By Shmuel Rosner
Feb. 27, 2019
His slogan contends that “there is no more left or right.” The list of candidates he’s running with includes a hawkish former Likud defence minister and a hawkish former Likud government secretary. In his first speech as a candidate, he vowed to keep the Jordan Valley “our eastern security border” and to “maintain security in the entire land of Israel,” by which he means the West Bank. A campaign video credits him with sending parts of Gaza “back to the Stone Age.”
Despite all this, Gen. Benny Gantz, a former Israeli Army chief of staff and a newly minted politician, is the candidate of Israel’s left of centre for the April 9 general election. He is the candidate of what used to be called the “peace camp.”
And it turns out that his party has a good chance of winning. Last week, Mr. Gantz and Yair Lapid, who for the last seven years led the Yesh Atid party, announced that they are joining forces in a new party of parties they call Kahol Lavan, or Blue and White, the colours of Israel’s flag. Mr. Gantz and Mr. Lapid will, if they win, take turns serving as prime minister, beginning with two and a half years of Mr. Gantz. Polls predict a close race, with Kahol Lavan surging in recent days.
But the real lesson here isn’t just that tactical alliances are the best way to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 10 consecutive years in office. What this election is showing is that no party with even half a chance of winning power in Israel still supports the commonly understood version of a two-state solution. Paying lip service and using the term “two-state solution”? Maybe. But supporting two states — in the full meaning of the term state? Not so much.
That’s not to say no one still believes in a fully independent Palestinian state. Dovish members of the shrinking Labour Party and the left-wing Meretz Party still believe in the evacuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and seem to be in favour of a Palestinian state with more control of its own borders. The Arab parties, too, want a fully independent Palestine. But Labour and Meretz are unlikely to win more than a few seats in the Knesset, and no Israeli party with the realistic ambition to be the ruling party is likely to cooperate with the Arab parties.
Kahol Lavan has not yet announced a platform, but here is what we can guess about its positions: It will demand that Jerusalem stay united under Israel’s jurisdiction; it would keep the main settlement blocs in place; it will oppose a unilateral evacuation of settlements; it will want Israel’s eastern border, in the Jordan Valley, to remain under Israel’s control. And most important, it will likely demand that the Israeli Army has the right to operate in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
When the Palestinians envision their future, they envision a real state. When Israel’s centre-left envisions the future, it envisions an entity in which the Palestinians have autonomy and one in which they can exercise their national self-determination, with the following caveat: Israel retains the right to operate militarily in this area and Israel controls all of its borders.
In fact, what Mr. Gantz and the centre-left now offer the Palestinians is very similar to what they might get from Mr. Netanyahu who once called it a “state minus.” Even Naftali Bennett, the leader of the even more right-wing party, New Right once agreed to “autonomy plus,” a formulation that is different more in tone than in substance.
Of course, there still might be a real difference between the center-left and the right. Maybe Mr. Gantz seriously means what he says, while Mr. Netanyahu is just playing for time. Or maybe Mr. Gantz will change his tune once he is elected and decide to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank, or accept a different deal from the one he is now supporting, as has happened with previous prime ministers.
Either way, though, the party’s stated positions tell us plenty about Israel’s state of mind.
Israel’s trust-the-Palestinians camp lost the argument after the 2000 Camp David summit failed and was followed by a bloody Palestinian uprising, the second Intifada. Israel’s unilateral-withdrawal camp lost the argument following the 2005 “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, which resulted in nearly constant conflict on the Israel-Gaza border. Even many Israelis who believe that the Palestinians deserve a state find it difficult to believe that Palestinian leaders and institutions can be trusted with one.
Israel’s current election cycle is quite revealing in this sense. The main parties, Likud and Kahol Lavan, both speak about security much more than about peace. Both are attacked from the right because of the likelihood that they will accept the “deal of the century” — President Trump’s peace plan, which is slated to be revealed immediately after the election. Both are attacked from the left for offering essentially the same platform — Mr. Netanyahu’s — when it comes to peace with the Palestinians.
So, this is it. The two-state solution is acceptable to most Israelis, including centre-right, centre and centre-left Israeli voters, only if the Palestinians do not really get what they consider a state. This probably means that it cannot be a solution. Not for a very long time.