Israeli elections: The peace process cannot...

Israeli elections: The peace process cannot be ignored

By Yossi Beilin, i24

The question of politics will decide the future of Israel. It will not be the technical question of how to lower housing prices or even whether a more correct way to lower the price of food is price controls or providing more generous import permits, which would thereby increase competition. Regarding the prospects of making peace with our neighbors and how to do it, as well as the question of how to prevent next war: these are critical issues and we cannot choose to avoid them simply out of fear that some will not like the answers. The Israeli voter does not need to know every party's position on the issue of cloning, despite its importance. But he must know a particular party's attitude to the peace efforts.
Finance Minister and centrist Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid founded the second largest party in the outgoing Knesset without hinting about his policies. His election campaign began in the settlement of Ariel in Samaria, where he received quite a number of votes from the right for his party. Shelly Yachimovich, who was then the head of the Labor Party, was careful not to touch on political issues and also sought votes from the right. When asked what she thought of the settlements, she responded that it was the state's responsibility to ensure housing for its younger generation and that it did not matter if people lived on either side of the Green Line (I am not quoting her, but this was the essence of what she said). These things will not repeat themselves in the next election: Lapid is associated with demands for progress in the peace process and a lack of enthusiasm for the settlements, and the current leader of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, is not afraid of dealing with political issues and is identified with the peace camp, going so far as to even lead it. But this time around, we face two new questions.
Former Minister of Communications Moshe Kahlon, who had had enough from the Likud party and was not a member of the 19th Knesset, is setting up a new party and polls predict he will be as successful as Lapid was two years ago. Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu party head Avigdor Liberman is making efforts to position his party to the left of Likud and create the sense that he will not rule out joining a group of center-left parties seeking to prevent Netanyahu from a fourth term as prime minister. Kahlon, formerly considered a very right-wing MK and even one of the more radical elements within the Likud party, has kept his mouth shut since he returned to the political arena and is wary of dealing with political issues, while Liberman has greatly dimmed his political vision and transmitted a kind of pragmatism that covers the need to present clear policy positions.
The Israeli media have a very important role to play here. As an intermediary between the public and politicians it must demand both of Liberman and especially of Kahlon to explain what their policy intentions are. Will they initiate renewed negotiations with the PLO, will they impose conditions for such negotiations, and what is their plan for peace? There is no doubt that both of them will try to to evade the issue as much as possible and if they get away with it it is important that the public know because it risks lending support to a pig in a poke.
The simplest question that should be asked in the coming months is regarding party leaders' attitudes about the possibility of holding negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the Arab initiative and a settlement freeze during the negotiations. If they are not willing to freeze the settlements, even for a period of a few months, and if they do not consider the Arab initiative as a basis for negotiations, any other answer would be evasive and in contempt of the intelligence of the voters. If, on the other hand, the politicians are prepared to answer these questions without drawing up specific maps, it would send a very important message.
The next Israeli elections are not elections on the standard of living but on the future of Israel. This is not a question of the continued functioning of Netanyahu or his government, but on whether Israel will continue on its path to the nationalist right or if it understands that in order to secure its future as a Jewish and democratic state it must reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, followed by one with the Arab world.
Yossi Beilin is president of the business consulting firm Beilink. In the past he served as a minister in three Israeli governments and as a Member of Knesset for Labor and Meretz. He was one of the pioneers of the Oslo Accords, the Geneva Initiative and Birthright.