By Dow Marmur
Jerusalem (Jan. 28, 2016) – Until I read last Thursday’s column in Ha’aretz by Ari Shavit I tended to nod in approval to the accusation by Zahava Galon, the leader of the Meretz party, that Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union, is a caricature of an opposition leader because he seems to side with the government instead of making lofty proclamations about peace.
Shavit has another, more interesting, take on Herzog. He reminds us that Abu Mazen is no Sadat and Netanyahu is no Begin. What happened in 1978 that led to peace between Egypt and Israel will not be repeated today. Camp David is no longer open for Israeli-Palestinian business. Hence all the abortive efforts to make peace in recent years or even to speak of it with conviction.
In the last week, according to Shavit, Herzog has done something very different: instead of fantasies about a comprehensive solution of the kind once envisaged, he’s now speaking of gradual easing of tensions in the hope that one day in the distant and yet undefined future peace may become a reality. Shavit writes that Herzog has embraced the realism of Ben Gurion and Yizhak Rabin who knew how to make concessions and sacrifices in the service of the larger goals of Zionism. Realpolitik is back on the agenda.
The trouble is, of course, that Herzog is neither a Ben Gurion nor a Rabin. He has many good qualities but the kind of strength that the two possessed doesn’t seem to be his. He may, therefore, fail and lose his current position. No doubt several members of his party will be vying for his job. Many others will also be praying for his defeat.
Shavit doesn’t try to predict the outcome but it’s not difficult to discern his pessimism. Perhaps there would be less need for it had he remembered that Ben Gruion and Rabin were prepared to make uncomfortable political alliances and form coalitions with people whom they may have despised if they deemed it to be good for Israel.
Which brings us once again to the idea that has been floating around for almost a year since the general elections last March: Herzog joining Netanyahu so that the latter can get rid of the hotheads of Naftali Bennett ultra-nationalist band of settler advocates who now hold cabinet posts and try to kill the so-called two-state solution.
Though all the hotheads wouldn’t be eliminated, because there’re several of them in Netanyahu’s Likud, but there would be room, as I’ve suggested before, for Herzog to become foreign minister in charge of peace negotiations and his political partner Tzipi Livni minister of justice. Probably some other sensible members of the Zionist Union would also join the cabinet. For all we know, even Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff, about whom I also wrote recently, may want to be part of the winning ticket.
The two last paragraphs are, of course, pure speculation, indeed wishful thinking. But it’s difficult to see how without that kind of coalition Herzog’s idea of gradual easing of tensions and making room for confidence building measures resulting in a more supportive international community that benefit all sides – other than the blind Israeli and Palestinian ideologues, of course – any progress is possible.
Perhaps even the Iran deal can serve as a model. The outcome may not be perfect and all the dangers have not been removed, but even Israel’s chief of staff has spoken in positive terms of the deal. Painstaking diplomacy remains the better alternative to painful warfare. Herzog seems to know it. Will other politicians? Will the Israeli public?