ELECTIONEERING: “UNNECESSARY” AND “UNHELPFUL,” OR WILL NEW PLAYERS SHAKE UP ISRAEL’S POLITICAL ARENA?

On Wednesday, Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) submitted a bill to dissolve Israel’s parliament, raising the prospect of an early election to take place on September 4.

 

The bill is expected to be approved by Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday, which will accelerate the legislative process and put the bill to a preliminary Knesset vote on Monday. The bill’s first, second and third readings are likely to take place on Tuesday; the last day of the 18th Knesset is expected to be on Wednesday, May 9, during which the final legislation will be approved.

 

Sources in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office say Binyamin Netanyahu would like to hold an election as soon as possible, to take advantage of his Likud Party’s commanding lead in public-opinion polls and a fractured opposition.

 

Meanwhile, 62 percent of Israelis do not think an election is necessary, and only 27% say an early vote will be for the good of the country.

 

ELECTIONEERING
Editorial

Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2012

If Israeli voters—the onlookers in our political arena—paid discerning attention, they would have noticed a surreal spectacle Tuesday. Just as one political aspirant—Yair Lapid—entered the fray, another contender—Tzipi Livni—proclaimed her exit. It almost looked synchronized, as if one hyped political wunderkind replaced the other neatly and instantly, leaving no gap in the overnight-star category.

In many ways Lapid and Livni seem to be cut from the same cloth. They subscribe to no clear creed or set of values. Indeed, it’s hard to pin down what they stand for. Though they profusely laud their self-professed principles, they rarely, if ever, elaborate. The only thing that can be said with any degree of certainty is that they are ideologically pliable and that they tout this as an asset rather than as a liability. It’s as if articles of faith are undesirable in our present-day political discourse.…

No wonder the hottest speculation at the moment is whether Livni will join Lapid and whether the twosome will run in tandem. Such guesswork presents compelling testimony to the trifling tidbits that preoccupy us. The big picture and undiminished existential dangers pale before headline-grabbing and ratings-generating inconsequentialities.

This is perhaps why our society rushes headlong into early elections, without consideration for the price and ramifications. No government in recent years has lasted a full term (though the present one did better than most). Untold sums go to waste for party financing and mounting costly campaigns more often than democracy mandates.…

But worst of all is the warping of our national agenda at times of increasing peril. Instead of focusing on our collective self-preservation, we’re too frequently gripped by inordinately prolonged campaigns that drag out for at least six months.…

When the superfluous electioneering din dies down, we’ll be left with all that weighed heavy upon us previously—the threat of a nuclear Iran, Palestinian pressures, the perfidy of the Arab Spring, our frayed socioeconomic fabric, the real estate bubble, the cashed-strapped educational framework, health system, police force, public transport networks, etc. None of this will go away.

And, last but hardly least, who will be charged with tending to all the above? In all likelihood it will be another fragile coalition, concocted from yet another ragtag assortment of factional splinters, each of which will extract all it can as the price for its cooperation.

In other words, the odds are that we will be back just where we now are.

NETANYAHU, LIKUD STAND TO GAIN FROM EARLY ELECTIONS
Jonathan Spyer
Pajamas Media, May 2, 2012

Israel will have an election on September 4, and polls indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party will be re-elected to lead the government.

A recent poll by Yediot Ahronot and the Dahaf Institute suggests Likud would become the largest party, increasing its presence in the 120-member Knesset from 27 seats to about 30. The same poll shows the opposition Kadima Party, which recently chose former general Shaul Mofaz as its new leader, would suffer a drastic fall from 28 seats to only 10.

The splits among Likud’s other rivals also show a strengthening of the party. Labor, which has embraced social issues, would grow from eight seats to 18, while a new centrist party created by former journalist Yair Lapid called Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) would take 11 seats. [Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebrman’s] Yisrael Beiteinu party would shrink from 16 seats to 13.

If this poll proves accurate, Netanyahu will have a variety of options when it comes to forming a new coalition. Neither Kadima nor Labor nor Lapid’s party have ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. The prime minister might choose to construct a center-right government or a right-religious coalition of the type that currently exists, depending on the parliamentary arithmetic and his own preference.…

Contrary to frequent foreign perceptions, Netanyahu’s governing style is characterized in practice by extreme caution and a desire not to move far beyond the existing consensus. The last three years have witnessed an unfamiliar quiet on the security front and an economic stability currently rivaled by few countries in the West. A solid centrist consensus of Israelis has concluded that—for the moment—there is no real partner on the splintered Palestinian political scene for making diplomatic progress, and that there are deep concerns regarding the chaotic neighborhood emerging in the wake of the Arab upheavals of 2011. Iran and its ambitions are also a matter of grave import.

