Blue and White releases its political platform: ‘No second disengagement’

Blue and White releases its political platform: ‘No second disengagement’

On security and diplomacy, centrist party’s manifesto hews to many right-wing policy points, vows to bring to a referendum any ‘historic political decision’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi pose for a picture after announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi pose for a picture after announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The centrist Blue and White party on Wednesday released its long-awaited political platform, laying out for the first time its positions on major policy issues in a detailed document that includes promises to retain Israeli control of major settlement blocs and a series of proposals challenging the current Orthodox hold on religion and state issues.

The party, which is projected to be the top vote-getter in April’s election, said the platform lays out its “worldview on issues that are most important to the Israeli public.”

According to its introduction, the 45-page manifesto “addresses all the essential issues facing the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel… embodying the right of Israeli citizens to live in dignity, security, prosperity and freedom.”

Blue and White, which was formed last month in a merger between former military chief Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and centrist leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, has until now remained largely mum on specific policies. While Yesh Atid had already released a detailed 200-page manifesto before the merger was announced last month, Israel Resilience had declined to publish any clear policy proposals on domestic, security or diplomatic issues.

The joint party’s platform includes proposals on both domestic and security issues as well as on foreign policy, albeit to varying degrees. A spokesperson for Blue and White told The Times of Israel that the manifesto was compiled by MK Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid and candidates Hili Trooper of Israel Resilience and Yoaz Hendel of Telem, a faction led by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon that is also part of the political alliance.

The diplomatic program set out in the manifesto includes support for a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, continued Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and retaining settlement blocs in the West Bank, along with a willingness to enter negotiations with the Palestinians.

In a photo released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 14, 2019, soldiers are seen during a military exercise in the Jordan valley. (Israel Defense Forces)

“There will be no second disengagement. Any historic political decision will be brought to the people’s decision by referendum or approved in the Knesset by a special majority,” the platform reads, in a rejection of claims made by the Likud party that Gantz seeks a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

Such a platform would likely be rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which calls for a state based on the 1967 lines with a capital in East Jerusalem. Notably, the platform hews to some of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing stances, including a lack of support for Palestinian statehood.

The party, however, also promises to “initiate a regional conference with the Arab countries that seek stability and deepen the process of separation from the Palestinians while maintaining uncompromising security interests of the State of Israel and the IDF’s freedom of action everywhere.”

In addition, Blue and White called the Golan Heights an “inseparable” part of Israel, and said it would reject any overtures to return the territory annexed from Syria in the 1967 war as “non-negotiable.”

On social issues, the party makes a clear break with the government, supporting initiatives blocked by the ultra-Orthodox, such as public transportation on Shabbat and canceling the “mini-market law” prohibiting certain trade on Saturdays,

The introduction to the section on religion says that the party “will preserve the Jewish identity of the state alongside the realization of the right of every person and community to shape their way of life in freedom and tolerance.”

Tackling other issues that have irked ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, the platform also vows to pass legislation permitting same-sex civil unions and surrogacy by same-sex couples.

A view from the small egalitarian prayer platform adjacent to the Western Wall at the Robinson’s Arch, April 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)

Additionally, the platform includes a commitment to implement a currently frozen deal to expand the pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall and establish a first-of-its-kind body made up of non-Orthodox Jewish leaders to oversee the site.

The original plan, which Blue and White has committed to, includes three key provisions: a joint entrance to the main Western Wall plaza and the egalitarian prayer space; a new permanent pavilion greatly enlarging the existing modest prayer deck, which has served as a site for pluralistic prayer since 2000; and, perhaps most controversially, a joint council made up of representatives from liberal streams of Judaism and government representatives that would be in charge of overseeing the site.

Addressing the politically contentious nation-state law, the party said it would “ensure that the value of equality is enshrined in a Basic Law,” but declined to say whether it would push to amend the original legislation

In his first comments after entering politics, Gantz said he would “fix” the law, though he later qualified his remarks in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

The nation-state law enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” Critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens. It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members — many of whom serve in the Israeli army — say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

The platform also includes several proposed reforms of various public services, such as program for Israel’s overcrowded hospitals that promises to add NIS 12.5 billion to the health system over the next five years.

While Israeli elections usually focus on security, a poll conducted for The Times of Israel last week showed that the issue is of less significance in this election than in previous contests. In fact, when given a list of five issues to pick as being the most important for the government to deal with, security (21%) trailed far behind economic issues (47%). Democracy, the rule of law and corruption came in third with 17%, followed by relations with the Palestinians, diplomacy and the peace process (11%), and religion and state (5%).

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