On Sunday evening, two Israeli generals sat on a stage to announce their new partnership. It was like deja vu. Not so long ago, Blue and White boss Benny Gantz had a general partner: Gabi Ashkenazi. He now has a new one: Gadi Eizenkot. Gantz and Ashkenazi had a third partner, a simple civilian, in the person of Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid. Gantz and Eizenkot have a third partner, a simple civilian, in Gideon Saar, the leader of New Hope.
The rest is pretty much the same. Polls haven’t shown much movement. Voters did not show much enthusiasm. Another day, another merger, another attempt to break the deadlock. If it is interesting, it is because of what is missing from the debate and from the considerations of politicians: the Palestinian question.
Consider the new party. It has a name that doesn’t translate to anything complete in English. Camp Mamlachti. It doesn’t make much sense in Hebrew either. More a sense of consistency than a term with specific meaning. It does not matter; the new merged conglomeration of two parties and new entrants is that of a split personality when it comes to the Palestinian issue. Eizenkot repeatedly warns of a possible slide into a “one-state” reality. His stance is Newspeak for “I support an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank” in a way. The Saar is a convinced hawk, who opposes the “two-state solution”. When his now merged party was formed, one of its stated goals was to “realize the natural and historical rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel”, that is, including Judea and Samaria.
Ask: how can Eizenkot and Saar be in the same party? The answer is as simple as it is revealing. They can join forces because the Palestinian issue is a non-issue. It’s not on the agenda. It’s not on the table. So much so that two leaders with incompatible views can share a party and a platform while disagreeing on what was once the key issue for all major parties.
Not so long ago, we tested in a poll which issues Israelis consider most important for the country. The majority ranked “political challenges” first, followed by “cost of living.” Some Israelis see the “peace process” as their top priority, but very few of them. Thus, this challenge was placed low on the first priority rankings, and even lower on a combined ranking of all preferences. Indeed, because for most Israelis the “peace process” is not simply “not the top priority”, it is pushed all the way down to last or second to last (the list included nine possible challenges to rank).
The leader of another invented party, the newly formed Zionist Spirit, focused on Eizenkot’s agenda: This party, Minister Ayelet Shaked said, supports the two-state solution and therefore could not be the political home of the true rights. . Shaked is fighting for his political career at the head of the party which does not seem to have enough votes to cross the electoral threshold. She will try to present the Gantz-Eizenkot party as “leftist”. Alas, Saar stands in his way, and with him some other right-wing allies, like Minister Zeev Elkin. So the truth is that Camp Mamlachti is neither left nor right on the Palestinian issue, it’s inconsistent. These are two conflicting minds. And that’s the point: being split on an issue is only possible when the issue isn’t important. No voter is confused if one party leader prefers the color green and the other leader prefers the color purple. Similarly, voters do not seem to mind if one leader opposes settlements and another supports them. You say potato, I say potato. No matter.
The Palestinians are going nowhere, and the challenge of dealing with them is one of the most complicated and fateful for Israel’s future.
It is both revealing and dangerous. On the one hand, it demonstrates how marginalized the Palestinian issue is as a corner issue for Israelis. They may disagree on long-term goals, but agree that the short-term prospect of a meaningful breakthrough is non-existent, and therefore see no reason to debate the issue or focus on it. On the other hand, it is a head in sand position. The Palestinians are going nowhere, and the challenge of dealing with them is one of the most complicated and fateful for Israel’s future. Some might dare to suggest: This is even more indicative of whether Netanyahu is staying or going. But clearly, that is not the current position of most Israeli voters.
Something I wrote in Hebrew
Following Operation Breaking Dawn in Gaza last week, I wrote this: Israel has done work that serves the interests of Hamas. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s worth mentioning. It should be mentioned that the interest of Israel and that of Hamas in the context of Islamic Jihad are quite similar. Hamas wants to control Gaza, and Israel wants Hamas to control Gaza. On the one hand, if he wants Hamas to rule, why would he do the job for them? Israel could have told Hamas to calm Islamic Jihad or bear the consequences. On the other hand, maybe if Israel does some work for Hamas, it will become easier for its leaders to also make demands and see a positive response.
One week numbers
What are Israelis voting on? See the column above, as well as these new figures from an IDI survey.
Response from a reader:
Shira Golhorn wrote: “When I read in your column how the Israelis no longer care about the lives of the Palestinians, it drives me to despair. Dear Shira, this is an ongoing violent conflict, and there is our side and the side of the enemy. Of course, on the enemy side, there are many good people, innocent people. This is the tragedy of war: it is not easy to keep thinking about the welfare of your enemy.
Shmuel Rosner is a political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.