In such an environment, it is not hard to see why a pragmatic hawk of Netanyahu’s stripe looks like a “safe pair of hands” to many voters.…

ISRAEL GOES TO ELECTIONS
Barry Rubin

Rubin Reports, May 2, 2012

Israel is going to have elections on September 4 and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will almost certainly win by a big margin. Understanding why explains a lot about the country that people think they know the most about but in fact comprehend the least.…

One key element in this equation is that the country is doing pretty well. True, it faces serious security problems but that’s the norm for Israel. Indeed, with no other trusted leader on the horizon, Netanyahu is the one most trusted to manage that dangerous situation.

True, too, there have been real social problems due largely to the gap between low salaries and high living costs that especially hurts younger people and provoked protests last year.… [However], Israel’s economy is doing [relatively well], including low unemployment, low inflation, and manageable state debt. In contrast to other Western economies, Israel’s government has avoided high government spending, unsustainable subsidies, and huge debt.

A third factor is the total fractionalization of the opposition. Indeed, one might speak of Netanyahu and the seven dwarfs. Aside from Kadima there are three other mid-sized parties that take votes from the same potential constituency and quarrel among themselves:

-Kadima, the main opposition party which is vaguely centrist, is so discredited by its former, failed leader Tzipi Livni that it will not be saved by its new head…from losing [upwards of] 20 of its current 28 seats.

-Labor, which has reinvented itself as a social issues party and has an untested [new] leader, [Shelly Yachimovich]…might come in a distant second.

-A new centrist party [led by Yair Lapid]…pushes the same secular centrism that has repeatedly produced one-election parties before.

-Israel Our Home, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, has a solid base among immigrants from the former Soviet Union but by that very fact—and given the fact that Lieberman is widely disliked and close to indictment—should hold but not expand its base.

It is ironic to think that the Obama Administration, whose ignorance of Israel and its politics cannot possibly be overestimated, thought it was going to bring down Netanyahu and replace him with a more pliable Livni. In fact, by its periodic bashing of Israel and ham-handed Middle East policy promoting Israel-hating Islamists, Obama unintentionally mobilized domestic support for Netanyahu.

Speaking about myths about Israel and Israeli politics here are corrections for some of the main ones:

-In contrast to the prevailing myth abroad, Netanyahu is no longer a “right-winger” in the way he was 15 years ago. He has moved into the center, a key factor explaining his success.

-Contrary to others who haven’t followed events closely, Israelis do not believe they have a peace option at present, with the Palestinians uninterested in a deal and Egypt, Iran, Turkey, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Syria in an all-out hostile mode.

-Despite claims that Obama has proven his support for Israel, among Israelis—even if some think Obama is a nice guy—there is no faith in US backing given the Obama Administration’s views and actions.…

THE LESSON OF LIVNI’S RESIGNATION:
DON’T BELIEVE MEDIA REPORTING ON ISRAEL
Evelyn Gordon

Contentions, May 1, 2012

Former opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s resignation from the Knesset [on Tuesday] offers a good opportunity to reflect on just how unreliable mainstream media reporting about Israel often is.

Just two months ago, Newsweek and The Daily Beast put Livni on their lists of “150 women who shake the world,” describing her as “one of the most powerful women in [Israel].” Yet while that was undoubtedly true a few years ago, by the time the Newsweek list came out in March 2012, Livni was almost universally regarded as a has-been even by her erstwhile supporters.

In an editorial published later that month, for instance, Haaretz mourned that in the three years since her “praiseworthy” decision not to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2009, “she has not missed a single opportunity to make a mistake: She did not function as an opposition leader, she did not offer an alternative to the government’s policies and she did not lead her party wisely and set clear policy.” In a poll published just four days after the Newsweek list, the public ranked Livni dead last among 16 leading Israeli political figures.… And three weeks later, Livni’s own party unceremoniously dumped her: She lost Kadima’s leadership race by a landslide 25-point margin. Now, her political career in ruins, she is even quitting the Knesset.

That Livni was a has-been by March 2012 was obvious to anyone who had even cursory familiarity with Israel. Thus, either Newsweek and The Daily Beast were completely ignorant of the Israeli reality, or they deliberately disregarded the facts in order to promote their own agenda: Livni, after all, is a darling of the international media, because as Newsweek said in its profile, she is “a steadfast proponent of the peace process.…” Regardless of which explanation is true, the bottom line is the same: Their reporting on Israel can’t be trusted.

Nor is this problem unique.… [Just this week], The New York Times deci[ded] to play up former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s [recent] verbal attack on Netanyahu…as something that “may add to recent pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to tack to the left.” [But] anyone with any knowledge of Israel knows that Olmert has virtually no political support, being widely viewed as both corrupt and incompetent.…

The media’s job is supposed to be informing the public. But when it comes to Israel, it often seems to prefer misinforming the public. By portraying…Livni and Olmert as important and influential politicians, media outlets make it impossible for readers to understand the real Israel—the one that elected Netanyahu in 2009 and seems likely to re-elect him this fall.…

BIBI’S POLITICAL INHERITANCE
Yossi Klein Halevi

Tablet, May 1, 2012

Benzion Netanyahu, scholar of the Inquisition, secretary to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and father of Bibi, was the last of the purist Revisionist Zionists. He carried Revisionism’s bitter battles against the Zionist left to the end of his 102 years. And his complicated relationship with his son tells the story of the successes and failures of the Revisionist movement.

