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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

What should be the priorities for the new government?

Filed under: Israel, The Middle East, U.S. Policy

What should be the priorities for the new government?

This article originally appeared in Fathom Journal in April 2019.

Yossi Kuperwasser argues that whoever forms the next government should adopt a “Yes, but” response to the expected American peace proposal, act against Iranian regional adventurism, fight against attempts to delegitimise the Jewish state, deepen the country’s strategic relations with the US and enhance cooperation with the pragmatic Arab states.

Governing is first and foremost about prioritising, so when Israelis go to the polls they are in fact choosing between priorities, a product of ideology, values, capabilities, challenges, political constraints and leadership.

Whereas the Right and the Left in Israel try to shape the debate as if it is between different priorities regarding the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the new Blue and White party has no coherent policy on the issue. It claims that there is no Right or Left anymore and that the debate is about the kind of leadership Israel needs rather than where it will lead. In fact, most of those who intend to vote for “Blue and White” come from the centre-Left circles so they likely oppose the Right’s approach about priorities.

The Israeli government’s priorities after the election will of course reflect their results, mainly in the Palestinian context, where Israel will have to examine the American peace proposal and adopt a policy towards it. And while prioritising has historically been centred on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in this election, even as the new US peace plan is about to be presented to the parties, the new “Blue and White” party seemingly has no coherent policy on that issue.

The Trump peace plan and the Palestinian arena

Israel’s response to the plan will reflect its commitment to seek a peace that guarantees its security and so will probably be “Yes, but”. At the same time, Israel will have to:

  1. Clarify its red lines, namely that no lasting peace can be reached without: a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people (with a democratic regime); a security plan that leaves the Jordan valley under Israeli responsibility and allows the IDF to deal with threats from the West Bank; and ending the hate indoctrination and incitement that inculcate support for terror and commitment to a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” in Palestinian minds.
  2. If the Palestinians reject the plan, Israel together with the US administration should continue conveying the message that there is a price for Palestinian intransigence. They should seek to try and convince the Palestinians for the need to change their erroneous narrative and accept the existence of a Jewish people that has a sovereign history in this disputed holy land as well as accepting the need to share this land with them.
  3. Continue with the current policies vis-à-vis Gaza and the status quo in the West Bank These are solid and reasonable policies in light of the complexities of the situation. If the threat from Gaza rises Israel will have to be prepared to take harsher measures to protect its citizens, including forcing Hamas to give up its control of the Strip.
  4. Refrain from moving towards unilateral concessions disguised as “separation” from the Palestinians. This is a dangerous idea as it ignores the Palestinian narrative and may lead to greater Palestinian terror while simultaneously causing higher tensions within Israeli society. The probability that any new government will support such policy is very low.

Iran, Russia and relations with the US

On most other National Security challenges there are very limited differences between the parties. Israel will have to keep fighting against the threats emanating from Iran in Syria and elsewhere in the region – especially against Iranian efforts to improve Hezbollah’s rockets; continue to oppose the Iranian nuclear deal, and cooperate with Washington in an effort to bring Europe on board; cooperate with Russia to maintain its freedom to operate against Iran in Syria; keep fighting against the attempt to delegitimise and boycott Israel and expose the anti-Semitic nature of anti-Zionism; keep and deepen the strategic relations with the United States while trying to stop the process that turns relations with Israel into a partisan issue; and further enhance cooperation with the pragmatic Arab states – both those with whom Israel has a peace agreement and with those whom it does not.

The pragmatic Arab states

These pragmatic Arab states share the same view of the region, and identify all radicals – from extremists such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and Iran’s leadership to the more “realistic” Moslem Brotherhood (and the states they control like Qatar, Turkey and Gaza) – as dangerous threats. Israel should try to convince these pragmatists to use the expected Palestinian rejection of the American peace plan as a justification for having closer ties with Israel. This may eventually help in pushing the Palestinians to adopt a more realistic approach towards the peace plan.

With the growing pressures on the Iranian regime and on the Palestinians (both the PA and Hamas) the probability of escalation might grow significantly. This means that Israel must continue to spend more on improving its military readiness and maintaining its intelligence, air, cyber and army superiority. This requires that the Israeli economy continue to flourish and that domestic unity is restored after what has been a bitter elections period. At this point the chances that such unity will emerge seem limited, but politics, and especially Israeli politics have always been full of surprises.