Yael Dayan: «My Israel Has Been Betrayed»
Umberto De Giovannangeli 7 May 2020

«To use the military terminology so dear to the former Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz has surrendered unconditionally to Netanyahu. Some have said and written that Gantz has betrayed his voters but, in accepting to govern together with Netanyahu, he has done worse; he has inflicted a mortal blow on all hope for change». So argues in this exclusive interview with Reset Yael Dayan, the author, former MP and deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, a defender of women’s rights and the daughter of one of Israel’s legendary leaders, the hero of the Six Day War, General Moshe Dayan.

Following nerve-wracking negotiations, Israel is about to have a new government, on the Netanyahu-Gantz axis. Some have described it as the “annexation government”, others an unnatural political “marriage”. What is your view?

I take the severest possible view. Gantz entered politics with the stated intention of putting an end to the Netanyahu era. He did this first of all in the name of one of the cornerstones of the rule of law; namely that no one, not even prime ministers can consider themselves above the law, as Netanyahu demands to be. Gantz has surrendered on this issue and cannot justify what is simply a power play in the name of the ‘war’ against the Coronavirus. In the past, Israel has fought many wars, which have endangered its very existence, but those wars were never used for political power games. In the most difficult time of its existence, Israel stood united, regardless of political divisions between those in government and the opposition. The salt of democracy lies precisely in the debate between different visions, between the different possible government alternatives. Gantz has abolished all this and in doing so he has handed himself over to Netanyahu, also causing a rift in the alliance that had resulted in the Blue and White coalition.

But Gantz has obtained important ministries for Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), such as Defence, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry. And according to the draft agreement, in 18 months time he will be prime minister.

Eighteen months are an eternity in Israeli politics. Bear in mind that we have held three early elections in less than a year. In Israel, no one except Gantz would bet a shekel on the relay system being respected by Netanyahu. Rather than give up the premiership, he will call a new election. And he will face these elections after splitting the opposition. Gantz has surrendered to a prime minister who foments hatred and division, who with his hate-filled words ideologically and politically arms the most extreme right wing. Netanyahu continues to behave like a politician, ready to do anything so long as he stands at the centre of the stage. This behaviour is unworthy of the leader of a party, the Likud, which I have always opposed but that I acknowledge has for decades been an essential lynchpin for our democratic system alongside the Labour Party. Begin and Sharon would be turning in their graves if they could hear Netanyahu’s performances.

Winning performances.

But performances that Israel will pay a very high price for. The price will be paid by the minorities, and not only Israeli Arabs, also affecting the peace process with the Palestinians, it will be paid by society’s weaker classes. On the other hand, Netanyahu has built his consensus on the country’s division, radicalising the Likud to the right, exploiting fear and insecurity, pointing on each occasion to the enemies to be fought both from within and abroad. And now he is preparing to be prime minister for another 18 months. A nightmare.

Yael Dayan, 80

Speaking of former opponents, Labour Party leader Amir Peretz will also be a member of this new government.

This is well beyond betrayal. This is the political assassination of the party that founded the State of Israel, the party of Ben Gurion, Herzog, Golda Meir, Rabin, Peres… my father’s political party. And all this for a jump-seat in a government that will have nothing remotely Labour about it. This not only indicates a lack of credible authoritative leadership but also means that the Left has, for sometime now, ceased to be empathic or capable of being on the same wavelength as the poorer but also more dynamic part of Israel. The Right’s policies have caused very serious social fault lines, impoverishing a significant part of the country while simultaneously not investing in Israeli start-ups, research and innovation. The problem is a lack of strong roots but above all I believe a lack of vision, the ability to imagine an Israel other than the one created by the Right. This was the vision that inspired Israel’s founding fathers, which fuelled Zionist pioneers. It is not nostalgia for the past, although at my age I could indulge in such feelings. Luckily, even at the grand old age of 80, I continue to have relations with many splendid boys and girls who are committed to social work and have no political representation. And there are many of them, you know. However, the Left will have to work hard and act quickly so as to bring them over to its side.

In this anything but reassuring scenario is there still any margin for re-launching Israeli-Palestinian dialogue?

My heart is inclined to say ‘yes’, but my head says ‘no’. If such a margin is to be found by those about to govern Israel, then my answer is no; such a margin no longer exists. It does not exist because a choice was made to weaken and delegitimize a moderate leader prepared to compromise, as is Abu Mazen, although this has ended up strengthening Hamas’ extremists. Such a margin no longer exists because, in this vision presented by the Right, security is always merged with plans of greatness that do not involve the acknowledgment of a Palestinian State. There is not and there cannot be a real and lasting peace that can be reconciled with the massive colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is not reconcilable due to the simple, irrefutably real fact involving the de facto annexation of Palestinian lands, the transformation of settlements into Israeli cities also in terms of status, thereby undermining the foundations of the agreement based on the principle of “Two People, Two States”.

A Likud member would respond that the settlements greatly increased also when Israel was led by Labour prime ministers. 

The Left should reflect on this and also embark on some healthy self-criticism. There is, however, a significant difference; the nationalist Right sees the settlements as having ideological legitimisation and not linked to security. According to the more extreme Right, which nowadays plays a decisive role in government, even the more radical elements among the settlers are heroes, pioneers of Eretz Israel. In this framework, the settlements in Judea and Samaria (the Biblical names for the West Bank, ed.) are the realisation of the plan for the Great Israel that was the foundation for the Zionist revisionism of Zeev Jabotinsky, who has always been the reference philosopher for the Israeli Right. Where should the Palestinian State be created? On which territories, within which borders? And then: of course, there can be a demilitarised state, but not one that does not exercise its sovereignty over its national territory. Such a state would be pretence. Netanyahu, and with him the leaders of the radical Right, consider the birth of a State of Palestine not as a threat to Israel security, but as a mortal blow to Greater Israel. It is not by using force that Israel will become a normal country.

«Annexation will turn Israel into a state that officially discriminates against the Palestinian people based on ethnicity, depriving them of civil rights and thereby putting an end to democracy in Israel as we know it. Annexation is a death knell not only for Palestinian national aspirations but also for the founding values of the State of Israel, enshrined in its Declaration of Independence. Such action risks provoking a mounting tide of de-legitimization of Israel and further bouts of anti-Semitism. Annexation will also jeopardize relations between Israel and progressive Jews around the world for whom human rights, equality and democracy are essential principles.…». This is a passage from the appeal launched at the global level by J-Link, an international network featuring Jewish organisations that are active in the United States, Canada, Europe,  Latin America, South Africa and Australia. Do you agree?

Absolutely yes. I have always been convinced that the negotiated creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state would be neither a ‘gift’ nor a concession made by Israel to an ‘enemy’ and would not even comply with an abstract principle of justice. A two-state peace is a ‘gift’ that Israel would offer itself and the only way of not betraying the values and principles that are the foundations of the birth of the state of Israel.


Photo: J. GUEZ / AFP

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