Israel's Left-wing Purists Do Little but Shout From the Bleachers

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Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog speaking at his party's convention in Tel Aviv, February 7. 2016.
Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog speaking at his party's convention in Tel Aviv, February 7. 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, sat there in front of her heavy desk trying to figure out ahead of her meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “What in God’s name am I going to speak about with the guy?”

Then her political aide walked in.

“Arthur, what’s going on in that country these days? Is there a peace agreement? Is the conflict over?”

“What do you mean?” Arthur replied. “The conflict is only getting worse.”

“If that’s the case,” Merkel went on, “then I’ll speak to him about the need for a peace treaty!”

“An excellent idea,” Arthur concluded.

Merkel stretched her legs, poured a glass of milk or diet cola and turned on the television. And there on the screen she saw Israel’s opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, accompanied by France’s President Francois Hollande at the entrance to the Elysee Palace. Merkel quickly turned up the volume.

“This is exactly what I was waiting for,” she told herself. And then it happened: Herzog issued his statement. And this is what he said: “I’m a ready proponent of the two-state solution, but the hostility between the peoples and inability of their leaders is preventing this the vision of a two state solution cannot be realized at this time,” he said.

“Aha,” Merkel called out in her roomy office. “That’s exactly what I’m going to tell Netanyahu on his visit.” She called Arthur and told him what Herzog had said. Arthur nodded with enthusiasm.

With Merkel’s “aha,” a local Israeli group called “oy” was born. So strict and pure, there has never been a leader who has met their moral standards. They decided unilaterally they had to rudely cancel the content of his words, according to which, as the writer and many others now understood, that at this point there is no diplomatic way to quickly achieve the vision of a two state solution. At best what may be done is to take a few steps towards putting the idea back on the agenda.

The purist cult has turned Herzog into the enemy of the vision.

The only way to put an end to the passivity and impotence of the right the same as the irrelevant comfort zone of those purists, waiting for an imaginary messiah, requires renewed thinking about the conflict. This is exactly what the main opposition party tried to present: significant steps that could be implemented the next day to try and draw near the day when Palestinians would live in their homeland and we in our homeland and bring peace to the land.

The same goes for the Zionist Union’s idea of separation (which is more or less based on the last Bar-Lev plan). Even a utopian peace such as the concept of two states requires first and foremost a clear separation – Palestine for the Palestinians and Israel for us. So what’s the panic about? Does anyone really think it’s possible without separation? Does anyone really believe that a generation that grew up on hatred and enmity and complete estrangement one from the other will be able to hold a peace festival over a border built on a bed of roses?

Suddenly Herzog, the chairman of that party, who the purists have been mocking since forever, has become an enemy of the vision for the sake of winning a few votes. Carolina Landsmann did well in her article on Friday about how Merkel, the German chancellor, had simply been trapped by a world view about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and had been waiting for Herzog to come along and rescue her from the ignorance and emptiness she had been stuck in before he spoke.

Landsmann errs as the others in interpreting Herzog’s separation plan as a nod to the right. It has nothing to do with the right. It is totally a look at reality, and an attempt to swap right-wing passiveness for an initiative. It is Zionism in a nutshell since its inception. In the end the center-left’s goal is one: For Israel to have clear internationally recognized borders that put an end to its control over the Palestinian people, out of a clear Israeli diplomatic and security interest. 

Herzog’s separation plan is the only one on the table opposite Naftali Bennett’s visions of annexation. Whoever thinks there’s another way – then please, reality is hankering for a plan that will put an end to the conflict. But to hurl tomatoes from the bleachers without suggesting any concrete alternative is really not a strategy.