Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Political Winds: The Parties Of Global Israel

Uriel Reichman at the Herzliya Conference
There is no need for me to comment on Ehud Barak's decision to bolt the Labor Party, or shall I say unhinge it. Daniel Levy's long, thoughtful analysis on Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel tells you all you need to know, and more. As I said a few posts back, a new party is taking shape to organize democratic globalist forces in the country, and whether it is called Labor or something else is simply a matter of branding, like Southwestern Bell's decision to swallow AT&T but adopt its name.

This new political coalition will be called "leftist" or "Social Democratic" by journalists here and abroad, but the moniker is misleading. The kind of politics this group will practice would seem entirely centrist and unoriginal to, say, Europeans. The idea is peace and a shared business ecosystem with Palestine, a globalist agenda for Israel's entrepreneurs, separation of religion and state, full civil rights for Israeli Arabs, a conception of national Israeliness rooted in Hebrew culture, intense investment in education and national infrastructure, monetary stability, green technologies, and nondiscriminatory access to public assets.

If President Sarkozy or Prime Minister Merkel were Israeli, they could live very nicely within the precincts of this politics. So could, say, Senator Schumer. They would also call for international (read: American) diplomacy to lead the peace process, mainly by refocusing Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the achievements of past negotiations. It is a testament to how warped the governing parties of greater Israel are that this politics could seem radical.

AS SIGNIFICANT AS Labor's earthquake, though less noticed outside Israel, is a little column in today's Haaretz by Uriel Reichman, the president of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya--a column that reveals, rather, the movement of tectonic plates. Reichman was slated to be Kadima's Education Minister back in 2006, when Ariel Sharon was expected to win a landslide. He is already educator-in-chief of the children of Israel's business elites, who has shown a remarkable gift for talking Israel's oligarchs (Arison, Ofer, etc.) and American machers (Zell, Lauder, etc.) into endowing disciplinary schools at the excellent private college he founded.

Reichman fought on the savage Golan front in the 1973 war, in which he lost a brother--a death that shattered his family. He was a founder of Shinui, the liberal "Change" movement, which helped topple Labor in 1977; and he once campaigned to reform the electoral system. But he's always prided himself on a rather hawkish commitment to national security and his (and his students') connections to the IDF. He provided a home for Uzi Arad's Herzliya Conference and the Counter-Terrorism Institute. He was also my boss for a couple of years and, let us say, did not find my politics quite "Zionist" enough. (He also claimed not to read Haaretz anymore.)

Today, Reichman, of all people, has called for the Obama administration to propose a bridging deal, fast, before the whole issue of Palestine is thrown to the UN General Assembly and Israel finds itself internationally isolated. I have been arguing for some time, especially in The Hebrew Republic, that Israel's business and professional elites constitute a strong constituency for peace and cosmopolitan values--that the people of global Israel would ultimately find their voice against the people of greater Israel. Reichman would not be writing what he did today if these elites were not finally getting mobilized. Reichman writes:

It is doubtful whether direct negotiations will produce an agreement. The Israeli coalition structure, the weakness of the Palestinian leadership, the complexity of the issue and the shrinking timetable before possible recognition by the UN of a Palestinian state will make it very difficult to achieve an agreement by consensus. At most we will see an exchange of accusations between the parties, whose objective is to support the vote of the General Assembly or to prevent it.

One significant route is still likely to lead to an agreement. Due to political constraints there is a gap between what the sides are capable of offering and receiving and what they would be willing to compromise about. Bridging this gap is possible only through an American initiative, which begins in a trilateral discussion and ends in an American proposal for an agreement.

The whole column is well worth reading, especially with the 2011 Herzliya Conference about to be convened. It is a signal to powerful domestic forces that their way of life is at risk. It should also be read by the Obama Administration as a kind of assurance. If America leads, Israel's elites will follow.