I tend to push back against apocalyptic predictions. Maybe because few of them ever come true. So I think Israel will probably survive even if – as seems more likely than not – Bibi Netanyahu wins on March 17 and forms an ultra-right government to succeed the far-right government he broke up, after the hard-right government that preceded it (I think we’re running out of adjectives, but that’s a minor problem).
But I just read an article that made me at least briefly question that comfortable assumption. It was from Ha’aretz, of course, but not by Gideon Levy or Amira Hass. Rather, it was a long interview with that unaffected, undetected, well-connected warrior, former Prime and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The less-interesting part was that Barak sees himself as a possible Charles de Gaulle, whom the nation will summon from retirement to save it at a desperate moment. That actually fits his image; Barak has never suffered from low self-esteem. No, it is his description of his apparently habitual 6am chats with Bibi and Avigdor Lieberman during the 2009-13 government when Bibi was PM, Barak was Defense Minister, and Lieberman was, then as now, Foreign Minister.
Back then, Lieberman played the somewhat buffoonish loose cannon who went around the world irritating friends and potential friends, before he started sounding like a born-again center-right moderate. But it was Bibi and Barak who called the shots in that government and the shot they really wanted to call was an attack on Iran, which they both asserted (and Bibi still does) was the ultimate existential threat for Israel.
Barak, as a logical man, recognized that if Iran was clearly the most important issue, then even the Palestinian issue must be less important. He (says he) passionately pointed out that if they Israel really wanted to bomb Iran, then they had to cut a deal with the Palestinians, which he seemed to find quite doable (as did and do I). The world will only cut us some slack on Iran, he was saying, if we are willing to compromise with the Palestinians.
Bibi didn’t get it. Or, according to Barak, maybe he did get it, but couldn’t swallow it. He could not recognize that the world would not forget about the Palestinians, that in this day and age an occupation can’t go on forever, that Israel will eventually be regarded as South Africa. This is what Barak – no bleeding heart dove he – says he sees now, and maybe he even told Bibi some of it then. But Bibi – as most of the world sees now – couldn’t move on the Palestinians. So – and this is the silver lining of his passivity – Israel never got a pass to attack Iran. And now, it probably never will and – horror of horrors – it seems pretty likely that Iran and the West will reach an accommodation.
Remember, this is according to Ehud Barak, who likes to think of himself as the toughest Israeli of all, the (allegedly) most decorated soldier in Israeli history. It is not Uri Avneri or Avraham Burg or some other peacenik. This is what he says: “The default goes like this: We will do nothing and we will wrap ourselves in our self-justification and we will find ourselves on the slippery slope of one state.”
I guess it’s at that point when the People of Israel call on Barak to save them.
Several things ring true to me in this long interview (not the previous sentence, though). Bibi can understand the danger of not settling with the Palestinians but he can’t bring himself to do it. Maybe it is the lessons he imbibed from his late father, who saw both history and the future as an endless and unstoppable series of persecutions of the Jews. No compromise is possible. Or maybe it’s just a character flaw; unable to close a deal. Just keeping options open. Or maybe it’s the ghosts of Revisionists past who warn him never to surrender any part of the Land of Israel.
The other part that rings true to me is Barak’s prophecy of the slippery slope. Despite what the professional anti-anti-semites say, Israel built up a lot of credit among a lot of people. Remember when Israel was David, not Goliath? And Israel is truly amazing in many ways – at least I think so. It has not been treated like South Africa or North Korea or Putin’s Russia, because it is fundamentally different from them.
But that may change. An ultra-right government, in which Bibi accepts the ideology of Naftali Bennett and Danny Danon, in which his contempt for the rest of the world grows clearer, in which it perhaps is revealed even to John Kerry that Bibi will never sign a peace that any Palestinian could live with, may actually lead Israel into pariah status. Maybe it could happen there.
So I’m thinking that this election is well along on the importance scale. Herzog and Livni are not passionate battlers for peace. But they, I believe, do recognize the real dangers of another rightwing government. And with Meretz – and perhaps even the ‘Arab’ parties and others, perhaps they can avert, as the liturgy has it, the evil decree.
So despite all our cynicism, I think it’s essential that we do what we can to support the anti-Bibi forces. I’ll support Meretz; you take your pick. But the election could well be existential. Go ask Ehud; I think he’ll know…