It may not excite the copy writers, the news editors or foreign journalists – but hold the press – Israel’s election in April is likely to result not in a Change of Government but in a Change of Opposition.
The “Centre-Left” dominated opposition will be replaced instead with a “Centre-Right” dominated opposition.
The official opposition party, the Israeli Labor party has all but imploded. Its choice of most recent leader (there have been 10 in the past 25 years) has proven to be nothing short of disastrous. The party is polling around 7 or 8 seats down from its 24 seats (120 Seat Knesset) it achieved in 2015 as the dominant partner in the Zionist Union alliance.
Labor can – just about – still credibly claim to be “Centre-Left”. It still supports a Palestinian state on almost all of the West Bank. In recent years however, even Labor has grown tired of the Palestinians, and has at times being less than supportive on the urgency or necessity of a Palestinian state. Its previous leader Isaac Herzogs grand vision amounted to little more than 10 more years of occupation – and then talks, and then only if the Palestinians had behaved themselves.
Yesh Atid and the new Hosen L’Yisrael, have replaced Labor in the polls and are vying to become the 2nd party in the Knesset.
Both parties are unashamedly right of centrist. Both are trying to appeal to middle of the road suburban voters. Both are staying well clear of any concise proposals or timeframes with regard to a potential Palestinian state. Both are wary of the political overtures of the relatively leftish and perennial peace seeker Tzipi Livni (Ex-Zionist Union partner of Labor and Ex-Foreign Minister) or God forbid, Tamar Zandberg leader of the tiny leftist Meretz, lest they themselves be perceived as Centre-Left.
Despite the supposed daily drama of the election in the Israeli media – zoom out – and the opinion polls have actually been relatively stable for a year or more. The “Religious-Right” including Netanyahu’s Likud is expected to take 55 to 58 seats in the 120 seat Knesset. The “Left” and “Centre Left” including Labor and the Palestinian dominated ‘Joint List’ just 25 to 27 seats.
The remaining 35 to 40 seats will go to the four “Centrist” or “Centre Right” parties (two of which are new) – Yesh Atid (There is a future), Hosen L’Yisrael (Resilient Israel), Kulanu (All of us) and Gesher (Bridge). There may indeed be a bridge to the future for all of them/us in a resilient Israel but it’s unlikely these parties will deliver it.
A political story that focuses on the relative difference in the electoral strength of the “Centre-Left” opposition versus the “Centre-Right” opposition in Israel might to some sound parochial, faintly ridiculous even, and in the context of the geo-political and societal challenges facing both Israel and the Palestinians seem an utter irrelevance.
But here in Israel the distinction between “Centre-Left” and “Centre-Right” is meaningful for two reasons.
The first, is essentially a story of language, perception and marketing. The “Left” even if hyphenated with a softer sounding “Centre-Left” has now become the bogey man in Israeli politics. For a party that aspires to govern, to even identify as “Centre-Left” is to concede the election.
The “Left” died in the wake of the failure of Ehud Barak (the last Labor Prime Minister) to secure peace in the now infamous Camp David and Ta’ba Peace talks in 2000-2001. The failure of those talks and the onslaught of the second intifada (2000-2005) in which 1,300 Israelis died, is blamed wholly and squarely on the Palestinians.
The second reason is obviously connected to the first, but of far greater importance.
A “Centre-Left” ideology in Israel – whatever party may actually occupy that space – remains firmly attached to the belief in the necessity of a “Two-State Solution”. That “Two State Solution” includes a vision of a Palestinian state that is territorially contiguous and includes at least 90-95% of the West Bank.
“Centre Right” parties have all but abandoned this vision. The continuation of the status quo is the political credo of these parties. “Centre-Right” parties may differ from the “Right” in that they do not support any (further) ‘annexation’ of any of the West Bank but they essential agree with the narrative of the “Right”, peace with the Palestinians is (for the foreseeable future) an illusion.
So, when the “Rightwing” returns to power in April and the “Centre-Left” opposition is replaced with a “Centre-Right” opposition, little may have appeared to have changed to the outside world. In reality however the long comatose “Two-State Solution” will in effect have been taken off its two decade political life support machine.
With no champions in either the Israeli Government or in the official opposition, the “Two-State Solution” can finally be pronounced dead.
One interesting question remains – with a “Two-State Solution” dead, what type of one-state vision will replace it?