The Likud campaign ad opens with a 1999 victory rally of newly elected Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who promises cheering supporters “a new dawn,” bringing the Oslo peace process to its successful conclusion. Cut to the image of a bombed bus. An ominous voice-over reminds Israelis that instead of peace, “we received the intifada,” four years of the worst terrorism in Israel’s history. “We must not repeat that mistake.” Then the names of the leaders of the new centrist party, Blue and White—Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid—appear on screen: “Lapid and Gantz. Left. Weak.”
It might seem odd that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party are focusing on events that are two decades old and invoking a long-discredited and irrelevant Labor Party leader. But the Likud understands what much of the international community never internalized: that the second intifada—which began in 2000, shortly after Barak accepted the principle of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and which resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries among Israelis and Palestinians—remains the great Israeli trauma of this generation.
The main political casualty of the second intifada was the Israeli left, which became effectively unelectable. After all, the left had assured Israelis that a two-state offer would bring peace, but the numbing wave of terrorism immediately following Barak’s acceptance of a Palestinian state shattered the left’s credibility. The Labor Party, which helped found the state of Israel and which was the uncontested party of government for the country’s first three decades, now appears likely in polls to win six to eight seats (out of the Knesset’s 120)—competing with the small, further-left party Meretz. The left remains so discredited that the Labor leader, Avi Gabbay, tried to deny that he was a leftist at all—a statement he quickly retracted after party faithful revolted.