17. Siwan 5781
Written by Ehud Olmert, published in the Jerusalem Post, May 27th 2021
I hope with all my heart that Yair Lapid will succeed in forming a coalition with the so-called “bloc of change,” will present it to the Knesset, will win a majority of votes during the election, and will begin working to rehabilitate our country from the ruins left behind by Benjamin Netanyahu.
This strange and possibly even crazy coalition is based on a combination of political groups that have large gaps in their views. And yet a coalition between parties with gaps between them is not a rare sight. Such a coalition was formed between Golda Meir’s Labor Party and Menachem Begin’s Likud, and again between Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud and Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor. Also, back then it was clear that there was a significant gap in the worldview and positions on key issues between the two major parties that made up the coalition: Likud and Labor.
However, never has a coalition been formed that is based on such an eclectic collection of party factions, spanning from the extreme Right all the way to the extreme Left, and including an Islamist party. I think that these are dramatic circumstances. If a coalition with Ra’am, the United Arab List, is indeed formed, this will pave the way for a process of reconciliation between Jews and Arabs and could lead to full equality for Israel’s Arab citizens.
No one would be happier than me if such a coalition is formed, even if it is short-lived, and even if it leads the State of Israel to another round of elections while the Netanyahu family is living in one of their private homes in Jerusalem or Caesarea.
How unfortunate that none of this will take place. It will not happen because of the lack of quality of the leaders who head the potential partners for this.
Naftali Bennett could have won such a coveted status as prime minister had he withstood the pressure of his friends, and if he hadn’t been enslaved to his own worn-out rhetoric that Israeli Arabs could never be true partners. According to his disappointing opinion, when Hamas in Gaza fires rockets into Israel and Arab rioters attack Jewish neighborhoods in Acre, Yafo or Lod, then there’s no basis for cooperation with Israeli-Arab parties which were considered to be legitimate partners only two weeks ago.
Forming a coalition like the one Lapid is attempting to astutely and responsibly put together requires more than just coordinating the number of MKs required. Such a coalition can exist only if the leader of each party is willing to take a risk and some unexpected steps.
I have already said that sometimes a person needs to make a complete turnaround in their public life that requires them to violate a previous commitment they’d made to the public. Many years ago, when I was a young member of Knesset, I held a conversation with Shimon Peres after the Likud’s first term in power. Peres and I were having a coffee in the Knesset café, and as an aside he told me he’d be happy to see me join the ranks of the Labor Party. Peres detailed the advantages of his party, describing the party list at the time and the party’s moderate positions.
I responded, saying that perhaps he had forgotten that I was born in the Shuni Fortress (at the time a secret base of the Irgun), grew up in Nahalat Jabotinsky and was active in the Betar youth movement. How could I, with that background, and coming from a Herut-supporting family, move over to the Labor Party?
Peres just smiled at me and said, “Ben-Gurion would always say that a person doesn’t need to die in the same place he was born.”
It took me many years to comprehend the meaning of this sentence. The fact is, that in 2005, Arik Sharon, who had initiated the establishment of the Likud before the 1973 election, created a new party – Kadima – as a split-off from Likud. I was one of the key supporters of this move. Under my leadership, Kadima won the 2006 election. I’ve taken big steps away from the political framework I was born into and within which I grew up. In the most recent 2021 election, I voted for the Labor Party, under the leadership of Merav Michaeli.
At the end of the day, under completely different circumstances, with a completely different composition of individuals and an unexpected political context, I have found myself quite far from where I was born. For me, some part of Shimon Peres’s recommendation and David Ben-Gurion’s declaration has come true.
Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar, Nitzan Horowitz and also Mansour Abbas all need to be open to the possibility of separating from the place they were born politically and allow themselves to change direction. I’m not suggesting that any of them ignore the principles they believe in. And yet, I’m convinced that each one needs to decide: What is your most important priority that would enable you to have an influence on the future of the State of Israel?
It’s impossible to remain a radical right-wing party, to continue supporting settlements, to refuse to entertain the idea of adapting a two-state solution, and still join a partnership with Ra’am or Meretz. There’s no expectation that Naftali Bennett or Gideon Sa’ar will change their worldviews. However, it’s not possible to form a government whose basic tenets are based on a radical right-wing standpoint if some of the partners are traditional left-wing and Arab parties.
In short, the desire to form an alternative government, to get rid of Netanyahu and his family, to separate from the Likud gang, including Amir Ohana and Miki Zohar, and to begin leading the State of Israel down a path toward normalcy, requires a change in the composition of parliamentary forces. I fear that with the existing situation, the more realistic option is that we end up holding another round of elections. If we want this round to end in a way that opens up a new horizon for political change, the current heads of Israel’s political parties need to refresh the lineup within their parties.
There’s no reason Bennett and Sa’ar can’t join forces and create a collaborative right-wing party that would be a worthy alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud. A significant portion of Israelis who vote Likud long for the creation of a new right-wing party that distances itself in style of speech and conduct from the racist, inciting and belligerent style we’ve been subjected to recently. Together, Bennett and Sa’ar could and should become the new Likud. That is, if they had the courage and leadership skills to do so.
Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are expected to be the key players of a new government if one is formed before we are forced to proceed to a fifth round of elections. What’s preventing them from reuniting the Blue and White members? There’s no doubt that as of today, Lapid has the best chance of heading a joint list. This connection could create the momentum needed to form the basis of a new government.
The new Likud, together with Blue and White and Yesh Atid could be the anchor that would enable the formation of a government after the next round of elections. Avigdor Liberman would be a member, as would a bolstered Labor Party, Meretz and Arab MKs (in whatever composition they end up in – it’s too early to predict this at the current time) – all of these together could, in my opinion, form the basis for a revolution that could rescue the State of Israel from the grip of the Balfour Gang.
If somehow Yair Lapid succeeds in convincing Bennett (i.e. if Bennett can convince his friends to free themselves from the unbearable influence of racist right-wingers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir) and they succeed in forming a government in the next few days, this will be great news for the Nation of Israel. Even if that government does not last long, it’d be preferable to entering another round of elections with Netanyahu and his family already living in their own private home, and not in the national fortress.
But, to ensure this, Bennett and Sa’ar need to be courageous and demonstrate their independence, which neither of them has done so far. For their and our benefit, I hope they will find the courage to do just that.