After Bibi’s bet on Romney, ‘peace camp’ can beat him

Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni can win the January 22 election. 

If there is one loser in the U.S. election outside the U.S., it is Benjamin Netanyahu – and all of Israel knows it. No one is fooled by his denials that he backed Romney and opposed Obama as demonstratively as he possibly could. The widespread conviction, now that Obama has won four more years in the White House, is that Bibi has endangered Israel’s relationship with America in a way that is unprecedented in its recklessness. No Israeli prime minister ever took sides in a U.S. presidential election like Netanyahu just did, and his side lost.

If Romney had won, people here would be hailing Bibi right now as a genius, a prophet. But Obama won, which makes Bibi, in Israeli eyes, a screw-up of historic magnitude. He went and tracked mud on the Oval Office carpet right in front of the president’s eyes. The president couldn’t say anything during the campaign because of American domestic politics, but the campaign’s over and now Israelis are wondering when and how this newly-liberated president is going to take revenge on them for their prime minister’s spectacular arrogance. Conclusion: The only way to get America back on our side is to get rid of Bibi.

That, I believe, is the mood in Israel on this fine morning.

It presents an opportunity, one that most people despaired seeing in the coming years, if ever – the opportunity to elect a left-of-center “peace government” on January 22. Because of Netanyahu’s awesome blunder, the Israeli right is vulnerable as it hasn’t been in 12 years, since the left’s implosion at the start of the Second Intifada. Until today, the public was ready to go along with Bibi and the status quo for lack of an attractive alternative – but now the status quo is no longer tolerable. In the view of the broad Israeli center, Bibi has to go.

Which leaves the question – who is the alternative? Not Lieberman – Obama won’t be able to stand him, either. It cannot be anybody from the right, it has to be somebody from the center, or center-left.

I don’t think Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid or the Labor Party’s Shelly Yacimovich can win because they just don’t have the requisite leadership stature, and thank God for that, too. Lapid and Yacimovich are cowards who have built their campaigns on trying to airbrush the occupation out of existence, on pretending that “there’s no left and right anymore,” that it’s all economics now. And when it comes to the Palestinians, the less said, the better. The status quo is fine with them.

It happens that the only politicians who have the leadership stature to defeat Netanyahu are also the only ones who are saying, above all, that Israel must negotiate peace with the Palestinians, and that by stonewalling Mahmoud Abbas from day one, Netanyahu turned his back on the most conciliatory Palestinian leader there ever was or ever will be, and threw away a chance for peace that may not come again.

The politicians making this case are Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Separately or together, in Kadima or in a new party, they have the potential to knock over Netanyahu in January, form a center-left coalition government, and resume the negotiations they started with Abbas in 2007, when Olmert was prime minister and Livni foreign minister, then left off at the end of 2008 when they launched Operation Cast Lead.

Because of that war and the long siege of Gaza that preceded it (which continued under Netanyahu), I have no love for Olmert or Livni. My natural inclination is to vote for Meretz. But regardless of which left-wing party one votes for, it is absolutely necessary that Olmert and/or Livni enter this election, because there must be a major party running on a peace platform, and only they can fill the bill. For all of their monstrous past abuses of Gaza and maintenance of the occupation in the West Bank, they made a very credible try at negotiating a peace agreement with Abbas, and if given another chance, it is possible they’ll succeed.

It happens that the two are expected to declare their candidacy very soon, hopefully by the end of the week. They were waiting to see if Obama won, and now the wind is at their backs.

It’s unbelievable to be writing this. Ordinarily, I would say it’s too good to be true. But in the new light of this morning, I realize it’s equally plausible to say that the last several years in Israel have been too awful to go on indefinitely. By the law of averages, things were bound to change some time. But who thought it would be this soon, and this sudden?

Of course, Bibi’s still the prime minister, and he could get reelected and everything could go on like before. But a few hours ago, when it became clear Obama had won and Bibi’s candidate had lost, an opportunity was born to change this country’s direction and give Israelis and Palestinians a future. No, the revolution did not burst upon us, but the possibility of it did.