Voters and observers of Israeli politics hoping for a major sea change in Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians in the event of a Kachol Lavan victory may be disappointed if the party’s newly released political platform is any indication: its policies regarding the conflict include maintenance of the settlement blocs, retention of the Jordan Valley, and a united Jerusalem (former chief of staff  and party leader Benny Gantz also made the fairly benign decision to announce that Israel would never cede control of the Golan Heights). Indefinite control of the settlement blocs is less controversial in that the phrase has proven elastic for both the right and left, but a charitable reading might lead one to believe that such a statement is in fact compatible with the notion of land swaps that has appeared in various final status peace proposals. Yet any mention of a “united Jerusalem” (along with a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley) often coincides with a refusal to divide the city and share sensitive religious sites, leaving the idea of negotiations with the P.L.O. dead on arrival.


One could interpret these points in two ways: firstly, as a strategic campaign move to draw in soft-right voters tired of Netanyahu’s antics but apprehensive of supporting a party that is too dovish and seemingly accommodating to the Palestinians. Secondly, by offering vaguely worded declarations that could be interpreted as reliably right-leaning, Kachol Lavan’s leadership is actually laying the groundwork for a comprehensive deal following elections and the emergence of President Donald Trump’s elusive peace plan.

Given the makeup of the party’s leaders, however, it’s difficult to assess which interpretation, if either, is closer to reality. This is in large part due to the fact that, when it comes to issues of diplomacy, Kachol Lavan’s star candidates holds vastly different, even contradictory views on the topic. Gantz and former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi appear to be the most, in relative terms, dovish on these matters, unequivocally stating the need for partition in order to maintain Israel’s democracy and its Jewish character. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid too has routinely spoken in favor of such a solution, against annexation, and the pursuit of two states, but has seemingly dipped his foot in the populist waters on more than one occasion regarding the idea of Palestinian-Israeli led parties joining his coalition in order to make that happen. Nonetheless, despite these differences, there is at least a general consensus among the three that extricating Israel from the at least parts of the West Bank is imperative in safeguarding the country’s long-term well-being.

It is, rather, the fourth member of the party’s leading quartet who throws said consensus completely out of whack, a fact that may very well lead to trouble down the road. Former Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon, who initially united his new party Telem with that of Gantz’s Hosen Leyisrael, may have spent his formative years as a committed Laborite, but the last quarter century of violence led him to believe a Palestinian state is simply not in the cards. It should be noted that, as opposed to a growing number on the right who justify maximalism through divine right or national chauvinism, Ya’alon’s reasoning for remaining in the West Bank is driven by a cold security calculus.

It was this belief that guided many of his actions during his stints as defense minister, attempting to reconcile what Ya’alon saw as a benign military occupation (however contradictory his views). And it was ultimately the catalyst that drove him out of the previous government, following his displeasure at the prime minister’s defense of Sergeant Elior Azaria after the latter killed a disarmed assailant. Ya’alon’s current worldview, ironically enough, reflects what might be deemed “Old Likud:” a classically liberal outlook that supports robust democracy at home while maintaining control all or part of the territories captured in 1967. Yet Ya’alon’s inclusion on the party list is, nonetheless, an awkward fit. Deemed insufficiently nationalist by the right, he now finds himself at the forefront of a party whose other leaders have made clear their intentions for some form of partition, a solution that he has vehemently rejected and views as an existential threat.

In the event that Kachol Lavan emerge victorious following April’s elections and the Trump administration does in fact go forward with its plan—two very big “ifs”, to be sure—Lapid and Gantz, who have agreed to a rotating premiership, will be faced with another conundrum: devising a policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians that reflects the totality of their party. Given Ya’alon’s status and the fact that he is meant to be a major draw (among other candidates) for voters who lean to the right, it would be difficult to simply dismiss this fact or subsume it.

Of course, there is also a third interpretation of the above that is far more cynical: that Kachol Lavan is offering nothing more than a slightly more palatable version of Netanyahu’s status quo strategy that simply plays for time, or offers no immediate solutions, sans the populism that has come to define the prime minister’s last decade in office. If this is the case — and given the state of the race, it’s simply too early to tell — it will point to a troubling realization about what are now considered mainstream solutions (or lack thereof) to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu has already normalized, through his excessive attacks on the left, the media, the courts, and any party deemed insufficiently loyal to his cause, the undermining of democratic norms and institutions. Disturbingly, his decade of deep-freeze diplomacy may have shifted the debate in a direction that does not portend well for the future.