A balance of delusion exists in Israeli politics between Left and Right. On the Left, we have leaders who, when given the facts about strategic options, decide they don't like the facts and make new ones up that suit them better. And on the Right, we have leaders who, when given the facts about their political options, decide they don't like the facts and make up new ones that suit them better.
The Left's latest fantasy is its enthusiasm for a deal with Hamas that would free Gilad Schalit. By Tuesday night, Israelis should know whether or not our outgoing leftist government will agree to release between 450 and 1,000 Palestinian terrorists – including mass murderers serving multiple life sentences – in exchange for Schalit whom Hamas and it sister terror groups have held hostage since June 2006.
Schalit's plight presents two stark choices. We can surrender to all of Hamas's demands and reunite Schalit with his suffering family, or we can keep a stiff upper lip, refuse to negotiate with terrorists and wait until we receive actionable intelligence on his whereabouts and attempt to rescue him. We know what will happen in both cases.
If we surrender to Hamas's demands, we will ensure more families will suffer the same plight as Gilad Schalit's family. We know that this will happen because we have been through this process repeatedly. Every single time we have released terrorists for hostages, the result has been more murdered Israelis and more hostages. As before, the only thing we still don't know is the names of the next victims. They could be any of us. And so, in a very real sense, they are all of us.
If on the other hand the outgoing government opted for the stiff upper lip approach, we know that we would increase the chance that Schalit will be murdered. Hamas can kill him at any time. And in the event that the IDF stages a rescue raid, there is a good chance that both Schalit and his rescuers will return to their families in wooden boxes. Then again, we also know that by not negotiating with terrorists, and by keeping jailed terrorists in prison, we stand a better chance of protecting the lives of the rest of us.
Both choices, of course, are miserable ones. But they are the only choices. We can surrender or we can fight. There is no third option.
In keeping though with the Left's penchant for dreaming up imaginary choices, the Kadima-Labor government decided to negotiate Schalit's release with Hamas, but to pretend that in doing so, it is doing something other than surrendering. Rather than admit that by agreeing to release hundreds of murderers from jail he is placing every single family in the country at risk, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert describes his urgent pleadings to Hamas as a noble gesture towards the Schalit family, a gesture which supposedly gives expression to Judaism's commitment to Jewish captives. That is, he has moved the discussion of the terrorist release from the realm of reality to the realm of metaphysics.
Much to his discredit, Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to criticize the outgoing government's surrender to Hamas. There is some justification for his silence. The media is so adamant about moving forward with the release of mass murderers that were he to speak out, he would set the media against him even before he is sworn in to office. But then again, the overwhelmingly leftist media will treat Netanyahu with hostility regardless of what he does. So it seems unreasonable that he has maintained his silence on this issue.
THE ONE POLITICIAN who has been outspoken in opposing the mass release of terrorists has been MK Ya'acov (Ketzeleh) Katz, the leader of the National Union party. Together with the families of terror victims who oppose the government's intention to release their relatives' murderers, Katz has been the loudest voice in politics stridently opposing the deal. He has made clear that it will endanger the country and guarantee the murder and abduction of still more Israelis.
Katz and the National Union have it right on this issue. Indeed, they have it right on just about every major strategic issue they have championed. From their opposition to the failed Oslo process to their opposition to the failed Camp David summit, from their opposition to the withdrawal from south Lebanon and Gaza to their opposition to the failed road map peace process and the failed Annapolis peace process, the National Union has been right all along. It has always stayed true to its principles.
One might think that given the National Union's consistent track record that it would be the largest party in the Knesset. Surely voters would reward it for its wisdom. But one of course would be wrong.
The National Union received four seats in the Knesset. Its sister party, Habayit Hayehudi won three mandates. The two parties ran separately despite their ideological and cultural affinity because their members simply couldn't get along. They couldn't compromise on who would appear where on the party list.
And this is the beginning of the story.
FOR ALL of its strategic wisdom and clearheadedness, the National Union is a political home for delusional politicians. In all of its various incarnations – from Tehiya to Herut to Moledet to the National Union – the party has never been able to understand what it means to govern. It has never been able to recognize that politics is the art of compromise.
