1. Two States for Two Peoples – Yes.
Right of Return to the Borders of Israel – No.
The public should know that there is an alternative to the Blue and White party’s political waffling and to the right-wing policy that is endangering the entire Zionist enterprise. Dr. Michael Livni believes that as elections approach, the left-wing Zionist bloc must publicly clarify its tactical and strategic agenda.
Yedioth Hakibbutz, August 30, 2019
2. One of the First Challenges Facing the Next Prime Minister:
Dealing with Inequality.
As if the social gaps in the country were not enough already, Israel also faces one of the widest economic gaps in the world between the highest decile and the lowest. Dr. Michael Livni believes that the solution is not to hesitate in imposing taxes on the mega-wealthy. And what does he have to say about the problem Haredi society creates in Israel?
Yedioth Hakibbutz, September 20, 2019
Elections 2020
The focus in the third round of elections, slated for 2.3.2020, is on the political future (mainly but not only) of Bibi Netanyahu. But in the background loom questions relating to the future of Israel as a Jewish-Zionist-Democratic state. They are the same questions we faced in the previous two elections. Hence the articles here are reprinted without change.
Unfortunately, the intensity of public involvement in issues of persona (which now include that of Donald Trump) have obscured the fundamental issues and have almost precluded the very possibility of discussing them. The bloc of Zionist Left parties which seeks to focus on such issues faces an uphill struggle.
Michael Livni, Kibbutz Lotan
Yedioth Hakibbutz August 30, 2019 - Kibbutz Conversation
Two States for Two Peoples – Yes.
Right of Return to the Borders of Israel – No.
The public should know that there is an alternative to the Blue and White party’s political waffling and to the right-wing policy that is endangering the entire Zionist enterprise. Dr. Michael Livni believes that as elections approach, the left-wing Zionist bloc must publicly clarify its tactical and strategic agenda.
Three policy areas shape my position as a kibbutz member and as a citizen of the State of Israel who has identified with the Zionist Labor Movement since the days of my youth: the political, the socio-economic-environmental, and the relations between religion and state. Out of this list, I would like to relate to the political aspect, since it is the central issue in the upcoming elections, and because the public requires a clear presentation of the options and their consequences for the future.
In his article, “History Will Not Forgive Us if We Support the Establishment of a Palestinian State” (Yedioth Hakibbutz, August 8), Moti Tirosh in my opinion jumps to erroneous conclusions both tactically and strategically. His words convinced me of the need for a discussion on this central topic.
Let’s start from the right-wing bloc, which in my opinion is led by messianic Zionism. It rejects out-of-hand the vision of two states for two peoples, and directs the Zionist project to a dead end. On to Blue and White, the party which, according to the polls gets the most votes in the bloc: as I see it, they address routine security issues but ignore the political questions that are at the root of the conflict.
About a year ago, the Kibbutz Movement Council, on the initiative of Yoel Marshak, decided to adopt the position of “two states for two peoples.” This was a decision in principle, but (deliberately) vague in what it said and in what it left unsaid. Happily, current Labour Party Secretary Amir Peretz shares this position.
What else is possible? Political circumstances demand a rationale for this stance, both from a tactical perspective, and also from a strategic perspective. I will take on the responsibility of providing this rationale.
Tactical: The ultimate issue in the conflict between us and our neighbors is the right of return to the borders of Mandatory Palestine for 1948 refugees and for their descendants. We would never agree to right of return to the borders of the State of Israel, because that would mean the end of the Zionist project in both senses. First, in the political sense (Herzl’s school of Zionism)—a nation-state for the Jewish people, a nation-state like all other nation-states. Second, in the cultural sense (Ahad Ha’am’s school of Zionism)—a national home that can ensure the continued creative existence of the Jewish people in the modern age.
In practice, only a minority of the current generation in Arab society is ready to accept such a position. Unfortunately, this is also true of the majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel. In practice, they are divided among themselves on this issue. It is our obligation to understand the deep reasons—both religious and national—for this refusal. We must understand the implications for ourselves and for our position, both long-term and short-term.
