comes back to the ominous undertones that this government has massaged and encouraged. Now, I get the sense that Netanyahu speaks platitudes but is not willing to move on socioeconomic and diplomatic issues. Netanyahu is significantly older than me; he’s less optimistic and more conservative. I am more optimistic. I look at an Arab not only with suspicion but also positively. Netanyahu is afraid; he sees the world in black and white, he is conservative, he believes in the unadulterated power of the market and does not believe that he can reach an arrangement with Abu Mazen.

Netanyahu’s mistake was that he adamantly refused the Clinton Parameters. The reality is that the gap between him and Abu Mazen is small but cannot be bridged, and since then he has been in a battle against Abbas. But Abbas is now prepared to give up on security cooperation in the West Bank and hand control exclusively back to us. This country has to make a decision. Do we really want to put our boys and girls back into the casbahs of Nablus, Hebron, and Ramallah, or are we willing, even though Netanyahu weakened Abbas and strengthened Hamas, to enter into further negotiations with him anyway? Labor’s position is clear: within three months of forming government, we will commence direct negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions. We see no other choice: there is an urgent need to implement the two state solution for the well-being of Israel. Let he who disagrees put forward an alternative solution.

These are the stakes, and these are the opportunities that lie before us. Netanyahu – and his dark, fearful, neoliberal vision for this country – can be defeated. We know this for a fact now.

A Labor-led government is the only credible alternative, and we have a wonderful list, clear ideological roots, a vision for the future, and in Shelly Yachimovich we have a leader with considerable abilities in political leadership and action. Make the right choice on Tuesday, knowing that you have a practical alternative. With this rejuvenated, energetic, extraordinary party – the Labor Party – it really can be better here. Believe it.

About the Author
MK Hilik Bar is General Secretary of the Labor Party, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and co-chairperson of the Knesset Caucus for Jerusalem.