For me a “Jewish and Democratic State” is much more important than a “Zionist and Liberal Government.” Sometimes in history, at a given moment in time, only one wish can be granted. I believe that if we choose a “Zionist and Liberal Government” now we might end up in an irreversible path that would not enable us to achieve later the “Jewish and Democratic State,” because conditions on the ground in the West Bank will continue to evolve for the worse and another US initiative might not come to us to the rescue. On the other hand, I am more optimistic that if we choose a “Jewish and Democratic State” now, then we will not close the option to achieve a “Zionist and Liberal Government” later.
Too much is at stake: Let us have it right
Blue & White is stridently silent regarding Trump’s initiative. Gantz’s latest vague statement that he “intends to implement President Trump’s peace plan, in coordination with all the elements in the region” (Times of Israel, February 11, 2020) is disingenuous and not different from his previous one, two weeks ago, for which he was justly clobbered: “I will advance [Trump’s] plan immediately after the elections in full coordination with the governments of the US, Jordan, Egypt, others in the region and the Palestinians.” (Times of Israel, February 1st, 2020). Coordinating with and getting the nod from everyone, especially from the Palestinians, is not implementable neither now nor in any realistic near future.
There are good reasons for this position of Blue & White.
First, it is not in their blood: All this has been an initiative put together by Netanyahu after painstakingly work during the last several years. At its center lie three pivotal changes in US policy: recognition of Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights, recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and recognition of the historic rights of the Jewish people to live in peace in Judea and Samaria (West Bank).
Second, several key members in Gantz’s closest inner circle, like Joel Benenson, Blue & White’s strategist for Israel’s latest September 2019 election and formerly strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign (source: Wikipedia), view everything in terms of internal US politics: for Joel Benenson, Trump’s initiative is part of the Republican effort to gain the Evangelist and Jewish vote in the coming US 2020 elections, hence he opposes it because he wants to bring the Democratic party back to the White House. This seems to have been one of the sources for Blue & White’s initial opposition to the publication of Trump’s initiative.
Third, Blue & White is internally divided regarding one critical component of Trump’s plan: the recognition of a future Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank territory: Moshe Ya’alon, second in Blue & White’s list, opposes it. As late as a year ago, after merging his Telem party with Gantz’s, when asked by the Times of Israel if he would support a peace deal on the premise of two states for two people, Ya’alon’s answer was a clear “of course not” (Times of Israel, “Joining forces with Gantz, Ya’alon rules out support for two-state solution”, January 29, 2019).
This is not the only place where key Knesset members of Blue & White are to the right of Netanyahu. Netanyahu knows that, regarding Gaza, Israel must restraint itself: the alternative is invading the strip and having to take care of the daily needs of two million unruly civilians in Gaza. Blue & White panders instead to the dreams of the ordinary Israeli citizens: they promise the sky to the battered Israeli communities in the south. Benny Gantz in a “fiery” [sic] press conference held near the Gaza border” said: “We will aim for the toppling of Hamas, take action to assassinate all Hamas leaders and go in with ground forces for however long we want”. In the same occasion, Gabi Ashkenazy, number four in the Blue & White list and member of its elite “cockpit crew” added: “We will topple Hamas leadership. Then we will fix the humanitarian situation in Gaza.” (Times of Israel, “Blue and White vows to invade Gaza, kill its leaders if it commands next war”, August 6, 2019). Hopefully, this is just an opportunistic posture of Blue & White. Hopefully, but I am not sure: As statesmen, Benny Gantz and Gaby Ashkenazy are unknowns: all their background is their service in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).
Blue & White saw Trump’s initiative as an unwelcome distraction to their main programmatic goal, “Anything but Bibi”, to which they invested all their efforts in the last year. One cannot expect that upon taking the reins of Israel following the March elections, Blue & White will change course and immerse itself enthusiastically into the implementation of Trump’s initiative and, even less, to adhere to its tight delivery schedule.
The March Elections in Israel
Several months of dedicated work will be needed for joint US-Israeli teams in order to come with a detailed map for Israel’s new and final borders that satisfies a myriad of concerns: security, demographic, topographic, historic, religious, relations with the neighbor Jordan, and others. Every square inch of land will have to be scrutinized carefully.
The March 2nd elections will come first. My preferred choice is identical to President’s Rivlin proposal following the 2nd round of elections last September 2019: a unity government based on the Likud and Blue & White parties, with a rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz as Prime Ministers, with Netanyahu first for the first six months of government, to guarantee the timely success of Trump’s initiative. However, between a “deadlock” and a short-lived narrow minority “Zionist and Liberal Government” under Blue & White, a “deadlock” and a new round of elections will be preferable. By the time the 4th round of elections will occur, around August 2020, the work of these joint US-Israel teams should have been completed and Netanyahu will be able to present a complete and detailed proposal to the Israeli public for a “yes” or “no” vote.
If the “yes” vote gets a clear majority, a new government will be inaugurated in September 2020 and the first item on the agenda on the first day of this government will be to approve the work done by the joint Israel-US teams. This will be followed immediately by a similar approval by the US administration. Just after Labor Day in the US, and before the November 2020 US presidential elections.
After 50 years, the chapter that was opened by the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors will be closed. Israel will be able to stand firm, as a “Jewish and Democratic state”, with the full support of the US, and the Israeli people will be able to move on. A Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, as a separate state or, preferably, in a confederation or single state with Jordan, will be possible when the Palestinians will be ready to live in peace with the Jewish State of Israel.