Israel's new Hatnuah movement may support a two state solution, but it isn't the radical force it seems

The leaders of the movement are only progressive by modern-day Zionism's standards

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Sometimes from the outside Israel can look less like a nation-state than a hermetically sealed state of mind. Sadly, a country founded by Zionist left-wingers built on a history of occupation and war is always going to look a bit hypocritical.

Take Hatnuah (“The Movement”), the grandly titled breakaway faction led by Tzipi Livni – ex Kadima (centrist Labour) leader and Ehud Olmert’s Foreign Minister. This movement is trying to re-take Israel’s liberal initiative ahead of the general election on January 22. Hatnuah has already coaxed away a handful of delegates from Kadima, including former Defence Minister Amir Peretz (the father of Iron Dome) and another ex-Kadima leader, Amram Mitzna,

When you call something a movement, you mean business. Occupy. The Tea Party. Whether left or right, once it’s a movement it’s serious. Hatnuah’s problem though, despite Tzipi Livni’s best efforts to market it as “a Zionist party — a liberal, secular, and democratic party”, is that Hatnuah can never be a truly progressive, vote-winning faction. Here’s why.

Not so progressive

By modern-day Zionism’s standards, Livni can get away with sounding quite progressive. She’s running against Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. It’s really not that difficult.  

“Everything is upside down,” Livni said, announcing the break at the end of November. “The government enters dialogue with those who support terror, and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states.” The super-duper Livni election promise is to continue on the same course with Gaza (blockade, occupation, conflict) while making a piecemeal shift towards Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. She calls this shift Israel’s “political alternative”.

Livni is no radical. She suffers from the same hermetically sealed state of mind: liberal, secular and democratic but a dye-in-wool Zionist impervious to the Palestinian tragedy occurring 40 miles south of Tel Aviv.

The Hatnuah leader recently called the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN a “strategic terrorist attack.” During the 2007 Annapolis summit, the Palestine Papers revealed, Livni said: “I am a lawyer…But I am against law – international law in particular. Law in general.” This could explain the war crimes committed in Gaza during Cast Lead – white phosphorus, targeting civilians, illegal occupation – which she presided over as Olmert’s Foreign Minister between 2008-2009.

Compare her competition. Netanyahu has given himself over to another Israeli movement – the settlers – and is still enjoying the comparative sunshine of a 45 per cent approval rating after his little “mini-war” in Gaza. Six days in to the conflict, according to one Haaretz poll, over 90 per cent of Jewish Israelis approved of the Gaza operation. That number dropped after the truce, the implication being that Netanyahu didn’t go far enough in Gaza. Maybe Israel is not quite ready for peace just yet?

Settlements

And so the movement would stick with Netanyahu on Gaza. But would Hatnuah make a stand on settlements? Livni has criticised them as “unnecessary” before. Otherwise almost certainly not because, as Yousef Munayyer from Washington D.C.’s Palestine Center points out, settlers make up 650,000 people (10 per cent of the Israeli voting population). The settlement vote is important.

In a multi-party proportional system like Israel’s, a 10 per cent cut of a vote can make a big difference. Especially when a new breakaway party starts taking votes away from Likud or Kadima, for example. (Recent polls suggest Hatnuah is only affecting the latter – eating into any opposition to Netanyahu’s hawkish Right.) A fledgling Hatnuah would have to attract settlers away from Likud, or their hard-right partners Yisrael Beiteinu, with bigger incentives – bigger than E1 – and that is not going to happen. So settlement-building becomes a blight on electoral realities as well as international law.

The latest pre-election polls still give Netanyahu’s Likud 39 of the parliament’s 120 seats, (a handful less than projected before the Gaza conflict but a comfortable margin nonetheless). With a right-wing majority in the Knesset looming large, surely it would be better for “The Movement” to consolidate an opposition? It begs the question: does Livni want to stop Netanyahu or just have his job?

As a movement, Hatnuah is a failure: a Livni-fronted vanity project which, along with the Gaza conflict, has only cemented Netanyahu’s chances of a glorious hawkish second term in power.

Not long after Cast Lead had ravaged Gaza, incisive Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy imagined what life would be like with Livni as Prime Minister.

“True, with her, things would have been much more pleasant, but this would be a deceptive charm,” Levy said. There would be negotiations with Abbas, yes. There would be a “peace process” again and Europe and the Americans would love her for it. A “progressive” Israeli PM. Meanwhile the sieges and blockades and occupations and checkpoints and routine humiliations against an entire people would continue.

“With Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the world may wake up and end the sleight of hand. Who knows, maybe some Israelis will follow its lead and wake up as well.”

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