Who Knows What's Best for Israel?
Prior to the Israeli elections, President Barack Obama was quoted as saying Israelis did not know what was in their best interests. It is not clear if he meant the Israeli government or the Israeli public. If the latter, the Israeli public in its voting pattern has demonstrated that the majority of Israelis do indeed know what is good for Israel.
Consider what happened to the two largest parties in the previous election, Kadima and Likud. Kadima was virtually wiped off the map and Likud suffered a major loss of seats. In other words, a majority of the Israeli public was saying in effect, "A pox on both your houses."
Neither the government nor the opposition has proven itself worthy over the past four years and we want something better.
Although what that something is differed among various sectors of the public, "different" was the operative word in all cases. For the general public, it meant Yesh Atid.
For the national religious, it was Bayit Yehudi. In their outlook concerning the Palestinian conflict, these two could not be further apart, but on one item at least they were in agreement: there must be a change in the way in which the ultra-Orthodox are permitted to avoid serving the country and are subsidized so that they need not join the work force.
Regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, although there was little discussion of it during the elections (except by the Tzipi Livni Party), the stand of Yesh Atid was made very clear: there must be a return to the negotiating table. Labor kept its position on the back burner, to put it generously, but their position was stated: two states for two peoples.
While the Likud veered to the Right and nominated many who are totally opposed to two states or to any territorial compromise, the head of the party, Binyamin Netanyahu, stuck to his stated position - two states.
Furthermore, the religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are both moderate on this question as well. Thus the only party now in the Knesset that officially opposes negotiations for the two state solution and advocates immediate incorporation of territories into the State of Israel is Bayit Yehudi. Even if you subtract Likud Beytenu from the supporters of such negotiations, you still have a vast majority of the elected parties in favor of such a position, at least in theory.
Finding a way to return to the negotiating table is vital for Israel on many counts. There is no other way to stop the erosion of support from even those nations that have been our friends and no way to counter the negative impression that Israel is a conquering power, oppressing innocent people and attempting to steal land, regardless of the facts.
The burden of policing millions of people who do not want to be under our rule erodes Israel's resources and finding a way to out of this dilemma should be the number one priority of the next government. It may or may not be possible, but we cannot afford to simply ignore the problem.
As for Netanyahu, he may boast that he has a mandate from the people, but the clear message of the voters was: "We are unhappy with what you have done or not done. We are supporting you for prime minister only because there was no one else really running for that position. But we want you to be different this time."
Whatever he says publicly, it is quite possible he has understood that message. But if he has not, it is the task of Lapid to remind him of it and not to simply take the ministerial positions and forget what he has pledged: the government must enter into negotiations and the government must act so that all will share the burden of service.
There is a majority in the Knesset for both these matters. It may be a good sign that in accepting the assignment of forming the government Netanyahu made mention of renewing the peace process. The important thing, of course, will not be words but deeds.
Netanyahu is indeed in a strange position. The voters have indicated that they want a change but ironically they have put that change into the hands of the man whose policies they reject. Can Netanyahu fill this position? Will Lapid make certain that he does? The people of Israel know what is best for Israel. The question to be answered is, "Will the new government carry that out?" The future of the State of Israel depends on the answer to that question.