Gadi Eisenkot’s decision to join the electoral alliance formed by Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar is another resounding expression of Israel’s strategic impotence. Precisely because he is a wise, moral man of many merits, his entry into Israeli politics is depressing. Since he retired from the army in 2019, Eisenkot has eloquently analyzed Israel’s strategic challenges. He put the Palestinian issue front and center, saying, “You don’t have to be a genius to understand the significance of millions of Palestinians mixed in with us. ... We have to change the situation, because it leads to a single state, which would be the destruction of the Zionist dream.”
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Yet now Eisenkot has decided to join a party whose very existence is conditioned on not changing the situation of which the former chief of staff is so afraid. His partners in the party include politicians who completely reject his view of the Palestinian issue. Sa’ar, Matan Kahana and Zeev Elkin don’t hide the fact that they wouldn’t support any diplomatic initiative derived from Eisenkot’s analyses. They also aren’t moved by his warnings that Israel is gradually sliding into the situation of a binational state.
The formula that enables people with opposing views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to gather under a single political tent is not to make decisions and to sanctify the status quo. But not deciding is also a decision, and its ramifications are grave. The same goes for the status quo, which is nothing but a false mantra that plays into the hands of advocates of annexation.
In the absence of any progress toward a diplomatic agreement, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is gradually becoming a territory that cannot be divided. Israel is slipping into the very nightmare about which Eisenkot warned – a binational state that jeopardizes the state's Jewish character.
A recent survey carried out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy provided a reminder of this. The survey noted a “moderate trend” in the positions of East Jerusalem Palestinians. Fully 63 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “It would be better for us if we were part of Israel, rather than in Palestinian Authority or Hamas ruled lands.” There are also initial signs that Arab residents of East Jerusalem are organizing to participate in the next municipal election in October 2023.
Disregard for this powder keg on our doorstep has been growing due to the weakness, corruption and division of the Palestinians. But Eisenkot warned that the current relative quiet is temporary. “The question isn’t whether there will be another eruption, but when,” Eisenkot said. “It’s completely clear that it will happen. There’s no chance it won’t happen. At a time and place least convenient to us.”
But the logic of the National Unity Party that Eisenkot has just joined prevents the taking a significant initiative toward negotiations. The leadership that will emerge after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas leaves the scene will not be offered a horizon for peace that could pose an alternative to the violent escalation which Eisenkot predicts.
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Eisenkot warned of the possibility that “we’ll arrive at a one-state solution without having wanted it, and that would be a disaster.” He also warned that in the absence of policy we can expect “to be swept along by events, without taking steps that are vital to our security and our future.”
And nevertheless, he joined a party that is committed to diplomatic paralysis. He has sentenced himself to ongoing frustration, because a person like him won’t fall for the charms of the status quo, humanitarian gestures and promises of economic rehabilitation. His entry into politics is depressing because the most promising person of all, who had hitherto remained on the sidelines, did not join a political party in which he could have proudly hoisted the banner of negotiations with the Palestinians, in which he believes, and gained converts for it.
In Israel’s current situation, where most of the public has been pulled rightward, it’s not surprising that such an alternative appears naive. The work of persuading people and winning hearts and minds would require emotional strength and dedication over the course of many years, and it’s not fair to complain to someone who is deterred by this prospect.
Nevertheless, Eisenkot’s decision is a depressing one, because it reflects acceptance of a situation in which Israel is letting others shape its future. Jerusalem’s Arab residents will decide on the character of Israel’s capital; the Palestinians will decide whether to demand equal rights in a single state; and the superpowers, in the aftermath of the almost inevitable bloodshed, will dictate a permanent-status arrangement. And we, instead of leading the way to a goal that would guarantee Israel’s security and its Jewish character, will wait and see what happens, paralyzed and lacking any plans of our own.
Avi Gil is a former director general of the Foreign Ministry. He is currently a senior fellow at the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute.