Waxing eloquent over the need for Jewish unity is like supporting motherhood. Who can object to unity?
A unity government would seem timely, given that most Israelis now share a consensus about the nature of our confrontation with the Palestinians.
Most Israelis concur that since the Oslo Accords, our Palestinian neighbors have been transformed from adversaries seeking independence into evil killers. Their fanatical determination to end Jewish sovereignty takes priority over everything, including the lives of their own children, whom they willingly sacrifice.
It is therefore no surprise that in the absence of a partner for peace, the vast majority of Israelis support a policy based on separation.
Israelis have also recognized that Jewish settlements in isolated Arab areas are incapable of being secured without a massive military presence. Most now feel that they will have to be dismantled even if this means ethnic cleansing in reverse, by displacing the very Jews who had previously been hailed by all governments for developing these barren areas of Eretz Yisrael.
The majority justify this course on the grounds that there are times when a democratic country is obliged to impose painful, even harsh, sacrifices on citizens for the perceived common good.
The areas of contention lie in timing, extent of withdrawal, security implications, and level of reciprocity.
In this scenario a unity government encompassing the political spectrum’s mainstream would be considered in the national interest.
However, in addition to requiring a common platform on immediate objectives, a unity government presupposes cohesiveness and inner discipline. Its members must undertake to abide by majority decisions and deny themselves the right to publicly dissent from adopted policies.
The unity governments that led the nation to victory in 1967 and to economic recovery in 1984 adhered to these principles.
In contrast, the most recent unity government (2001-2002) was a disaster, becoming a showcase of paralysis and chaos. Ministers publicly condemned government policies to score points with their shabby political constituencies. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and minister of defense Ben Eliezer regularly contradicted one another on critical defense issues.
While Sharon was trying to persuade the world to isolate Yasser Arafat as a duplicitous murderer, foreign minister Shimon Peres was arguing that Arafat had to be treated with respect and recognized as Israel’s partner for peace.
Today the protagonists would be even more at each others’ throats. The Labor Party, already a far cry from the Labor-Zionist ideology of David Ben-Gurion, has radicalized itself from the mainstream.
In a unity government with Labor one could visualize former Knesset speaker Avram Burg repeating his anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist diatribes from a government platform; or MKs paying homage to Arafat at the Mukata; and foreign minister Peres repeating his recent calls for a return to 1967 armistice lines.
LIKUD DOES not need a unity government. Even before Sharon unexpectedly launched his disengagement plan, Likud had effectively moved to the political center, with Shinui assuming the center left role of Labor.
Over the past two years the public has become acclimated to a government speaking with one voice. They have forgotten the chaos that prevailed during the era of the previous unity government, the continuous repertoire of unseemly public squabbles in the wake of every difficult political and military decision.
Using a band-aid to create an artificial alliance between conflicting political visions – a radicalized Labor and a centrist Likud – would backfire. It may enable our prime minister to neutralize the verdict of the Likud referendum, but in the long term, barring the improbable eventuality of Labor ministers genuinely undertaking to turn a new leaf in terms of cabinet responsibility, it would be doomed to failure.
“Unity” would become an administration of disunity, undermining morale at home, confusing our friends abroad, and providing ammunition to our enemies. An ersatz unity government would also bring about a return to power of those who inflicted the Oslo disaster upon us and ultimately ensure a withdrawal to the 1967 “Auschwitz borders.”
By the same token, if the national camp continues to insist that the verdict of the referendum remains the last word and refuses to take account of the mood of the electorate, they will simply be thrown out.
What is now desperately needed is for the leaders of the national camp, including the moderate Yesha elements, to plan a strategy which will also take account of the wishes of the majority.
To retain leadership and unite the nation, they must determine the red lines and devise a policy that will move toward separation in conjunction with the annexation of the major settlement blocs.
It is time for the moderates and realists in the national camp to stand up against the radicals, who still labor under the illusion that all the territories can be retained. A small minority of fanatics cannot have the right to determine the agenda, or ultimately they will bring about the defeat and marginalization of the entire national camp.
There is indeed truth in the aphorism that those who insist on not giving up anything are in danger of losing everything.