The results of the Likud primary this week once again reminded us that in Israel's political and public life no reservoir of individuals and ideas is more vibrant than the "ash heap of history." What was once considered scrap metal and thrown away with disgust, contempt and exhaustion is sooner or later retrieved as if it were a great find, a precious heirloom of vintage quality.
Such was the case this week at Likud's "outlet store" at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center. Functionaries with whom the public has long been fed up, ideologies and agendas that have been irrelevant for the last 60 years, the remnants of the "era of the generals" whose luster has long dimmed, retro-celebrities who have been banished from the gossip columns since television was in black and white, messianic adherents to the "wholeness of the land" - this entire archaic package was unveiled by Benjamin Netanyahu (who himself is a recycled product with his flaws on display). This package was unveiled to the sound of oldies like "Onward, Bibi!" and "Hoo-ha, who's that coming?"
Watching this was not merely deja vu but a trip in a time machine. From the standpoint of a philosophical-political message - "The best list that any party could present today," in the words of Netanyahu the marketer - the Likud lineup appeared more fitting for display at the Victoria and Albert Museum rather than the leadership of the state.
It is true that in every democracy there is a pendulum-like swing between governments and philosophies; radicals and conservatives alternate according to the prevailing mood. It is true that on the left there is no shortage of ideological mildew, of sentimental oldies and individuals who have been broken by one shattered illusion or another. Yet this type of celebratory longing for the ancient and nonprogressive, this joyful homecoming of yesteryear and anything old and familiar, no matter how bad it is, can only be offered by Likud - a would-be ruling party with nothing in its bag of tricks but "resistance," parallel to that of the Palestinians. So it would appear that not only are "the Arabs the same Arabs and the sea the same sea," but Likud is the same Likud, and more than you think. Even a hardened doctrinaire like Yitzhak Shamir is depicted as a radical Trotskyite compared to the Feiglins and Begins of today.
From where did all this longevity suddenly sprout, while the winds of change are blowing from the United States and the hard drive of belligerence has been replaced with one of negotiations and dialogue? It is true that the idea of unilateral withdrawal failed, just as negotiations with the Palestinian Authority failed. But Likud's stance of an instinctive "resistance" to agreements and any kind of movement has failed badly, as the blood spilled during Israel's wars and the first intifada, which came before terror-shamed Oslo, can attest.
But amnesia, apparently, is a side effect of recycling. While we were preoccupied with the investigations into Ehud Olmert, we had forgotten the disgrace and wretchedness of an entire political culture symbolized by the Likud central committee. While we were preoccupied with Qassam rockets, we had forgotten the horrors brought about by the waves of terrorist attacks and all-out war - the type espousers of no negotiations speak about and even nonchalantly offer as the by-product of annexing the territories.
This is not "the right" that is threatening to return to power. A real, diplomatic-minded "right" has some kind of agenda, some sort of measured policy with solutions that can realistically be implemented. But Likud was and remains a mood, a romance movement more than a party with a practical agenda. It will always long for some "past," or some pastoral arcadia of "before Oslo" (as expressed by the Begins), if not the days of David and Solomon's kingdom (as offered by the Feiglins). It will always look to "renew" some kind of heroic victory that will solve everything. It will always promise some anti-aging formula along the lines of "restoring security" (to what point exactly?). Ultimately, Likud will always fall and topple itself from power once it reaches a decision-making juncture that requires a mature, responsible hand behind the wheel.
So it is not "the right" that seeks to return, but the yesterday. Benny Begin, a star of the past who staged a comeback, often compared Oslo and the efforts to reach peace to "experiments done on human beings," and he called for a halt to them. But what about the largest, faulty and most bloody experiment of them all, the one that has been going on for 40 years, which goes by the name "the Greater Land of Israel"?
If Kadima ("forward" in Hebrew) and Labor "join hands," as Ehud Barak's favorite phrase goes, and run in the elections as one bloc, they may succeed in stopping the "backward" movement.
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