Ignoring the Occupation Won't Make Israel a Normal Country

Here lies great deception behind Kahlon’s shining image: He believes that by ignoring politics, Israel can be Sweden or Japan.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Moshe Kahlon at Tel Aviv University, September 18, 2014.
Moshe Kahlon at Tel Aviv University, September 18, 2014.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

An old carriage undergoing an overhaul is about to carry Israel through the next few years. There are not many new parts in it, and its chassis is made out of old spare parts, the result of cannibalizing previous governments. Except for Moshe Kahlon, of course, who will serve as the rear axle, supporting most of the weight of the carriage.

Kahlon may not be a real innovation himself, and as Finance Minister he will be required to prove to us that his business plan can solve the fundamental economic problems of the country, since the credit he has received is based on his his public leverage of relatively small equity capital.

But Kahlon has taken upon himself much broader responsibility (and commitment) than that bestowed by the finance portfolio. He has positioned himself as the person who will rebrand not just the Likud, but the country.

For example, he objected to the explosive devices that the right-wing ultras planned to lay under the benches of the Supreme Court; he supports improving education as a means of reducing economic inequality; he promises to dismantle monopolies, not just as an economic goal but as a social vision; and to improve the public services that are provided to citizens today.

This is not the full list: More than any other minister, Kahlon represents the ideological revolution that has taken place in Israel under the governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He promises to bury the peace process once and for all. There is no mention of the two state solution in his party platform and all he is willing to give the Palestinians is improved self-administration, alongside continued construction in the settlement blocs and the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

In this sense, Kahlon is no different from the right-wing extremes that will make up the new government. But he at least aspires for an Israel that, in its own eyes, is a civilized nation, and that is quite a lot. In doing so, he represents a more appropriate version of the right’s destructive slogan, “To the winner belongs the spoils,” or to the left’s: “We lost — let the right destroy.”

To the extent that things depend on Kahlon, the left will not receive a peace process, but nor will the right and the religious parties get a state ruled by religious law, committed to the creator and not to the civil courts. According to his public statements, Kahlon is aiming to serve as the national mediator, reconciling between the demands of the fascistic right and those of the anarchist left. That is the power of the veto that rests on his 10 Knesset seats.

Kahlon has exempted himself from dealing with the peace process and he can also claim that, based on the election results, the majority of the public is tired of it. But that only strengthens his public mission.

If Netanyahu turned the nullification of the peace process and the sanctifying of the Iranian threat into the existential basis for the right-wing government he will lead, Kahlon’s mission is to build new temples, in which not only the gods of security and defense will be worshipped but the foundations supporting the civil state will be repaired.

This mission grants Kahlon the status of a nonpartisan icon, one which the center-left can gather around like sweet cotton candy around the stick and the center-right can tolerate the way one tolerates a medicine. Excluding his positions on the peace process, occupation and support for the settlements, Kahlon could serve as a one-man “national salvation front.”

All that might have been possible if Israel had the status of Sweden or Japan — countries that can allow themselves to deal with the state of education and the status of foreigners or worry about the volume of illegal fishing. Countries where the deliberations between occupation and democracy are a matter for conferences and not a way of life.

Here lies the great deception behind Kahlon’s shining image. According to him, by ignoring the occupation and the construction in the settlements, Israel can be Sweden or Japan. It can be a normal nation and develop a prosperous economy. Leaving out the mammoth settlement enterprise, the country could promote education and reduce inequality. Excluding Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, Israel could be the state of Kahlon.

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