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Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…

It will not serve their parties or Israel’s democracy to have a protracted process of posturing and mutual denigration. Tzipi and Bibi sit down together now. We all know that you know you have no choice


It was just a few weeks ago that our country asked our youth to put aside their personal interests and to place their lives in danger in service of the country. Our soldiers and their families, who stood behind them, expressed the noblest values of citizenship – a commitment to our people and our nation in times of need, even at the expense of one’s individual needs and interests.
Now that the elections are over, it is time for our politicians to follow the lead and standard set by our soldiers. It is time for them to act as true and loyal citizens of Israel and show that their primary concern is for what they can do for their country.
Contrary to common perception, the recent election did result in a clear outcome – that of political stalemate. Tzipi Livni and the Kadima party, who won the election, cannot form a coalition without the Likud, while Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud party cannot form a coalition with which they can live without Kadima.
The first part of the above equation is clearer. The 28 Knesset seats they won give to Kadima the first right of forming the coalition, as has been the custom since the beginning of the state. Nevertheless, it is evident that they will not be able to translate this right into a majority coalition capable of governing.
The Likud and Netanyahu, who came in second, are well within their rights to refuse to join a Kadima-led coalition and instead sit aside for the requisite 42 days, and to give Livni and Kadima the chance to form the coalition. Upon their inevitable failure, then accept the mandate from President Shimon Peres and attempt to form their own coalition. However, pubic posturing and declarations aside, it is just as is clear that while Netanyahu and the Likud can find the support of 65 Knesset seats from the religious and far right-wing parties in support of their coalition, they know that it is not a coalition that Israel can live with.
Netanyahu and Livni, while having their differences, both share the core principles of engaging Israel in a responsible foreign policy that is concerned with security but which at the same time pursues negotiations and new horizons for Israeli society.
Both share and accept the notion that we must be willing to negotiate with our enemies and be willing to offer land in the event that these negotiations bear fruit. Most importantly, both agree that Israel’s greatest strategic asset is to work in cooperation with our major ally, the United States, and whenever possible, with the international community. Neither are political isolationists. Both recognize the realities of realpolitik , and while neither would let the world dictate Israel’s policy, nevertheless they recognize that our strength is also dependent on our relationships with the world.
Netanyahu knows very well that a coalition founded and dependent upon Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Israel Beitenu, and the radical right-wing party of the settler movement, the Ichud Haleumi, will not allow the implementation of the Likud platform nor be able to lead and respond to Israel’s challenges. While immediate territorial compromise is not at issue, for example, pursuing the Road Map is, and that will involve dismantling some illegal outposts, something neither Israel Beitenu nor the Ichud Haleumi will allow. A Likud-right wing coalition will not allow Israel any political horizon, will radicalize the Palestinians even further and will alienate Israel in the international community. All of the above are not Netanyahu’s agenda.  
And thus, while Netanyahu has a right to wait 42 days and watch Livni fail in her attempts, Livni and Kadima have an equal right to wait a year and let Netanyahu and Likud form a coalition that inevitably will implode as it shackles Netanyahu to policies he and the majority of Israelis cannot live with. In that case, his failure will result in new elections and a realigning of the electorate in a manner that Kadima has every reason to hope will give them the coalition they need to emerge as victors.
The above is clear to everyone involved. Yet, over the next few days, we will hear much posturing, as if each side has other choices. This posturing, however, will not change the fact that we are at a stalemate, a stalemate that can only be resolved though mutual cooperation and compromise. Denying this fact neither serves our society nor the individuals who are laying claim to the mantle of leadership during these critical times.  
It is time for Livni and Netanyahu to step forward and ask not what the country can do for them, but what they can do for the country. It is time for them to prove that they are worthy to lead by relinquishing the belief that they alone are worthy to lead.
Stalemates require leaders with courage to move us forward – to get us unstuck from the reality in which we have found ourselves. Our tradition offers us clear direction as to how to move forward in cases of a stalemate. The Talmud (Baba Metzia, 1:1) tells of two individuals who appear in front of a court, each one holding different sides of a garment, each one claiming to have found it, each one claiming it is all theirs. The court, which does not have evidence beyond the claims of each individual, is faced with a dilemma. As only one of the claims is true, does it wait until the truth comes to light, or does it search for a compromise that will enable social life to continue. It chooses the latter and rules that the garment should be divided.
Social life will always generate competing claims that can be argued ad infinitum, leading to ongoing strife and stagnation, or we can create mechanisms of compromise which will enable coexistence. There will always be cases of competing claims that generate stalemates. The choice before us is whether we continue in this state, with each side holding on to its truth, or whether we move forward and find a way to live with each other.
Our tradition rules that we must learn to divide our irresolvable competing claims. Whether Tzipi or Bibi should lead, or whether the leadership of the coalition should be divided on a rotating basis, is not the question. The only significant issue is which option will allow the two parties to share power and to sit together for as long as possible and together lead our country.
Leadership and greatness are both revealed and tested at moments of difficulty and challenge. Livni and Netanyahu both claim the mantle of leadership and greatness. They both aspire on their own to be that singular individual who would lead Israel forward. The outcome of the election, however, creates a challenge that can only be resolved through compromise. Their challenge is to recognize they are servants of the people and must serve the country – and not vice versa.
It will not serve their parties or Israel’s democracy to have a protracted process of posturing and mutual denigration. Such posturing will only make future compromise more difficult, and may even cause the rational path to be temporarily shelved, pushing us to either a destructive coalition or a void of leadership.
Tzipi and Bibi, ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country . Sit down together now. We all know that you know you have no choice. Instead of fighting the moment, seize it, and show that you are truly worthy of the mantle of greatness and leadership that you claim. Divide it.

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