Herzog’s Mission: Give Israelis a Concrete Plan for Hope

The Zionist Camp leader must devise a peace initiative if he wants to win the election.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Isaac Herzog at the Labor Party convention in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2014.
Isaac Herzog at the Labor Party convention in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

The pollsters took to the streets and returned with an answer: socio-economic. The 2015 election agenda is like the 2013 election agenda – the cost of living and housing prices, the poor people’s plight, the middle classes’ distress and the social gaps.

In the summer we had dozens of traumatic days, which for a short while cracked the protective dome that allows us to ignore the Middle East. But now it’s quiet again, and when it’s quiet we can indulge in delusions – there’s no international boycott, no Arab chaos, no Palestinian people and no occupation. The Israeli island withdraws into itself and believes it’s a continent.

That’s the reason Benjamin Netanyahu is offering to change the electoral system and Yair Lapid talks about corruption, Moshe Kahlon still spurs considerable interest, while Zionist Camp is still looking for its way. Already in its first month the election campaign has been defined as a campaign about the economy, social issues and ignoring the outside world.

There are two reasons why a state living in the shadow of a volcano thinks and acts with such serenity. The first is the security success in the past decade, which created the illusion that the smoking Vesuvius above us will never erupt. The second is the Israeli failure in recent decades to make peace, which created a feeling of helplessness. We’ve tried occupation and it crashed. We tried peace and it shattered. We tried a unilateral move and it went wrong. The illusion that we can have “security without peace” and the trauma that “peace won’t bring security” has led most Israelis to believe there’s no compulsion to do anything and no possibility of doing anything about the conflict. So we may as well look inside, withdraw like a snail into the 20,000 square kilometers of Israeli existence, rather than see the goings on beyond the separation wall, beyond the Jordan River, beyond the ocean.

This bubble-like state would seem to serve the center-left. The Likud is weak in the socio-economic arena and the rival parties are convinced they can undermine him by focusing on domestic issues and blurring the external ones. This is a mistake. An understandable but dangerous one. Because despite the fact that Israelis aren’t dealing politically with the geo-strategic reality they’re trapped in, they feel threatened. They may not think about the Iranian centrifuges, Hezbollah rockets and Hamas’ growing power. They may not be aware of the explosive situation in the West Bank, may not have heard of BDS and may not understand how precarious Israel’s international position is. But they do know that their nation is in danger and the earth under their feet is not stable.

So they’re more attentive to the politics of vague fear marketed by the right wing than to the politics of hollow hope preached by the left. They don’t like Benjamin Netanyahu, but sleep better when he’s in power. They don’t object to Isaac Herzog-Tzipi Livni, but aren’t convinced they’re real gatekeepers.

Conceptually they want a change, but emotionally they’re afraid of one. With the courteous assistance of Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas, they may ultimately throng to the right and give it a solid majority.

So Zionist Camp’s mission is a hard one. The Herzog-Livni alliance was a brainstorm, but it has played itself out. Adding Manuel Trajtenberg to the ticket was an excellent move, but this too is not enough. If Herzog really wants a political turnabout, he must put a serious, creative and comprehensive peace plan on the table. If he wants to be prime minister, he must place an experienced security team at his side, headed by Dan Meridor, Amos Yadlin, Shaul Mofaz and a choice group of military commanders. Only thus does he have a chance to allay the fear. Only thus might he make it possible this time for hope to triumph over fear.

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