With each passing day it seems that Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay is expressing more and more positions right out of the prime minister’s daily message sheet that he and coalition chairman David Biton prepare for Likud MKs. Gabbay won’t include the Joint Arab List in a government that he heads. Gabbay won’t remove settlements in a peace deal that he will negotiate with the Palestinians. (Without removing settlements – not all, but many, there will never be a peace deal with the Palestinians).
The concerned voices that have been distressed by Gabbay’s moving to the Right can relax – at this pace Gabbay will never make it to the Prime Minister’s Office, at least not as prime minister. He might end up there (on his knees) as a member of a right-wing coalition government, but certainly not as prime minister.
The Israeli people, while having very uncomfortable feelings about the moral character of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are very comforted by Netanyahu’s positions and actions on issues of national security. They will not simply vote for a “cleaner” more moral form of Netanyahu, such as Gabbay tries to present himself as being, knowing that he lacks any experience or background on issues of defense and national security.
Gabbay will not beat Netanyahu in a national election by being tougher or more nationalistic, or more Jewish, than Netanyahu.
I said the same thing to opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Gabbay cannot compete with Netanyahu on Netanyahu’s home turf. The only way that a Labor Party leader can beat Netanyahu in a national election is by convincing the Israeli public that peace with the Palestinians can be a reality, not a pipe dream. It must convincingly demonstrated to the Israeli public that peace with the Palestinians will increase personal and national security because there is a genuine partner for peace and by including broad regional and genuine agreements that go far beyond words and that are translated into real facts on the ground.
Israelis have never lost the dream of peace. Israelis have lost the belief that there is someone on the Palestinian side to make peace with. (Palestinians feel the same way about Israelis). The crushing of the belief in a Palestinian partner that occurred following Camp David in July 2000, was pushed off a cliff through the Second Intifada and completely disappeared following the disengagement from Gaza and the rise of Hamas is not easy to rebuild.
The absence of a Palestinian partner has been an easy mantra for Netanyahu to capitalize on both because Netanyahu does not want a Palestinian partner and because the Palestinians have made it so easy for the Israelis to continue to believe that they do not want peace. The only way that Labor can win the national elections is to demonstrate that its leader wants a Palestinian peace partner and can cultivate a partnership with them that is genuine and has a chance of bringing real results. Hope for peace must be transformed into hard evidence that Gabbay can in fact make it real.
The Labor Party will not win elections on economic issues. Herzog won the Tel Aviv, white, middle and upper middle class, mostly Ashkenazi vote but lost the rest of the country. Most Israelis voted for the Right even though the Netanyahu governments have not successfully addressed the continued economic needs of Israel’s poorer segments of society.
At the end of the day, for most Israeli voters it has not been about social justice, it has not been “the economy, stupid!” – it has been about the overall sense of security. It should be pointed out that the “sense of security” is not the same as actual security.
Real security will be a product of real peace with Israel’s surroundings, which is a lot more meaningful than just a sense of security. But it is almost impossible to convince the Israeli public that there is any chance of making peace while the Israeli leadership continuously undermines the chance of developing partners for peace and the Palestinians themselves do very little to challenge that belief.
Gabbay will not become the prime minister of Israel without building alliances with Israel’s Arab citizens as well. Declaring a priori that the Joint Arab List will not sit in any government he leads fails to address the reality that there are many supporters of the Joint Arab List who are not supporters of Balad or the more extreme elements in Israel’s Islamic Movement. There is no chance of changing the regime from Right to Left without building a real partnership between Jewish and Arab Israelis.
Gabbay is now telling Israel’s Arab citizens that he does not consider them to be equal and desirable parts of Gabbay’s Israel. As such, failing to work on creating a partnership with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors and with Israel’s Arab citizens simply means that Gabbay will never become Israel’s leader.
It is not too late to shift and restart Gabbay’s uphill struggle to lead Israel and to change the course of a non-democratic binational state that Netanyahu is ensuring.
If Israelis want to genuinely be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish People, it must also be the democratic state of all of its citizens and it must also end its control over the Palestinian people. Both of those challenges require a lot of work, determination and a vision of inclusion. There were great hopes when Gabbay won the Labor leadership vote that he would work toward creating a large, progressive, peace oriented, inclusive, democratic alternative. At this point, he appears to be a cheap, second-hand and tired copy of Yair Lapid and a very weak contestant against Netanyahu.
The author is founder and co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. www.ipcri.org