At last, we appear to have an Israeli election issue on at least one foreign policy matter, rather than just solely on personalities – or do we?
In September, the following words were said by the prime minister of Israel to the United Nations General Assembly:
“I hear the buzz. I know that many of you have given up on peace. But I want you to know – I have not given up on peace. I remain committed to a vision of peace based on two states for two peoples. I believe as never before that changes taking place in the Arab world today offer a unique opportunity to advance that peace.”
The thing is that the prime minister who gave this speech was Benjamin Netanyahu and he did so in his address to the UNGA in 2016.
Less than four years later, in 2020, Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ was unveiled, which essentially is another version of the two states concept. Israel, according to Trump’s plan, having to ultimately cede 70% of Judaea/Samaria/West Bank.
Netanyahu’s acceptance of Trump’s plan and his giving up of impending annexation were the requirements for the Abraham Accords to become a reality. Netanyahu had little trouble choosing the peace deals the Abraham Accords brought over annexation.
This September, interim Prime Minister Lapid said the following in the same chamber to the UNGA:
“An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children.”
Lapid said further that Israel has “only one condition. That a future Palestinian state will be a peaceful one. That it will not become another terror base from which to threaten the well-being and the very existence of Israel. That we will have the ability to protect the security of all the citizens of Israel, at all times”.
Which, of course, goes to the heart of the matter and, sadly and tragically for both Israelis and Palestinians, presents a bar too high for the Palestinian leadership – an agreement to not merely divide the land but to commit to peace itself.
To an end of conflict.
Mahmoud Abbas, in his own speech to the UNGA last month, used his usual double speak, saying: “All glory to the righteous martyrs of the Palestinian people who enlightened the path of freedom and independence with their pure blood” as he again demonstrated his true intent by continuing payments to the families of terrorists, or as he calls them, “martyrs”, under his ‘pay for slay’ policy.
It cannot be repeated often enough that whilst Israel is discussing what to do with the territories that fell into her hands in 1967, the Palestinians are focussed on 1948 and attempting to return to challenging Israel’s very existence.
Abbas told this UNGA in 2022, of “the injustice, the tragedy of the Nakba or catastrophe, 74 years ago.”
To be crystal clear, Israel’s actual establishment.
Abbas told the UNGA that the Nakba “is a disgrace to humanity” and castigated the countries that supported the original two states plan that could have resulted in an Arab state alongside the Jewish State way back in 1948.
He berated those countries “who conspired, planned and carried out this heinous crime.”
That crime, once again pushing past his double speak, being the two states solution.
Whether Lapid was wise to raise the whole topic of two states at this time or not, is a judgement I will leave to others.
What we do know, is that Lapid’s offer has zero chance of being taken up by the Palestinians.
In Israel internally, it will serve to provide rhetorical fodder for the elections still a month away, with all sides conveniently overlooking their own struggles in answering the ongoing question of how to ensure the security of the Jewish state, both physically and demographically.
At time of writing another possible, but much more real foreign policy issue, is developing around that of the Qana gas fields and a potential deal between Israel and Lebanon, brokered by the USA.
There is much at stake here after years without resolution.
Aside from the actual negotiations over the huge royalties, including in a backhanded way, also from the Karish Field, the site of the Qana Field has very important sovereignty issues and brings into play what Israel calls the ‘buoys line’, which extend 5kms into the sea from Rosh Hanikra.
Expect Lapid to tout this as an historic agreement and Netanyahu to question both its wisdom and legality, as Lapid is only an interim prime minister.
Did Lapid give away too much? Certainly, Netanyahu will claim so. Until we see the full details, which we may not get before the elections, it will be hard to know.
In further election news, the polls show Netanyahu as the clear front runner, but moving between the ability to form a government of 61 and falling just short.
Behind him is Yair Lapid, with Benny Gantz a distant third. Gantz hopes – a la Bennett – to be the only person able to cobble a diverse coalition together in the event Netanyahu fails to achieve the magical 61 seats.
Gantz called the iteration of his most recent party, ‘National Unity’ and says that anyone who leads Israel needs to be able to connect the left with the right and to be a unifier.
It was therefore strange that on Rosh Hashana eve, in what was a seemingly brain snap moment, Gantz told Kan 11 news, that if Netanyahu manages to form a narrow coalition government, he Gantz, should be invited to give “an end of country interview”.
It’s one thing to criticise opponents, but quite another and rather dangerous, to state that a Netanyahu win means the end of Israel.
Netanyahu has once again demonstrated his own political skills by the discipline he has been able to impose on his potential coalition partners in order to maximise their votes and to ensure none are lost by threshold issues.
Lapid on the other hand, has failed to do similarly with his potential partners – Meretz and Labor. Whether this becomes critical or not, we will only know after the 1st of November when we will see if either or both of these parties manage to pass the 3.25% threshold.
The Israeli Arab turnout will also play a role one way or the other. With the Joint List now splitting, there will be three Arab parties running.
Two issues will determine the Israeli Arab presence in the next Knesset and the possible ramifications for other parties: the danger to them, of one or more of the three parties failing to now pass the threshold; and voter turnout. As voting in Israel is not compulsory, the lower the turnout of any sector, the higher the seat numbers for other parties.
Overall, it is expected that if one or more of the Arab parties fall short of the threshold, this would assist Netanyahu and his block.
In the event that Netanyahu only just scrapes over the line with 61 seats, he will be hostage over the next term, to the whims of his coalition partners as well as any rebellious members of his own party.
Whilst the experiment of Bennett and Lapid arguably produced a good government, it’s makeup of too many disparate parties became its downfall and does not augur well for any future similarly 61 seats or thereabouts coalition led by Lapid or Gantz, surviving in the long term, even if it can be formed.
Of course, if neither block reaches 61 the game will be on for defectors from either side – parties and/or individuals.
Ultimately what would be best for Israel is a clear and decisive win for one block or the other – without resulting in government by a narrow coalition.
Political stability would be a great asset.
The Israeli electorate however, still does not seem to be in a mood to be co-operative in this aim.
Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, State Zionist Council of NSW