New Israeli opposition leader would meet most Arab demands

Monday, April 09, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

Shaul Mofaz, the new head of Israel's opposition and the Knesset's largest party, Kadima, laid out his political platform for the New York Times on Friday, and it leans a bit more to the left than many Israelis expected.

Mofaz told the American newspaper that he agrees with the assessment held by his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, that Israel must permit the creation of a Palestinian Arab state in order to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel.

While Mofaz would still be expected to be less reckless with the implementation of such an outcome than Livni, he seemed to espouse policy positions typically associated with the farther reaches of the left wing.

For instance, Mofaz said that he would give the Arabs 100 percent of their territorial demands, though land swaps would be necessary since some Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria are simply too large to uproot. Others, he said, would be encouraged to move with economic incentives, or face forced expulsion.

Of course, such an approach has been tried before, most notably by current Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a man who like Mofaz was a former army chief with impeccable security credentials. Barak's attempt to hand Yasser Arafat nearly all of what he asked for blew up in Israel's face, literally, with the start of the Second Intifada, or "Oslo War."

And Mofaz would likely be offering even less than Barak, since it is now clear that the vast majority of Israelis oppose the division of Jerusalem. Without Jerusalem, or the cleansing of all Jews from Judea and Samaria, or the "right" to flood Israel with "Palestinian refugees," there will never be a final status peace agreement, regardless of who is Israel's prime minister. And so, while the New York Times may be getting excited over proposals it somehow fails to recognize as nothing new, most Israelis realize that, in fact, Mofaz is offering nothing new.

And the polls reflect that. If elections were held today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would crush Mofaz.

Where Mofaz may be able to make political headway, however, is in the social arena. Netanyahu is typically associated with the capitalist movement in Israel, while last summer's huge Tel Aviv protests showed that most Israelis still identify with a more socialist approach as they struggle with a high cost of living.

Mofaz is doing his best to identify with disillusioned young Israelis whose rent, utilities and other standard living costs often exceed their incomes.

But, again, Israel's more socialist parties - Kadima and Labor - were in power much of the past two decades, and did little if nothing to right the ship. So, as with security and the peace process, many Israelis have been there and done that, and are no longer convinced that jumping back to the other side of the aisle is the solution to the country's problems.

Either way, Israel's next general election, scheduled for 2013, is shaping up to be an interesting battle upon which the events of the next year - from security to Iran to the peace process to renewed social justice demonstrations - will have a major impact.

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