We stand at a crossroad. The government we are about to elect will be confronted with awesome military, political, economic and social challenges and will assume responsibility for laying the foundations for the long term future of the nation.
I have never been a member of or canvassed for a political party. Yet today I am convinced that Likud represents the best available choice to effectively lead the nation during the difficult period facing us. I therefore unashamedly hope that Likud will obtain sufficient seats to enable Binyamin Netanyahu to preside over a strong, united and disciplined government.
The incumbent government parties, Kadima and Labor, are committed to extending the same failed approach that led us into the mire in which we now find ourselves. Both Barak and Livni are assiduously avoiding any discussion about specific policies and concentrating on demonizing their opponents. Neither is willing to clarify their position on ceding territory to the Palestinians or dividing Jerusalem. All we hear are endless meaningless mantras endorsing two independent states living peacefully side by side with one another.
Ehud Barak is intelligent but has an unstable track record and has earned a reputation for uttering empty threats. He was a disastrous prime minister and his penchant for making contradictory statements continues to this day. This was evident during the war when after the second day he broke ranks and prematurely called for a truce.
Tzipi Livni’s floundering performance during the war conveyed the image of a person totally out of her depth. Prior to then she had been chanting meaningless clichés about peace. But to this day she refuses to outline any framework, either because she has none or fears it will cost her votes. In the course of her “secret” negotiations with the PA she allegedly virtually ceded everything beyond the Green Line. Now she is reversing her position and trying to assume the pose of a hawk.
Lieberman’s populist Yisrael Beiteinu has dramatically succeeded in attracting new voters. Although the core of its backing stems from Russian immigrant communities and those endorsing hard-line defense policies and demands to rein in radical Israeli Arabs, it has also gained support from Israelis seeking an alternative to the established parties. That was the prime source of support for ‘third’ parties like Derech HaShlishit, Shinui, the Pensioners and more recently Kadima, which all surged overnight and subsequently crashed. Today Yisrael Beiteinu is attracting “cool” Israelis who don’t want to vote for Netanyahu, Livni or Barak. Given Lieberman’s volatility and unpredictability, a large Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset contingent could complicate Likud’s ambition to assume political dominance.
What about Likud? I am not endeared with all members of their parliamentary contingent. But in addition to the return of attractive veterans like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor, overall Likud is indisputably fielding the most talented team.
What about Binyamin Netanyahu? He too is regarded as having failed during his term as Prime Minister. Without disputing that, I believe that history will nevertheless judge him far more kindly than his successors. During his term of office, terrorism was dramatically reduced and his call for ‘no concessions without reciprocity’ is certainly applicable in these times.
Of course there are no guarantees. But reviewing Netanyahu’s performance as leader of the opposition over the past two years and speaking with him at length, I believe that he has matured. He relates frankly to previous weaknesses and failures and insists that he has learnt from his former mistakes.
More importantly, in contrast to his opponents, Netanyahu does articulate policy guidelines. He undertakes to maintain negotiations with the PA but is adamant that no further territorial concessions will be considered without genuine reciprocity. He pledges to oppose the physical division of Jerusalem. He announced that he would not create new settlements but undertook to act on the premise that the settlement blocs adjacent to Israel are here to stay and must be expanded to cater for natural growth.
Netanyahu displayed commendable restraint and declined to criticize government policy during the Gaza campaign. But he made it clear that unless it comes to terms with our existence, Hamas must be destroyed. He undertook to ensure that deterrence would be effectively applied and is adamant that a Likud government would under no circumstances remain impotent if Israelis continue being targeted by missiles.
Netanyahu’s opponents allege that in contrast to Livni or Barak who would be compatible with President Obama, the election of Netanyahu would create a disastrous confrontation with the United States. This is nonsense. Netanyahu and Obama have already had harmonious meetings. But it is crucial today for Israel to have a leader who not only understands the American scene but has the capacity to know when to concede as well as when to be strong enough to say no. The capitulation by former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to the demands by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cede control of the Philadelphi corridor during the Sharon era was a prime example of a disaster arising from failure to resist unreasonable American demands.
Beyond security and defense, Netanyahu lays great emphasis on two other important policy areas. Whilst only broadly outlining the financial policies he proposes to implement to minimize the local impact of the global economic meltdown, in the light of his outstanding achievement as Finance Minister, his qualifications in this area are not in question.
The other issue is Netanyahu’s passionate commitment to reforming the education system and dealing with the disastrous erosion of Zionist and Jewish values in the state educational streams. Being one of the most urbane politicians in Israel, Netanyahu genuinely understands the critical need to raise overall educational standards and harness them to enhance Jewish and Zionist identity.
I would also hope that if Likud obtains sufficient seats, Netanyahu might even bite the bullet and introduce overdue reforms such as a desperately needed transformation of the electoral system and constructive solutions to the spiraling haredi draft exemptions and inducing their burgeoning community to enter the labour market rather than being a burden to the taxpayer.
I may be somewhat naïve but I would like to believe that like other great politicians who failed in their early efforts at leadership, an older more mature Netanyahu will rise to the occasion and reunite the nation, introduce long overdue social and economic reforms and take steps in concert with other nations to deal with the existential threat from a nuclear Iran. However to achieve this, Likud must obtain sufficient seats in order to minimize the leverage of one dimensional sectoral parties primarily concerned with promoting their own benefits rather than the national interest. This will be determined by the votes we are about to cast.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post