Internal party politics aren’t normally the stuff of groundbreaking revolutions. But the Israeli Labor Party’s split this morning could prove to be exactly that.
Like most such splits, this one stemmed partly from personal animosities. But it also had a substantive reason: as one member of the breakaway faction explained, the government will now be able to conduct peace talks “without a stopwatch,” instead of under constant threat that a key coalition faction would quit if Israel didn’t capitulate to Palestinian demands.
For weeks, various Labor ministers have threatened that the party would leave the government if Israeli-Palestinian talks didn’t resume soon. At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at these threats, saying they merely encouraged the Palestinians to up their demands and refuse to negotiate unless they are met.
This isn’t the only reason for Palestinian intransigence, but it’s certainly a contributory factor. Why should the Palestinians negotiate when they can let Israel’s Labor Party do the work for them? And that’s basically what Labor has been doing: demanding that Netanyahu offer ever more concessions to tempt the Palestinians back to the table, on pain of having his government collapse if he refuses. Most Labor MKs never blamed the Palestinians for the impasse or demanded any concessions of them; they put the onus entirely on Netanyahu.
The same is true of Israel’s main opposition party, Kadima. It, too, blamed the impasse entirely on the government, giving the Palestinians a pass, and demanded more concessions only of Israel, not the Palestinians.
This behavior didn’t just increase Palestinian intransigence; it also increased international pressure on and opprobrium for Israel. After all, if even members of Israel’s government deemed Israel the guilty party, why should non-Israelis doubt it?
But finally, a contingent of Israel’s left has said “enough”: As Israelis, it’s our job to negotiate the best deal for Israel, not the Palestinians. And it’s our job to promote Israel’s positions overseas, not to besmirch our own country by promoting the Palestinian narrative.
Right now, it’s a small contingent — five of Labor’s 13 MKs — spearheaded by a widely disliked leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus its capacity for growth is unclear. But it does give the government stability, as these five are enough to ensure its majority (especially since many of the others never voted with it anyway). So at least the government is now better positioned to fight the diplomatic battles ahead.
More important, however, five MKs from the heart of the left have openly challenged the leftist parties’ destructive behavior. And if their challenge catches on, it could revolutionize Israel’s diplomatic position. For while many of the reasons for Israel’s growing pariah status have nothing to do with Israel, the chorus of Israelis blaming the ongoing conflict entirely on Israel clearly plays a role. If additional swathes of the left started advocating for their own country rather than its adversaries, Israel could fight back much more effectively.
There are plenty of reasons to dislike Barak and his allies. But in this effort, they deserve support from everyone who cares about Israel.