The Right Way for Israel to Open Its Historic Window for Peace

For Israel to be a partner in peace, repeated attempts are needed to forge a coalition that will have a mandate from the people to compromise. All this must be articulated clearly.

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Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union).
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), December 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Carolina Landsmann

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog says the secret summit about a year ago in Aqaba was the basis for his Zionist Union alliance’s talks on possibly entering the government. At the summit were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi; the summit’s very existence was revealed last week by Haaretz’s Barak Ravid.

So why did Herzog not share the details of this historic step with the people and give them the opportunity to support it? As he wrote in Haaretz last week, the historic move remained covert for “obvious reasons.”

However, in his commitment to secrecy, as if this were a covert operation by the army, Herzog showed he wasn’t ready for this foreign-policy initiative. So it’s not surprising that he expects the Palestinians to wait 10 years for negotiations, as he proposes. Herzog wraps himself in purity in his willingness to suffer baseless personal insults.

“I was ready to bear the brunt of my political allies’ and rivals’ abuse and insults to spare my people and homeland another round of bloodshed,” he writes. But without, God forbid, willing to damage what in his eyes is his “integrity” for example, by leaking (in one way or another) significant hints on what was happening. This would have helped his supporters digest the problematic move of joining up with Netanyahu for a peace agreement.

But not only Herzog remained silent. How is it possible that the event passed under the media’s radar? How is it possible that while Netanyahu and Herzog talked about a historic window of opportunity, and even Sissi passed a message on favoring a unity government, we weren’t exposed to the details of this window of opportunity?

In a Haaretz op-ed last week, Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker in his way sort-of apologized to Herzog: “The publication of the report caused many to feel that Herzog, the leader of the opposition, had been wronged. Maybe he had a real reason to join the Netanyahu government – and not just the desire to save himself by becoming foreign minister.”

Like Herzog, Drucker believes that the opportunity was missed because Netanyahu did not want it. Drucker too complains about the secrecy practiced by Herzog, Kerry, Obama, Sissi and Abdullah.

“There was no reason to keep their silence; no peace process would have been halted because of it,” Drucker writes. “But these are serious people, loyal ones, who, it turns out, felt committed to keeping their word. Netanyahu, in comparison, felt a commitment only to his coalition government.”

Drucker concludes: “Herzog did not have to enter these humiliating negotiations.”

Should the public take from this that the exposure of major events depends solely on one of the key participants volunteering to tell the press? Is this the only way the media’s ostensibly sacred facts are revealed? Moreover, Netanyahu and Herzog weren’t silent. They said they had a historic opportunity. So what can explain this disinformation?

It’s possible that part of the problem lies in the distinction that arises from what Drucker says, and which characterizes the journalistic and political discourse in general. There are “real” reasons, in other words pure reasons if there was or wasn’t a historic opportunity. And there are personal interests or coalition interests, which are viewed as irrelevant in the best case or against the public interest in the worst.

For example, if Herzog “saved himself” by linking up with Netanyahu, then to a certain extent this would have sullied the purity of the historic opportunity. However, how could Herzog flourish at the Foreign Ministry while Israel plunged into the abyss?

For some reason, the media focused on Herzog’s desire to enter the coalition government as a sufficient reason for him, but not as a necessary one for the peace process. Instead of trying to understand whether a window of opportunity had in fact been opened, and if so what was involved, the press sufficed with the story about Herzog’s own interests.

When Education Minister Naftali Bennett applies pressure and threatens to bring down the government, this isn’t seen as a fact relevant to the feasibility of the historic step, but only as an internal balance of political forces. But a historic window of opportunity requires “coalition feasibility.” For Israel to be partner in peace, repeated attempts are needed to forge a coalition that will have a mandate from the people to compromise in their name.

The message of the “peace camp” has to be stated publicly and clearly: If there is a historic opportunity for a foreign-policy move, then we’re in and Bennett and his eight Knesset seats can go to hell.

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