The Independent View: The upcoming election in Israel: the dawn of a new progressive era in Israeli politics?

For political progressives, the upcoming Israeli general election on the 17th of March may prove itself to be one of the most decisive in that country’s history, with most polls conducted in recent weeks pointing to a narrow victory for the centre-left alliance between the social-democratic Labor Party and the progressive liberal Hatnuah party. Not only would this mark the first time since 2001 that Labor has led an administration, but it will be one in which both liberals and socialists will be able to influence the drafting and passage of government legislation in the new Knesset, possibly marking the beginning of a new era of social-liberal reform in the State of Israel.

In domestic and foreign policy, there are signs that an administration led by Labor and Hatnuah would pursue radically different policies to those of the Netanyahu Government. In relation to the latter, the Labor-Hatnuah alliance could take positive steps towards building a lasting peace with the Palestinians, perhaps resolving long standing issues such as settlement building and Palestinian statehood. Since the leaders of both parties have voiced their support for a settlement freeze and endorse the two-state solution, this raises the prospect of a new peace settlement being reached on both sides.

Apart from bringing about a possible peace, and perhaps establish a Palestinian state, such a settlement could bring a peace dividend for Israelis in terms of a concerted effort to tackle poverty and inequality, with more money available to pay for such an endeavour. While defence spending in Israel is relatively high, the country is in the unenviable position amongst the member states of the OECD of having a higher poverty rate and a lower level of social expenditure than the OECD average, a sad situation that clearly shows the extent to which Israeli society is ripe for change.

Both Labor and Hatnuah are committed to policies aimed at confronting these stark realities, such as improvements in health and welfare benefits, an increased minimum wage, and an ambitious public housing programme. Cutting the bloated defence budget could help free up the funds sorely needed to carry out such measures aimed at reducing the social disparities in Israel that Netanyahu has failed to tackle effectively during his long years as prime minister.

Even if the Labour-Hatnuah alliance were to win the election, however, it would need to joins forces with other parties in the Knesset to be able to form a functioning government. The liberal Yesh Atid party would be an ideal partner due to its support for greater equality, while the relatively new Kulanu party could also be a potential ally given its commitment to lowering the country’s wealth gap and high living costs. Although a number of Israeli Arabic left-wing parties recently rejected overtures by Labor leader Isaac Herzog to join his alliance, they may find themselves supporting a coalition jointly led by Herzog and Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livini if it means the realisation of various social justice measures and preventing Netanyahu from returning to office.

The people of Israel therefore have an historic opportunity to elect a new and progressive government, one guided by liberal and socialist principles of freedom, justice, and equality, that not only has the potential to transform Israel into a more egalitarian society, but also to lay the foundations for a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The time to seize that opportunity is now.

* Vittorio Trevitt has written for Respublica, Democratic Audit, Catch 21, Fabian Society and Compass. He has also done voluntary work for the Labour Party, including campaigning on behalf of local candidates, carrying out research for speeches, and writing articles to raise awareness of important social issues. He believes in British socialists and liberals working together to achieve progressive ends, united by their commitment to equality, freedom, and justice.

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