Understanding the Conflict. From a religious perspective, the resolution of the conflict implies that Islam in general, and Arab Islam in particular, must permanently recognize the existence of a nation-state for the Jewish people within "Dar al-Islam" (the Moslem regions of the World). In addition, Islam must recognize us as a people, and not only as a religion that is tolerated within its domain.
From a national perspective, our presence has violated the supreme value of the heritage of the Arab people—its honor. The hierarchy of values in Arab heritage places honor above human life (we can see this in the attitude of Arab society concerning the value of "family honor"). The mutual reinforcement of the religious and the national characterizes most of modern Arab society.
Therefore, in my opinion, we will not achieve two states for two people in our generation. For lack of any other option, we have to take a gamble. The gamble is that the ideological reality that dictates Islamic extremism, from Afghanistan to Maghreb, will dissipate due to internal pressure from within Arab society. The litmus test will be the status of women in Arab society.
Furthermore, there is also an unanswered "local" question: The future of the Hashemite regime in Jordan. Will it survive? Who can predict the political future of Jordan and the possible implications this will have for the Palestinian entity?
This brings us to the next point: Peace agreements with Jordan and with Egypt were, and continue to be, positive and essential achievements in and of themselves. But we misunderstand the essence of these peace agreements, and why they have led us only to a cold peace.
In the eyes of our neighbors, the meaning of "salaam" agreements is not the same as "shalom" in the Hebrew language. The salaam arrangement between conflicting states or tribes applies to the circumstances at a certain moment in time. For our neighbors, "a moment" may be an entire generation. We can understand the salaam agreements as a kind of temporary tactical arrangement. Indeed, a cold peace.
The peace we are looking for is not "salaam". We seek "sulha" , the traditional process of mediation, reconciliation and pardon in blood-feuds between tribes in Arab society. We are looking for an end to the conflict, not just a temporary respite.
What are the Tactical Implications for the Short-term?
1. The "two states for two peoples" position is a necessary and defining message for the pragmatic Jewish public, and indeed to the world. It differentiates us from Blue and White the right-wing bloc.
2. Two states for two people without the right of return to the borders of Israel is also a message for the Arab sector. On one hand, the in-principle right of Palestinians to a state; on the other hand, a message to pragmatic Palestinian-Israelis who want to protect their rights of their fellow Palestinians. This message must be accompanied by the position that Israel is a democratic state, a state of the Jewish people, and a state of all its citizens. This is also the standpoint emphasized in the Declaration of Independence. There is an operative consequence to this: A public demand to cancel the unnecessary and damaging Nation-State Law. The damaging hurt is to the honor of the Arabs, which as mentioned is their most important value.
3. We must be frank with the pragmatic public, both Jewish and Arab, and admit that this is our long-term position. There’s no quick fix. We are asking the pragmatic public to allow us to pursue a complex process, and one that relies on the faith that internal changes in the Arab world will indeed occur. Maybe a successful "Arab spring"? Naïve? Perhaps, but where do the other options lead us?
What About the Territories?
The expression "administered territories" is relevant only under the assumption that our strategic goal is two states for two peoples. If not, then the territories are occupied. But in my opinion, we have no option of giving up on military control of the territories in the absence of a real peace agreement, that is, sulha. The mission of humane control while granting partial autonomy is not a simple challenge, and there is no running away from it. We must recall that military conduct is determined by directions from the political level.
Even so, Israel continues to act foolishly by investing resources in the settlement of Judea and Samaria (again, without going into the question exact borders). The settlement enterprise in areas with highly-concentrated Arab populations is part of a policy meant to hinder the idea of two states, and will lead to a situation in which no sustainable partition will be possible.
What, then, are the strategic implications of the right's policy, and the vacuum of Blue and White?
1. We are leading ourselves toward an undemocratic, binational state—the destruction of the historical Zionist project.
2. We are exposing ourselves as hypocrites to the world, since in practice the settlement of areas with highly-concentrated Arab populations conveys the message that there will not be a Palestinian state. Period.
