Change in Israel might be coming with Bennett-Lapid government – opinion

Written by on May 7, 2021

 On paper it sounds like a beautiful idea, exactly what the country needs: a government of parties across the political spectrum, from the Left, the Right and the Center.

After two years of political upheaval and mudslinging, it also feels exactly what the doctor prescribed: a government focusing on what connects us, not what divides us.

After the 2013 election brought Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid into the government, the two spoke often about the 70/30 equation between them: 70% of the issues they agreed on, 30% they disagreed on, but they would consciously focus on the 70%.

For a while it even worked, because in essence it is true. Most of us, whether we vote Right or Left, agree on most of the big issues facing this country. We want security, safety and prosperity. We want Iran to be stopped from getting a nuclear weapon. We want peace with the Palestinians. And we want someone responsible to manage the ongoing health and economic crisis brought on by corona.

When do the problems arise? When you start to drill down into the details.

Yes, Iran is a threat, but differences will arise when deciding on how to confront the Biden administration when it reenters the Iran deal. Peace with the Palestinians sounds nice on paper, but there are fundamental differences whether that peace is achieved through strength and annexation or appeasement and withdrawals. And even on the economy there is a collision of worldviews, with Meretz on the Left promoting socialist values, and Yamina on the Right supporting capitalist ideals.

This is where true leadership is needed. Will all the sides keep their eye on the true objective and overcome their differences, or will they get stuck on the details that divide them?

Most people in this country – even if they are ideologically opposed to such a kaleidoscope government – know that what is needed right now is a manager, not a politician. Leadership that can steer the country out of the pit in which it has been stuck for the past two years.

CAN BENNETT and Lapid do it? We will find out in the weeks ahead, but based on their performance since the March 23 election, there is reason to be optimistic.

Lapid did what he said he would: put aside his ego and maneuver smartly in the post-election turmoil, to the point that he has now been given the presidential mandate to form a government. He has shown a maturity rarely seen on the Israeli political stage, and it is refreshing.

Bennett has also exhibited leadership that some believed he didn’t have in him. He originally sided after the election with Benjamin Netanyahu, but at the same time declared over and over that he would also talk with Lapid. Every door, he said, would be open.

He met Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, made concessions on his own ideological interests, and spoke of the need for the country to come together and prevent a fifth election because of personality politics games being played.

Does this mean they will succeed? Hardly. Netanyahu could succeed in peeling away members of Bennett’s party – he is already trying – and left-wing parties like Labor and Meretz could make demands that Yamina and New Hope will not be able to accept.

The real question is what do we the people want. There is no doubt that if this government comes together, it will be something never seen before in Israel. And it will be hard to manage, with daily political fires and crises.

But maybe that is what this country needs to move forward.

Maybe, in some way, Israel is moving beyond the polarization and division that has afflicted it for the last few years. Maybe what seems like an impossible government – that coalition of Left, Right and Center – is what the country requires to reset itself after so much political conflict and so much fighting.

When Netanyahu slams this coalition being negotiated as “dangerous” and “left-wing,” he is promoting the very ideas that created the impasse of the last two years. He is fostering more division among Israelis.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

***

In 1997, a few years after my family made aliyah, we moved to a new apartment in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. It was an old Arab structure, built sometime in the beginning of the 20th century, and now home to 10 apartments.

One day, when my mother returned from work, there was a small group of people standing outside the building taking pictures. My mother asked if they needed help. In perfect English, they explained that their family used to live in the building and they had come to see it. Where were they from? Jordan? Lebanon? The US? We never learned.

I was reminded of this recently while on a walk through the German Colony and Katamon neighborhoods, when I saw new blue signs drilled onto old landmark buildings. Placed there by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA), they explained the stories behind the stones in just a few short sentences in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

The above picture is a home on Emek Refaim Street built in 1922 by the Gharbadian family. Between 1938 and 1944, Mustafa al-Khalidi, the last Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem, rented the second floor.

Across the street is another sign for the Jakaman House, a building erected in 1925 for residence and commerce. Inscribed above the doorway in Arabic is the saying: “Property belongs to God the One, the Subduer.”

What struck me about the signs – scattered throughout Jerusalem on buildings selected by the JDA together with the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel – is that they tell the stories straight.

No one, for example, forced the JDA or the council to put up the signs, and no one told them what buildings to choose. As Dudu Uziel, head of the project, explained to me this week, the buildings were all chosen independently.

“There is nothing political here,” he said. “We are not promoting an agenda. We are being as objective as possible.”

It shows. Other countries might have preferred to hide the past of the buildings that line their streets. They might have preferred to focus on the present and future and not dwell on what once was – especially when that past can raise controversy.

What happened, for example, to the Arabs who left those homes? What happened to the Gharbadians? Were they evicted? Did they leave voluntarily? That is for historians to argue about.

The JDA deserves credit for telling it straight. I might be wrong, but signs like this – in a country like ours so divided along Right-Left narratives over the Palestinians – is not something we should take for granted.

Besides recalling my mother’s 1997 encounter, the signs also reminded me of the famous saying in Pirkei Avot: “Know from where you come, and where you are going.”

Recognizing the past, our sages were teaching us, is essential to understanding the future. That saying and those signs are an important reminder on this Jerusalem Day when we consider the future of our modern capital city, roiled again just recently in Jewish-Arab violence.

They make us recall what once was, while thinking about the type of city and existence we still wish to create.

We cannot change the past, but we can always use it to improve the future.

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