Israeli Left Must Forge Honest Alliance With Arabs

Meretz will waste its remaining credit and humiliate itself if it becomes an unimportant faction within the Labor Party.

Dedi Zucker
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Meretz leader Zehava Galon.
Meretz leader Zehava Galon.Credit: Moti Milrod
Dedi Zucker

What does Meretz ultimately want to be? Does it want to end its life as a faction of the Labor Party? Would that bring the right’s defeat any closer? It’s more likely that Meretz would thereby guarantee itself four Knesset seats, 100-plus members at the Labor Party convention, representation on its municipal committee, and two seats on the executive of some labor federation.

On the other hand, there’s also no real reason to preserve the party’s current structure. Meretz’s five Knesset seats don’t carry enough political weight to justify preserving this quarter-century-old format. Instead, after 25 years, Meretz could end its current incarnation with a new vision, a new party format and a truly unique contribution – one that only Meretz can make – to returning the center-left to power.

It sometimes seems that the center-left’s principal weakness is a lack of desire to count. There’s no more persuasive explanation for this bloc’s political conduct, because in order to understand that its chances of returning to power are slim, all it has to do is count. If you count the number of children in schools, the Knesset members in the plenum, the gatherings of the various tribes that comprise Israeli society, and who is having how many children, you reach the conclusion that the center-left bloc is likely to regain power only if it forges an alliance with at least two other blocs.

It’s also important to remember that any such count must include 100 percent of the country’s citizens, not just 80 percent – i.e. not just the Jews. All of Israel’s parties represent minorities. The basis of the right’s rule is a partnership among minorities. Only a similar partnership between the center-left minority and other minorities is likely to oust the right.

The idea of giving Zionist Union another five seats by merging with it is nothing but a job-security deal for Meretz MKs. It doesn’t guarantee the alliance even a single additional vote. Nothing good will come of fatigue, which is the only reason for this desire to rest weary heads on Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog’s chest.

Meretz can assist in creating a victorious alliance only if it takes on the job of being the link that enables a political alliance with one or more Arab parties. And an alliance capable of ousting the right’s crude atmosphere requires a political link with the Arabs. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin understood that without cooperation with two minority parties – the Arab-Jewish Hadash and the ultra-Orthodox Shas – he would be unable to execute any diplomatic moves.

Meretz will waste its remaining credit and humiliate itself if it becomes an unimportant faction within the Labor Party. It’s important and appropriate for Meretz to once again take on a historic role: enabling the creation of a true alliance with the Arab community by creating a political structure for cooperation with MKs and others from Israel’s Palestinian community.

The danger that Arab citizens will disconnect from the State of Israel is written on the wall of the Knesset plenum. Such a development would be bad for all Israelis. Thus, Meretz can and must fulfill a mission that may be the most important in its history – not allowing Israel to disconnect from one-fifth of its citizens, and helping to create a political alliance that will oust the right from power.

This is a difficult task, since the center-left bloc has distanced itself from the Arab parties. The Palestinian-Israeli public has similarly distanced itself from the center-left. This community understands it is being ostracized and has concluded that it has no real partners in the Jewish community. It is voting for an autonomous political structure that doesn’t expect much from the Jewish parties and, therefore, also doesn’t rely on them.

Clearly, it would be easier for Meretz to hook up with Labor. A few nights of exhausting discussions in neutral gear and the deal will be signed and sealed. But Meretz’s DNA has always positioned it two steps away from the consensus, without disconnecting from it. And that’s what it needs to do now – to look far into the future, not be afraid, formulate a vision that many people will initially consider crazy, and begin marching toward it.

On a more general level, what is the left for if not to extend a hand to the weak and the weakened, the ostracized and the alienated – even if they pray to different gods; even if it’s hard; even if it looks at first as if it won’t pay off?

The writer is a former Meretz Knesset member.

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