Through the 1930s and ‘40s, Revisionist and left-wing Zionists argued vehemently about the nature of the future state and how to create it. Labor Zionists were socialists, Revisionists capitalists. Labor cooperated with the British mandate; the Revisionists revolted. And Labor accepted the division of the land of Israel, while Revisionists opposed every partition plan, including the first partition in 1922, which created the Kingdom of Jordan. The future state, argued Jabotinsky, would need ample borders in which to accommodate millions of future Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

The most profound debate between Revisionism and Labor concerned the nature of the Zionist transformation of the Jew. All Zionists agreed that the Jewish character had been distorted by exile; the question was what aspects of that personality needed to be changed. Labor advocated a total overhaul: a secular socialist Jew, freed of piety and economic marginality, a farmer and a worker. Revisionism, though, had only one demand on the new Jew: Become a soldier. Jabotinsky didn’t care whether Jews were Orthodox or atheist, workers or businessmen—so long as they knew how to defend themselves.

A key component to self-defense is the ability to perceive threat. And with the rise of Nazism, Revisionism’s insistence on Jewish power became a war against Jewish complacency and self-delusion. In speeches across Eastern Europe, Jabotinsky urged young Jews to learn to shoot and prepare to get out. Es Brent a fire, he warned, a fire is burning. Destroy the exile before the exile destroys you. Jabotinsky’s opponents mocked him as a fear-monger.

Of all the divides separating Revisionism and Labor, the failure of the mainstream Zionist movement to sense the approaching abyss and attempt to rescue Europe’s Jews remained perhaps the most bitter. Zionism, the antidote to Jewish wishful thinking, had, under Labor, been guilty of that worst Diaspora character flaw, and at the worst moment in Jewish history.

In the early years of the state, [therefore],…what Revisionism retained most urgently wasn’t so much ideology but sensibility. Jewish naivete, Revisionists insisted, had been the indispensable partner of the Final Solution. That is what kept the victims from listening to Jabotinsky and fleeing in time. The Nazis played on Jewish hope, reassuring their victims through a series of linguistic deceptions that ended with the showers. What remained of Revisionism was its 11th commandment: Don’t be a fool.

Then came the Six Day War. Suddenly territorial maximalism was relevant again. The new 1967 borders weren’t the same borders Revisionists had dreamed of, but they were close enough. History had compensated the Jews for its territorial losses. Not one inch, vowed Jabotinsky’s heir, Menachem Begin.

Ten years later, in 1977, came the moment the Revisionists had longed for and almost despaired would ever come. After 29 years in opposition—along with two decades in opposition before statehood—Begin finally rose to power. And then, almost immediately, came the shattering. When Begin agreed to cede all of Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt, one of his strongest critics from the right was Benzion Netanyahu.…

But the cruelest blow to Benzion came from his son. A political rift between them opened during the election campaign of 1996, when Bibi declared that he would accept the Oslo Accords, while insisting on Palestinian reciprocity. Benzion was outraged. Bibi tried to explain that his endorsement of Oslo was only tactical. Benzion countered: What begins as tactical ends in a betrayal of principle.

Benzion was right. In his second term Bibi became the first Likud leader to accept the principle of a two-state solution, the possible withdrawal from the second bank of the Jordan. While most of the international community missed the significance of Bibi’s historic concession, his father surely did not. Under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Revisionist ideology was buried in a state funeral. Yet even as he rejected the practicality of his father’s territorial maximalism, Bibi remained faithful to his father’s sensibility.…

It is precisely that dread of Jewish self-deception that has defined the politics of Benzion’s son. Don’t believe the Palestinian leaders when they speak about peace in English and jihad in Arabic, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned in his first term. And do believe the mullahs when they threaten to destroy the Jewish state, he now warns in his second term.

The war between the heirs of Labor and the heirs of Revisionism is no longer over ideology, but sensibility. Labor won the debate over partition: A strong majority of Israelis backs a two-state solution. Yet that same majority wants the Labor ideology of partition to be implemented by the Revisionist sensibility of wariness. And that is what Benzion’s son has committed himself to do. Not to preserve greater Israel at all cost, but to negotiate a safe partition if that becomes possible. A partition without wishful thinking.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has forever changed Israel’s political map and, in so doing, helped prepare the way for an eventual agreement with the Palestinians. That is not the victory Benzion hoped for. But it is, in its painful way, a vindication of the politics of realism he taught his son.