Well, it looks like Bibi passed the Knesset’s summer session in flying colors. Moments before the final curtain, in the grand finale he managed to run a tight ship and pass two bills into law that were dear to him: the Israel Lands Authority Reform, and the Mofaz Law.
Both pieces of legislation are bad news. The first bill proposes reform that will basically hand over lands owned by the Israeli government into private hands, where (let’s face it) citizen’s rights and environmental issues never really take pride of place.
The second bill is a pathetic attempt by Bibi to ease the process for a possible break-up of Kadima in the not-so-distant future. The Mofaz Law will reduce the number of MKs required to split from a faction from one-third to seven in the case of parties totaling over 21 members. I won’t go into explaining why this law is ridiculous, but here’s a good piece to understand why.
But instead of being the usual Bibi-basher that I have become (or always was?), let’s just sit and think for a second: Could this actually be a good thing?
Let me explain:
A few years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who couldn’t get anything done in his Likud party, decided to break away and form Kadima. This was known as the Big Bang of Israeli politics. Kadima joined top figures from the Likud and Labor (most notably Shimon Peres) to form a centrist party that would finally let the Bulldozer do his stuff, unhindered. Unfortunately just a few months later, the seemingly industructable Sharon slipped into a coma and we got three-and-a-half years of Olmert instead.
But just like the Big Bang of our universe (which apparently is still expanding), our own little bang is not over either. The process has yet to be completed. Kadima never became the big party it hoped to be (mainly thanks to Olmert), and the Likud and Labor also lost their strength. In effect, the Israeli political system has entered a stalemate it has never seen before, with the electorate spread out over so many parties, and many voters feeling they can ideologically vote for almost any party seeing as how the differences between them are so small.
Probably the most interesting development lately in the Big Bang in Israel is Bibi’s speech in Bar Ilan University, where he accepted the foundation of a Palestinian state (with his own conditions, of course. But still…) Bibi’s acceptance of the two-state solution has dealt a death blow to Kadima and to all the parties left of it. In a way, it was a death blow to the right as well. Because if all major parties, both left and right, agree to the two state solution, then what’s left to differentiate between them? It seems like the only difference between them is not about ending the occupation anymore, but in how many years. 5, 10, 15?
Certainly the estimated arrival time at the final goal isn’t enough of a criteria to differentiate between three major parties. On all the other issues, well… there’s just not much of a difference. This week, by voting with Bibi on the land reform, Labor has shown it basically has no unique ideology left in its bones. And Kadima? You tell me, does anyone really know what Kadima’s agenda is?
My point is, that this political map is too small for all three. Either Kadima or Labor will have to disappear. Someone will have to raise the guantlet and show true opposition to the Likud, a real left wing would have to arise in the Knesset, one which hasn’t existed for years now.
Which brings me to my point: What if the Mofaz Law actually does just that? If eventually, Mofaz and six others left Kadima, it would slowly disappear into oblivion. Maybe that would be a good thing. Or what if there was a split in Labor, which seems particularly likely after the approval this week of the land reform law which angered many of its members? Maybe this could finally kill off Labor?
Whichever one it is, it doesn’t matter. One of them has to go. And the one that stays has to show a clear agenda that is different from the Likud’s. But this time, the point where the two big parties that are left diverge won’t be the security-dipolmatic issue. That line is now so blurred it no longer exists. No, this time it has to be about social issues, about the environment, about the economy (stupid!). And this time, it has to be about leadership.
I used to like Amram Mitzna, the former Haifa mayor, who ran against Ariel Sharon and lost when he led Labor into the elections. Sure, he had some drawbacks (show me a poitician who doesn’t), but he just seemed like an honest guy, who really wanted to do some good. He was ahead of his time. For the past three years, Mitzna has been living in Yeruham, as a sort of temporary mayor, to get things fixed up in a municipality that needed help. Now that’s what I call Zionism. Leaving your wife for 4 days a week to go run a small town in the desert. He was recently interviewed by Haaretz (a good read) and said something interesting about the future of Israeli politics:
Haaretz: What will it take to make you say, “Friends, I am coming back”?Mitzna: “I imagine that the day will come, in another year-and-a-half or more, when Israeli society will long to see honest, credible people heading it, people with proven executive capability. My estimate is that in the next elections there will be enough votes to get between 30 and 40 seats that will support a leadership direction like that, without decisive importance being attached to the diplomatic-security sphere.“After Netanyahu’s ‘two states’ the question is no longer whether you are left or right. Until the Oslo Accords the policy debate was over what the solution consisted of but, in the years after Oslo, the real debate is how to get there. Nowadays everyone understands that the Geneva Initiative is the solution, that we will leave the Golan Heights, depart from most of Judea and Samaria and that Jerusalem will be divided. The question is how to get there.”
I hope Mitzna is right. Because if he is, it could mean the end of this Big Bang already. And it could be the beginning to ending the occupation, and to becoming a much more normal, healthy country.
And if he thinks he can lead the way, hey, I just might give him a second chance.