In 1992, angry that Likud under prime minister Yitzhak Shamir bowed to US pressure and participated in the Madrid peace conference, Tehiya brought down his government. In so doing, it brought in Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres and brought the country the Oslo process and Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
In 1999, angry at Netanyahu for bowing to US pressure and agreeing to the Wye Plantation accords, the National Union brought down his government. In so doing, it brought in Ehud Barak and Yossi Beilin, the withdrawal from Lebanon and the Camp David summit.
In all, the total of Israelis who have been killed due to Oslo, the withdrawal from Lebanon and the Palestinian terror war which followed Camp David comes to around 2,000. The country's weakened position today in the US and Europe as well as in the Arab world, would have been inconceivable in 1992.
In both 1992 and 1999, the National Union and its predecessors were faced with two choices. They could remain ideologically pure by bringing down their own government and so risk empowering the Left, or they could recognize that governance is the art of compromise, keep a stiff upper lip and work from within the government to mitigate the strategic damage that in their view Shamir and Netanyahu caused by bowing to American pressure.
And in both cases, the National Union rejected its real choices in favor of an imaginary one. Both in 1992 and 1999 it chose to leave the government while pretending that there was no difference between Likud and Labor. By choosing this route, it effectively committed itself to strategic as well as political blindness since it was forced to claim – wrongly – that there was no difference between Madrid and Oslo or between Wye Plantation and Camp David.
Last Friday it was disclosed that on Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu had reopened coalition talks with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Those talks had ended weeks ago after Livni demanded that Netanyahu agree to share the premiership with her through a rotation agreement, give her full control over strategy for dealing with the Palestinians and adopt the establishment of a Palestinian state as the primary goal of his government. All of Livni's demands were nonnegotiable and all of them, both separately and together, were unacceptable for Netanyahu. And so, he rejected them and for the past two and a half weeks has been concentrating his efforts on building a governing coalition with the right wing and religious parties.
AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN's Israel Beiteinu with its 15 Knesset seats i
s set to be Likud's main coalition partner. Lieberman has been the most outspoken champion of a Likud-Kadima-Israel Beiteinu coalition. This makes sense from his perspective. Lieberman is viewed both by the West and by much of the country's leftist elite as a racist. Due both to his legal worries and to the fact that his actual policy preferences of surrendering the Galilee and the Negev to the Arabs are far left of center, Lieberman cares deeply about what the Left thinks of him. In his view, the only way to be accepted as legitimate in leftist circles is to compel Likud to move to the left by bringing Kadima into the government.
In part to satisfy Lieberman – without whom he cannot form a government – and in part because he remembers that it was the National Union which brought down his government 10 years ago, Netanyahu began his coalition building talks with Kadima. They collapsed only because Livni made demands that he could not meet.
In the current round of talks, Livni has reportedly maintained her demands, but now Netanyahu is reportedly accepting them – at least partially. The question that needs to be asked is what has changed in three weeks? Why has Netanyahu decided that Livni's previously unacceptable demands are now acceptable? The only reasonable answer is the National Union. Last week Katz scuttled negotiations with Likud because it refused his demand for the Construction and Housing Ministry. On Thursday, he joined hands with Habayit Hayehudi chairman MK Daniel Herschkowitz and announced that neither of the two parties would join Netanyahu's government if he doesn't meet all of their demands, including the Ministry of Education for Herschkowitz. Without the two parties, Netanyahu lacks a parliamentary majority.
It is possible that Katz and Herschkowitz are bluffing. In fact, it is likely that they are. But what their behavior shows clearly is that Netanyahu is correct when he says that a coalition that relies on them is inherently unstable. And so, he has moved back into Kadima's orbit.
If the Olmert-Livni-Barak government goes ahead with its plans to spring hundreds of mass murderers from prison in its last days in office, the threat they will unleash will just be added to the long list of serious threats that our strategically delusional leftist government has created and expanded during its tenure in office. It would be the height of irony – and tragedy – if due to the Right's proven political incompetence, the same political Left remains in power as the main partners in the Netanyahu government and so is given yet another opportunity to ruin the country.
Correction: In my Friday column, "Intelligence and the anti-Israel lobby" I misidentified Douglas Jehl as a Washington Post editor. Jehl is an editor at The New York Times.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.