In the 1970s, Menachem Begin promised Israelis he wouldn’t give up the Sinai Peninsula; he even said he would move there. Half a year after becoming prime minister, Begin gave up the Sinai.
In the summer of 1992, Yitzhak Rabin went to the Golan Heights and promised the people he would never withdraw from there. A year later, Rabin proposed Syrian President Hafez Assad he would withdraw from the entire Golan.
On the eve of the 2003 elections, Ariel Sharon said the fate of Netzarim in Gaza would be the fate of Tel Aviv. Two years later, Sharon destroyed Netzarim to its foundations.
In the autumn of 2005, Shimon Peres ran for the Labor Party leadership and expressed his utmost faith in his party. Only three weeks later, Peres crossed the lines, joined Kadima, and caused the collapse of the party he had been a member of nearly all his life. He had just sworn allegiance to the party.
All four of these acts of broken promises and shattered principles were received with applause. The applause was no coincidence. For decades, the center-left dream in Israel had been a dream for a de Gaulle. There was a yearning for a brutal leader who would betray his principles, betray his voters and implement his rivals’ ideology. That’s why every time a man on the right or a man in uniform could put the Gaullist fantasy into effect, he was hero-worshipped.
The nationalist Begin broke his word and became a giant. The hawkish Rabin broke his word and became the hero of peace. The belligerent Sharon broke his word and became beyond reproach. Peres, who was hated, broke his word and became the people’s favorite. He finally achieved fulfillment.
Every time a promise was broken or a principle smashed, it was seen as an act of supreme bravery if it served peace, the left or some new trend. Even though these acts were not honest and not democratic, they gave the perpetrators the status of statesmen who had risen to great heights.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz has broken his word but hasn’t shattered a principle. His basic policy has been common knowledge for a long time − to set up a Zionist-centrist unity government that will bring this country back to its senses. This basic policy is no different from that of Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich, the former TV and radio journalist, or Yair Lapid, the former TV anchorman who has founded a party.
Every analyst in Israel knew that, despite the fiery words on election eve, Kadima, Labor and Lapid’s Yesh Atid were interested in joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s government after the elections. All three − the general, the social democrat and the anchorman − aspired to save Netanyahu from the jaws of the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox. They wanted to bring him into the center.
So all Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff, did this week was beat the former Channel 2 stars to the punch. Instead of Yacimovich and Lapid sitting around the cabinet table in September, Mofaz sat down at that table in May. There was no betrayal of values, and he didn’t sell out his principles. Mofaz was forced to swallow some unnecessary words he had uttered, but he remained much truer to himself than Begin, Rabin, Sharon or Peres did.
Some people praise the courage of the U-turners of the past while cursing the man who has changed his tactics now. In the best case, such people are hypocrites, in the worst case, racists. The question is what will happen in the future. Israeli democracy is ailing: It doesn’t represent the majority and doesn’t protect the minority. And it doesn’t allow the government to rule. We can’t make peace like this, or face a war, or achieve deep socioeconomic change.
That’s why Netanyahu and Mofaz’s maneuver this week is so important. They created an opportunity that will not come around again: to change the system of government. If they don’t take this golden opportunity, they will both be damned. But if the vice prime minister gets the prime minister to fix the system of government, that would really be something.
Mofaz will redeem himself not through meaningless phrases but through meaningful acts. Only by establishing a functioning democracy here will this man, who has been defamed in this country, once again enjoy trust and support. Who knows, maybe he’ll even wipe the spit of hatred off the lips of the hypocrites and racists.
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