3. Resources that could be invested in the periphery of the country—in the Negev to the south and the Galilee to the north—are invested to no benefit, while the right-wing government drifts towards the vision of messianic Zionism in the territories.
4. All the above increase the alienation (in addition to the split that is created as a result of the denial of the rights of alternative streams of Judaism) between Israel and our main strategic partner—Diaspora Jewry.
The future of Israel as a Jewish-Zionist-Democratic state is at the heart of the disagreement in these elections. This truly obligates the entire Zionist left to speak up. The public must know that there’s an alternative to the Blue and White party’s political waffling and to the right-wing policy that is endangering the entire Zionist enterprise. As the elections approach, the left-wing bloc must put out a platform regarding political tactics and strategies:
Two States for Two Peoples—Yes. Right of Return to the Borders of Israel—No.
Dr. Michael Livni, Lotan
Yedioth Hakibbutz September 20, 2019 - Kibbutz Conversation
One of the First Challenges for the Next Prime Minister: Dealing with Inequality
As if the social gaps in the country were not enough already, Israel also faces one of the widest economic gaps in the world between the highest decile and the lowest. Dr. Michael Livni believes that the solution is not to hesitate in imposing taxes on the mega-wealthy. And what does he have to say about the problem Haredi society creates in Israel?
In my previous article on this topic, I discussed the political question at the heart of the conflict. I presented the position: Two states for two peoples—yes; right of return to the borders of Israel—no. Now, after the elections, Israel is facing two additional and inter-related issues: 1. How to advance social, economic, and environmental justice and narrow the gaps in Israeli society? 2. What is the place of religion in the State of Israel?
Behind these two questions lies a question of values: How do we understand the equal value of the individual human in the State of Israel?
What does the equal value of all human actually mean? Equal opportunities? Equal income and expenditures? Gender equality? From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs? In my opinion this is a useless argument. We don't have any of these. So what should we have? We can turn to the social theory of Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), founder of the Revisionist party and the five basics that every citizen deserves: nutrition, housing, clothing, education, and healthcare. In practice—a welfare state. Of course, infrastructure is critical to enabling the state to achieve these goals—in education, in health, and in transportation.
Where is the Money?
Let's take a moment to compare inequality in free countries in 2018. Thanks to Dr. Google, it's easy to find the income gap between the top decile and the bottom decile. In the starring role, at the top of the list, the queen of capitalism is the U.S., with a 16-fold difference between the deciles. Immediately following is our own homeland Israel, with a 15-fold gap. For the sake of comparison: Canada's upper decile's income is 8.5 greater than its lowest decile; Germany’s—6.6 times; and Denmark’s—only 5.2 times.
The economic polarization seen both in the U.S. and in Israel compounds the social gaps that also characterize both these countries. Nonetheless, the vast scale of the U.S., its absorptive capacity, and its economy are infinitely greater than those of the State of Israel. Can we, over time, maintain gaps of the same order of magnitude as those in the U.S.A?
French Professor Thomas Piketty claims that the growth of gaps over the last generation is connected to processes of the concentration of capital—a natural consequence of neo-liberal capitalism. Consequently, Piketty recommends imposing higher taxes on capital. The nature of capital, says Piketty, is to empower the rich. Them that has, gets.
It is interesting to note that in countries with a smaller gap between the first and last deciles, such as Denmark, Canada, and Germany, there is more social justice and more equality between individuals. Nonetheless, we must remember that the soft capitalism—social democracy and the welfare state—that characterized the generation after the Second World War was exceptional, and the product of various special circumstances during this period. Crisis situations lead to government intervention, even in the U.S. (for example, President Roosevelt's New Deal as a result of the recession in the 1930s).
In other words: Inequality, reflected in examples of gaps between the top decile and the bottom decile in the abovementioned countries, means that a lot of money is flowing to the rich in the U.S. and in Israel. In countries like Canada, Germany, and Denmark, this money, or part of it, has been flowing to the welfare of the citizens of the country, directly or indirectly (infrastructures).
