Friends of Israel — Jews and gentiles, ministers, parliamentarians, community leaders and ordinary people who care for and talk with the Jewish state — need to do one thing in the weeks ahead. They need to mobilise all the influence they have, and bring it to bear, uninhibitedly and unequivocally, in order to persuade Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid to leave Naftali Bennett out of their government.
Thanks to Mr Bennett’s honesty and decency, that — his omission from the new government — has become the most significant criterion by which the new government will be judged, at home and around the world.
The election campaign just ended was like a long-distance race in which one athlete makes all the running until the bell for the very last lap.
Mr Bennett trod a single track: he flatly rejected the two-state solution from start to finish.
For him — his honesty and decency were like a refreshing wind amid all the double-talk that befogs Israeli politics — there is no solution to the conflict. He recognises the Palestinians’ aspiration to independence — and opposes it. He eschews partition of the Holy Land. Israel should annex large swathes of the West Bank, he proposes, and grant a form of autonomy to several of the larger cities.
His honesty, along with his proven business success and charm, wooed thousands of voters, mainly young people, sick and tired of the old politics of compromise and concealment. The Likud, allied with Yisrael Beiteinu, tried desperately to compete with Mr Bennett’s surging popularity, positioning itself ever farther to the right.
But the drama of that last lap, the week or so before polling day, was above all the story of a mass recoiling, by those same thousands of young people, at the prospect of endless occupation, repression, discrimination and confrontation that Mr Bennett’s messianist vision holds out. Yair Lapid was the beneficiary: he spurted far ahead of Mr Bennett in the home straight.
The two-state solution is “not yet at an end”, a sombre William Hague told the House of Commons on Tuesday. But the situation was “very urgent”, the foreign secretary added. “The clock is ticking, with potentially disastrous consequences.” Harsh but true words, and words of true friendship at a truly historic juncture.
Friends of Israel cannot, must not, interfere in an election campaign. But no such rule precludes Israel’s friends abroad from pleading, and indeed demanding, during the coalition negotiations that the anti-peace party be kept out. On the contrary, that is the test and the duty of friendship.