By Rabbi Dow Marmur
JERUSALEM — Isaac Herzog may have betrayed – or at least tampered with – what was left of the Socialist ideology of Israel’s Labour Party, but judging by recent polls, he and his partner Tzipi Livni have emerged as possible alternatives to Binyamin Netanyahu. He has also vindicated three of his predecessors as leaders who left the party (or the party left them): Shimon Peres went to Kadima; Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz went to Livni’s Hatnua and have thus now rejoined the fold (or perhaps the fold has joined them).
It’s, of course, too early to make predictions, but the 65 percent of Israelis who appear to be opposed to another Netanyahu term will now have an alternative to the far-right block that no doubt will also try to challenge the prime minister.
Much will depend on the alliances the other ostensibly centrist parties make. The new party Kulanu is said to have many suitors. Oriental bazaar is the term some political commentators have used to describe the horse trading.
Should the Herzog-Livni team come to power, the West Bank settlements are likely to get less money, hopefully much less. However, how much of it will go to social services, health and education depends on whether the duo will have to include the ultra-Orthodox in their cabinet and pay them off, as it has been done in the past. (Bazaar again.)
Less money for the settlements will sit well with the Americans in their effort to bring Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table again. Both Livni and Herzog are peaceniks and may be willing to make concessions; Livni has a good record as a peace negotiator and Herzog has advocated negotiations as the leader of the opposition.
Whether the Palestinians would reciprocate is, of course, a big question. Even liberal enthusiasts like me are less than certain.
Moreover, should an agreement be reached, it’ll have to go to a referendum in Israel and something similar on the Palestinian side. Whether either side would accept any deal is by no means assured. Until now each camp has insisted that the other doesn’t want peace. Israelis are traumatized by the Gaza withdrawal: liberals and realists thought that the action would benefit Israel and didn’t reckon that Hamas would take over.
Nevertheless, whereas another term with Netanyahu at the helm may deprive those who want peace of whatever hope they still have – let alone if someone further to the right should become prime minister – the Herzog-Livni government could bring back hope to liberals in Israel and help restore the country’s reputation in the international community. As much as Israelis like to tell themselves that only American opinion matters, most know deep down that Europe and the rest of the world count for much, too.
A further possible consequence of the prospect of a Herzog-Livni government is that other parties that claim to occupy the country’s political centre will try to jump on the peace bandwagon. Thus Yair Lapid, who will no doubt campaign primarily on what he’ll claim to be his party’s record to improve the economic and social lot of Israelis, has made some constructive proposals about involving the Arab League in the peace process.
Therefore, despite the continued tension between Palestinians and Israelis, made worse by recent troubling incidents, even pessimists like me think that the odd couple Herzog-Livni is good news. There’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Rabbi Marmur, spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada, now makes his home in Israel. Your comments may be placed in the box provided below, or you may contact the author directly at [email protected]