Thus, Amir Peretz dared to declare that capital (that is, the wealthy) must be taxed significantly more—for the sake of us all. Note that the socioeconomic gap in Israel is particularly noticeable in the periphery. The image of the Democratic Camp party remains continues to be "North Tel Aviv-Ashkenazi," even when their position overlapped with that of the Labor Party.
The Environmental Impact.
In the 21st century, an additional factor has been added to the context of inequality— a factor whose future will be decisive. Not just for us, but for all of life on Planet Earth. Unfortunately, we in Israel are not sufficiently aware of the severity of the sustainability crisis that has resulted from climate change. Compared to the attention devoted to this in many Western countries, we (and President Trump) are living on a different planet.
A prominent example here is energy consumption. The close relations between government and capital have led to the acceleration of investment in natural gas. The clean option is renewable solar energy. To our shame, our contribution to global warming is greater than our relative part in the world population.
The negative impact on sustainability affects everyone, but not equally. Overconsumption and the high standard of living in wealthy countries harm, first and foremost, the poor of the world, who are on the front lines in terms of the results of climate change. The destruction of the environment and of the conditions for sustainability are caused by overuse of the Earth's resources due to the adoption of neo-liberal capitalist theory. And so we contribute our share to inequality on the global level.
Internal Coercion.
Returning to our particular reality, there is another phenomenon which constitutes a unique challenge in Israel as a cause of inequality. The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) sector constitutes a challenge for the State of Israel, both as a liberal democracy and as a Zionist state. It is a shame that we had to wait for Avigdor Lieberman to recruit the anger many feel toward the Haredim for the issue to be confronted.
In political terms, the Haredi sector imposes inequality on us in several areas, especially regarding freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The Haredi sector imposes the religious (Halachic) version of law in mattersof personal status such as marriage and ‘Who is a Jew”. The Haredim pretend to represent "authentic Judaism". Remember: Haredim are not Zionist, and they reject symbols of the state and the commemorative days connected to its establishment. With their political clout, they try to prevent innovation in our heritage. . They want to be the exclusive determining authority in matters of religion and state.
The Haredim are the activists responsible for the ban on public transportation on Shabbat. Why is it that only owners of private vehicles can visit their families and enjoy Shabbat the way they want to? We have gotten used to this reality.
The Haredim succeed in religious coercion only because of the impotenceof the Zionist parties in the face of their short-term political interests. The strategic damage they cause to the relationship between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry is immeasurable, but this is not the place to expand on this issue.
The Haredim exacerbate the socioeconomic gap. They do so as a result of political dependence on their support. We allow the Haredi sector to be a millstone around the neck of the state.
Let's compare: There are many Haredi Jews in the Diaspora. But there the taxpayer does not subsidize those whose “Torah is their craft." They must work. Only in Israel do they have political power to force on us their position that "the labor of the Just is performed by others." The words of Rabban Gamliel in Pirkei Avot —"all Torah study that is not accompanied with work is destined to cease and to cause sin” - are disregarded. Although Rabban Gamliel’s warning is part of the heritage of our people, it is irrelevant to the religious interpretation of the Haredi sector.
To this we must add the refusal of a significant portion of the Haredi education system to incorporate core subjects in their curricula. Thus, pockets of poverty and social gaps are carried over to the each new generation. And to all this we must also add their refusal to perform national service, whether military of civilian.
In my opinion, the refusal of the left-wing Zionist bloc to adopt a clear position toward this Haredi coercion reflects the ideological anemia of the entire Zionist camp with regard to ultra-orthodox coercion.
The bottom line: after weighing the options and the positions in the different areas— political, socioeconomic, and environmental—I believe that the best option is the Zionist left-wing bloc. The reason for this is that Blue and White has consistently shillyshallied on these issues. On the issue of religion and state, the left and the center basically have the same position. And now it remains to be seen who will be in the next government in order to address the issuess that I have outlined here.
Dr. Michael Livni, Lotan