What’s more important, dollars or Jerusalem? Depends on whom you ask, and this time it’s not about the criminal suspicions against Ehud Olmert. The unequivocal answer of David Ben-Gurion, who knew how to answer without being asked, would not make Likud’s loudmouths happy.
Before Independence Day, the transcript of the first meeting of the cabinet, 11 days after the state was declared, was distributed. Ben-Gurion said the following to his ministers, who numbered less than half of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet:
“If we have the chance to purchase aircraft and heavy equipment after other governments have recognized us, the dollar problem will be very acute. Although the matter of Jerusalem is very severe, and it has been decided that Golda Meyerson will deal with Jerusalem, I have concluded that the dollar question is so urgent that she should leave for America right away. She has acted very successfully, no one has achieved what she has achieved ... rifles, machine guns and heavy machinery that have led to the recent turnaround. She will tell them that we are under attack and we need aircraft and tanks. I am sure that in a week she will obtain the $10 million to $15 million we need.”
The phrase “no one has achieved what she has achieved” is perhaps the origin of the popular saying that Golda was “the only man in the cabinet.” Either way, Ben-Gurion went on to warn that the situation at the front was grave; gains on the Jerusalem front would not help the general war effort if the army lacked defensive and offensive weapons, which depended on funds − in other words, foreign aid. With all due respect for fine words about the heart of the nation, it would not survive if the rest of the body collapsed.
Netanyahu is shoving aside this insight of Ben-Gurion’s, which is true today as well. His government is evading all the tough decisions. The “proximity” in the talks that it is about to hold without deciding on the substance actually reflects a distancing of American support.
Netanyahu’s line lacks logic, and not only diplomatic insight. Since he has accepted, in the wake of the U.S. administration, the principle of a territorial swap with the Palestinians, he is already giving up areas of sovereign Israel without any special majority in the Knesset, and without a fundamental examination of whether it’s worthwhile to give up a strip of land in the Negev in exchange for a settlement in Samaria. Netanyahu assumes that no one will demonstrate against such a concession, unlike settlers in a similar situation. They will be in favor of letting Netanyahu give.
No center force exists in Israel that would be ready to demand peace without the settlement blocs. Ehud Barak and the Labor Party are partners in the coalition in which Netanyahu is serving under Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. There is a vacuum in the center that calls for new parties to be established or people who will find places in the leaderships of existing parties. But no such reserves have emerged, apart from one adversary that Netanyahu and Barak have created: Gabi Ashkenazi.
The chief of staff, who has been offended by the way they have treated him, can choose when to retire. If he cuts his remaining time by four months, he will be out of uniform in October, and the three-year cooling-off period of staying out of politics will be over on the eve of the next scheduled elections. Until then he can print calling cards saying something like: Gets things done silently, without noisily doing nothing, with a program comprising a settlement with Syria in exchange for the Golan Heights, a generous compromise in the territories with the law being enforced until then, and national service for all Israelis.
Ashkenazi has his flaws and they would be pointed out during an election campaign. The dearth of other candidates reflects the emptiness of our leadership reservoir. But everything’s relative, and the Netanyau-Lieberman-Barak trinity is unbearable.
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