A key aspect of any parliamentary democracy alongside a majority coalition government is a vibrant and fully functioning opposition presenting to the public feasible alternatives to the government’s positions.
The role of the opposition is not solely to oppose the government coalition in votes of no confidence and then make speeches against whatever the prime minister and his government propose, it is mainly to present viable and convincing alternatives to the public that has to decide who to vote for.
Israel’s opposition, headed by the Zionist Union and its chairman Isaac Herzog, seems to spend a lot more time trying to convince the Israeli public that he can be a better Netanyahu than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He would be more honest, more transparent, friendlier with the US, more supportive of a political process with the Arabs. He also promises to provide more security for Israel and Israelis.
Herzog is not very convincing, because Israel does not need a better Netanyahu, Israel needs an alternative to Netanyahu. Neither Herzog nor Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid have presented to the Israeli public a convincing platform with regard to how they would confront Israel’s challenges, the most important being the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Herzog and Lapid, the other possible opposition leader, like Netanyahu claim that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not a partner. Herzog and Lapid’s “vision” for peace is no different than that of Netanyahu – more walls, fences, and separation between Israel and the Palestinians. Would Herzog and Lapid succeed where Netanyahu has failed? They need to present alternative policies that could actually make a change in the relations between the two peoples living in this land. I have not been able to discern a substantive policy difference.
No credible alternative for Israel’s leadership is out there – only a slightly improved version of the original, which has proven to be a failure for almost 20 years now, marching Israel directly into the pandora’s box of bi-nationalism.
When challenged to be more concrete and to demonstrate possible partnership with the Palestinians and their leader, Herzog’s response is: what can I do? I am only the head of the opposition – I have no power.
That is what he said to me when I challenged him to tell to the Israeli public that reaching agreements with the Palestinians is possible. Herzog and Abbas, through their trusted emissaries, reached agreements for the principles of peace on all of the core issues and on important matters of security about one month before the previous elections. The premise of those talks, that took place between Herzog and Abbas and then between their emissaries, was to demonstrate to the people on both sides that there were true partners for peace in Israel and in Palestine. Herzog has never demonstrated the political courage to stand behind what was agreed and to continue to press forward on building a partnership with Palestinian leaders.
I have repeatedly made the claim that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians support peace and believe that they themselves are peaceful, but have no peace partner on the other side. The entrenched belief in both Israel and Palestine that there is no partner on the other side is strengthened by the continued actions and statements of both sides. When Israelis and Palestinians are challenged with the question of whether if there was a real partner for peace on the other side would they be willing to make substantive concessions to secure that peace, the overwhelming number of people on both sides respond positively. For this reason I believe that the major task for those in both societies who support peace is to demonstrate the existence of partners. The rebuilding of Israeli-Palestinian partnerships across the conflict lines is an essential element of demonstrating to the publics on both sides that we can find partners if we search for them and that working on building partnerships builds the genuine path toward peace.
The work of building partnerships across the conflict lines is mainly the task of civil society today – including non-governmental organizations, businesses and academia. The work of building partnerships at the leadership level is in the hands of the leaders and when the government coalition fails to undertake this existential task, it is left to the opposition to do it.
Netanyahu and his coalition members have refused to every attempt to search for partners on the other side. In the past few months I have approached three different ministers in the Israeli cabinet proposing to them to conduct discreet, private meetings with senior PA officials. All refused. Only one of them even spoke to the prime minister about it and was told not to meet; the two others refused to even bring the matter up.
The Palestinian officials were and are prepared to meet anyone that I have so far proposed.
I have not given up those efforts to get officials from both sides to begin to talk peace again. I have not yet found the leaders from the Right in Israel who are willing to meet their counterparts in Palestine. If that does not happen, we need credible leaders from the opposition to stand up and reach out to the other side.
Partnerships will have to be built and the sooner the better. The more credible the leaders are on the Israeli side, the faster the Israeli and Palestinian publics will understand that we must work on building partnerships.
The author is founder and co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. www.ipcri.org.