Experience versus Experiment

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, January 30, 2015.

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Israelis want the vigilance of Binyamin Netanyahu and Bogie Yaalon, not the unpredictability and inexperience of Tzipi Livni, Stav Shafir, Bougie Herzog and Amir Peretz, in government. Labor’s risky, unilateral withdrawal plan would lead to a dangerous security vacuum filled by radical Islamic actors.


Israelis will likely again elect a conservative government in 46 days because they think it prudent to do so, not because they are “turning inwards” or backwards or developing anti-democratic tendencies.

They will wisely prefer conservative and experienced, although flawed, leaders, over faddish and inexperienced politicians with newfangled and risky ideas. Therefore, they will likely re-elect Binyamin Netanyahu – the only contender for prime minister who isn’t going to play Russian roulette in diplomatic, security and economic affairs.

You see, Israelis still pine for peace, but given the situation in Sinai and Syria, the Golan, Gaza and Ramallah, and the looming confrontation with Iran – sadly, they expect conflict.

They need the vigilance of Binyamin Netanyahu and Bogie Yaalon, not the unpredictability and inexperience of Tzipi Livni, Stav Shafir, Bougie Herzog and Amir Peretz, in government in Jerusalem.

ISRAEL HAS SUFFERED enough from the dicey diplomatic and military escapades of the past 20 years, from the Labor Party-led Oslo scheme, to Ariel Sharon’s unilateral Gaza withdrawal, to the Second Lebanon War led by Ehud Olmert, Livni, and Peretz.

All were experiments that failed miserably.

Much the same can be said about the peace talks led so enthusiastically by Livni with the Palestinians over the past two years. She was so certain that “her presence in the room” would lead to breakthroughs. She was so certain of the good intentions of her “friend and partner” Mahmoud Abbas. Yet Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the world has only increased since the so-very-predictable failure of those talks.

It was Livni’s conceit, laden atop her willingness to experiment with West Bank withdrawals in favor of the hostile Abbas, which brought Israel crashing down diplomatically once again.

Now the Labor Party is back, with Livni among its leadership in the smugly monikered “Zionist Camp,” implicitly pushing another experiment: Unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank.

That is the upshot of Major General (res.) Amos Yadlin’s “Plan B” – the alternative he is proposing to a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.

Yadlin correctly understands that peace with Abbas is basically impossible, so he says that Israel will have to take “independent action” to “stabilize” its own borders; to “advance towards a more legitimate and secure, Jewish and democratic state, with defined borders.”

This all sounds very smart, sweet and “Zionist,” except that it isn’t. The plan, now backed by Herzog and Livni who have made Yadlin a central part of their campaign, essentially is about the destruction of many settlements alongside military withdrawals.

It would be a risible and risky experiment that will lead to a dangerous security vacuum in the territories filled by radical Islamic actors, and it won’t buy Israel any legitimacy for its self-declared and re-jiggered borders. As the Lebanon and Gaza precedents proved, unilateral Israeli withdrawal will only guarantee continuation of the conflict and even its escalation, not its de-escalation.

It would be yet another wild experiment with Israel’s future, and Israelis aren’t going there.

The same goes for the economic sphere. Likud Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz guided the Israeli economy wisely from 2009 to 2013 through global financial meltdown and recession, keeping Israel stable and solvent. But instead of appreciating the solid economic foundations and consistent GNP growth that he maintained, Israelis leaped wildly for the experimental voodoo promised by political rookie Yair Lapid. And we’re left with little economic progress from this sad experiment.

Now we’re supposed to jump with joy for the hallucinatory lower cost-of-living policies promised by Moshe Kachlon’s spanking-new Koolanu Party. His ideas are completely untried. His economic projections are unsubstantiated. His team is totally green. Israelis are supposed to back such a dubious experiment?

Caution, not hollow and unsubstantiated hope, or risky experimentation, is the prevailing watchword for the upcoming election.

This reality is driven deeper home every day, as Hezbollah challenges Israel in the north, and Iran moves close to cutting a soft deal with President Obama’s administration in Washington; an accord that apparently will leave Iran a screwdriver’s turn away from a nuclear bomb, and undoubtedly embolden Tehran in its trouble-making on our borders.

Israeli voters know that the price of failed experiments – such as the Oslo and Gaza gambits – is usually much costlier than price of tried and true policies. And in the current situation, they know that even if the known leadership is flawed and the existing policies are flat, you don’t want to monkey around and kill the patient by recourse to diplomatic daydreamers or financial fantasizers.

IN MY READING of Israeli politics, what will emerge from the coming election is a go-slow Netanyahu government with parties of both the Zionist right and left; another complicated coalition government, with built-in checks and balances. That is because Israelis are not making a grand choice between good and evil, between peace and war, between liberalism and fascism. They are simply choosing responsible government.

It is important to reiterate this, because in the global punditocracy there is an inaccurate narrative taking root, to wit Netanyahu’s reelection would mean an Israel overrun by right-wing and religious fanatics; an Israel that chooses isolationism over opportunities for peace.

This is a completely mistaken reading of Israeli society and politics.

Israelis are not becoming callously defiant of the world or of the Palestinians, nor wildly “annexationist.” They just don’t see themselves as standing at a historic juncture. They don’t believe that Middle East circumstances are ripe for peace. Given Oslo’s sorry 20-year record, they are indeed wary of Palestinian statehood.

They know that withdrawal from the West Bank at present would be suicide, given the Islamic blitzkrieg across the Mideast, along with Abbas’ weakness and Hamas’ ascendency in the Palestinian arena. They don’t buy the well-worn argument, advanced obstinately by the Left and the international community, that the peace process is stuck because of settlements or lack of Israeli diplomatic flexibility.

They simply feel that caution militates against dramatic diplomatic moves at this time. They are waiting-out the Arab regional upheavals, taking no irresponsible risks, and likely to vote for steady hands at the helm of state.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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