Trump Plan Leaves Israeli Left in Empty Street on Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Kahol Lavan’s embrace of 'deal of the century' shatters left’s sense of belonging and renders it in not-so-splendid isolation

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Benny Gantz, leader of Kahol Laven, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 11, 2019.
Benny Gantz, leader of Kahol Laven, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 11, 2019. Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Menachem Begin famously said his autonomy proposal at Camp David, with some exaggeration, “All who saw it, praised it.” Of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” an inferior offer for Palestinians in many ways, one can rightly say “All who saw it embraced it, even slobbered over it, and demanded it be implemented here and now” – at least as far as Israel is concerned.

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Ironically, the most enthusiastic support for Trump’s ludicrously lopsided plan – which has zero chance of acceptance, could foment violence and drives a final nail into the coffin of a realistic two-state solution -didn’t come from the Israeli right. Its leaders were hoodwinked by Benjamin Netanyahu to believe that Israel could have its cake and eat it, annex coveted territories without endorsing the plan itself, until Jared Kushner’s interviews rudely woke them up from their reverie.

Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, on the other hand, buttressed by the enthusiastic support of numerous so-called experts on national security, fully endorsed the plan, even though it marginalizes and radicalizes the Palestinians. They embraced the letter and the spirit of the Trump plan, expressing only faint and belated reservations about its odious endorsement of the proposal to transfer Israeli Arabs to the so-called Palestinian state. They depicted the program as a dramatic breakthrough for Israel and as a solid foundation for a peace process, which, ostensibly, they support.

Their blessing legitimized one of Netanyahu’s more shameless election gimmicks. It made Trump’s plan acceptable, virtually overnight, for a near-consensus of Israeli public opinion. But whether their commendation derived from true agreement or PR, its main catalyzer was fear, plain and simple.

Gantz and his cohorts were petrified by the thought of falling into a trap cleverly laid by Netanyahu, who would have pounced on Kahol Lavan reservations to depict his rivals as treacherous leftists hell-bent on forming a coalition with the mainly-Arab Joint List. They were even more terrified of the electoral price the public might exact if Kahol Lavan was seen as confronting a popular U.S. President and they were scared to death that he would exact lethal revenge with his notoriously toxic tweets.

The overwhelming, almost wall-to-wall support expressed by so many for Trump’s deal, for immediate annexation of the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank and for establishing a “Palestinian state” in name only was like a lightning bolt for the left, or whatever remains of it. Coming at the end of a year in which the left fancied itself part and parcel of grand center-left coalition with a reasonable chance of attaining power, Trump’s plan shattered delusions and confronted the left with its true dire status in not-so-splendid isolation.

Even though many leftists complained in real time, the absence of any discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the election campaigns that preceded both the April and September 2019 elections enabled the left to ignore the gaps and to attach itself to Gantz, at least emotionally, under the joint, unifying banner of defeating Netanyahu. Gantz’s warm embrace of Trump’s deal, with reservations that hardly qualified as nuance, upended the left’s sense of belonging.

The left now finds itself, once again, on the sidelines, a small and negligible minority facing a great right-wing majority that differs only in the degree of its adulation or derision for the prime minister. Unlike U.S. liberals and leftists, including American Jews who largely support the Democratic Party, Israeli leftists don’t have a major party that reflects their views or is in the running to attain power. As Green Day sang, the Israeli left once again walks an empty street on the boulevard of broken dreams.

The lamentable situation was made crystal clear last month, at least mathematically, following the Labor-Gesher-Meretz merger, which currently holds the grand total of 10 out of 120 Knesset seats, or, in stark numbers, 8%. But for those who failed to decipher the big picture, the reactions to Trump’s plan connected the dots: The left is isolated, in its peace platform as well as its general worldview and values. If it doesn’t come round on March 2, it will find itself on the verge of extinction.

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