By Tim Marshall.
Ofer Shelah, (above right) arrives at the Herzliya Conference in the Israeli way – open necked shirt, no airs and graces, focussed.
He’s 55 now, but the years as a Paratrooper are obvious in two ways. He is lean and athletic in a way few mid fifties hummus eaters can pull off, and he is missing an eye as a result of fighting in Lebanon in 1983.
The Israelis know him as something of a Renaissance Man. Paratrooper, writer, TV sports presenter, journalist, and now, politician with the centrist Yesh Atid party which has 11 seats in the 120 seat Knesset and is led by Yair Lapid (above left).
On the Palestine/Israeli issue he favours a regional solution; ‘That means bringing back into the open that the whole region has an interest in creating and maintaining an agreement. It has to be seen as a win win situation. The debate now, in as much as there is one on the Palestinian question, is about the Arab Initiative. Those who still believe in a two state solution are clinging to that, but everyone’s waiting for a new leader”.
He agrees with the mainstream analysis that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has given up on direct negotiation, and is intent on using every diplomatic forum available to him to isolate Israel. The recent moves towards recognition of statehood at the UN General Assembly being an example, ‘‘Abbas is on the diplomatic offensive, and it’s just the beginning.”
I ask if he thinks the UK has been absent from the stage in recent years, he prefers to widen the question “I feel that Europe is not in the game as much as I would like it to be. Everyone was pre-occupied with the Kerry Initiative and this helped both Abbas and Netanyahu waste time. Now we have to create a group photo”.
On BDS (boycott, disinvestment, sanctions) he is scathing about the analysis of sections of the Israeli left which support it in the belief it will help the Palestinians “It’s the last stand of the Israeli left, the Leninist approach that things have to get worse before they get better…the boycotts don’t help the Palestinians, they activize people (Israelis) to circle the waggons. You don’t have to be on the Israeli right to see that BDS is not just about occupation, it’s about objecting to Israel, and (it is) anti-Semitism”.
Shelah is part of a relatively new generation of secular politicians who are from outside the Likud/Labour machines and thus appeal to floating voters sick of the corruption scandals and perceived arrogance of the traditional political power blocs.
His TV years give him brand recognition most politicians here can only dream of. We will have to wait for the next election to see if Yesh Atid can grow. If it does, Shelah will grow with it.
The W&Y is at the Herzliya Security Conference 2015 at the invitation of BICOM.