THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL POLITICS & THE LEVY REPORT: TOWARDS A TWO PARTY STATE? A TWO STATE SOLUTION?

Dear Readers:

 

   Today marks a major moment in the life of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.  Our talented current Publications Editor, Charles Bybelezer, is leaving for Israel. He has been responsible for the unerringly on-topic, wide-ranging, and clearly focused Daily Isranet Briefings you have received in recent years (as well as for our ISRAFAX quarterly print journal and annual Commemorative Book).

 

   Charles is taking up a new position as an editorial staff writer with the Jerusalem Post. This is a wonderful and richly deserved opportunity for Charles, an immensely promising and eloquent young writer. Widely-read, analytically incisive, and Jewishly learned, he is, as a committed Zionist, an ardent supporter of our democratic, Jewish state.

 

   All of us at CIJR are delighted for him, and know he is going to be a major resource at the Jerusalem Post and an outstanding figure in the centrally important field of intelligent, informed and hard-hitting Israel advocacy.

 

   And, even as Charles leaves, we are also delighted to welcome our new Publications Editor, Ber Lazarus. Trained as a sociologist, with a creative career in social work, and an accomplished artist as well, he is also an able websight designer and blogger.

 

   Ber is an untiring Israel advocate, and an effective pro-Israel writer in his own right.  Not least, he is also an activist, most recently in support of the brave St. Denis Street merchants in Montreal fighting a vicious boycott campaign against Israeli-made products.

 

   As a proudly pro-Israel academic research center now in its twenty-fifth year, CIJR early recognized that one of its key functions should be the training of able, informed and highly motivated staff. We are proud to have helped shape Israel advocates who can think, write, and speak clearly and forcefully. 

 

   The war being waged today in the media, on campuses, and in   international institutions seeks to delegitimate Israel. This is a key front in the ongoing campaign against the Jewish state, a war of ideas which,  given the approaching Iranian nuclear weapon, we must win.

 

   We know that Charles, in Israel, and Ber, in Canada, will be making solid contributions to this crucially important goal.  CIJR wishes all the best to Charles, with whom we shall remain in close touch, and welcomes Ber, whom we know will also be a major asset to CIJR and to the Jewish people  

 

 

Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director
Canadian Institute for Jewish Research,

Editor, Daily Isranet Briefing

THE REGION: THE FUTURE OF ISRAELI POLITICS

Barry Rubin
Jerusalem Post, July 29, 2012

 

“Can’t anybody here play this game?”—Casey Stengel, New York Mets’ manager.

Stengel’s complaint is the precise description of Israeli politics nowadays. To a remarkable extent—and this has nothing to do with his views or policies—Binyamin Netanyahu is the only functioning politician in Israel today. No wonder he is prime minister, will finish his current term, and almost certainly be reelected in 2013.

 

Consider the alternatives.

 

The number one such option is Shaul Mofaz who is head of Kadima. Mofaz was a competent general but is a dreadful politician. He may be the least charismatic man I’ve ever met. Tzipi Livni, his predecessor, was a disaster as leader of the self-described centrist party.…

 

• Although her party had one seat more than Netanyahu’s in the 2009 election, Livni bungled the chance for some kind of coalition or rotation agreement. True, Netanyahu held the upper hand and had no incentive to give up much but that was all the more reason for her to offer him a good enough deal so she wouldn’t be totally thrown into fruitless opposition.

 

• As leader of the opposition, Livni was a total failure, never providing a good counter to Netanyahu’s positions and showing signs of personal panic that shocked people. Even the anti-Netanyahu media couldn’t rally behind her.…

 

Mofaz’s record is quite bad, too. In fact, as one Israeli joke puts it, in terms of damage, Mofaz accomplished in three months what it took Livni 18 months to do. He said he would never leave Likud for Kadima, and then did so a few hours later. He said he wouldn’t join Netanyahu’s coalition, then he did, and then he announced he was leaving not too much later over the issue of drafting yeshiva students.…

 

Then there’s the Left.

 

The Labor Party has split, with the smaller, more national security-oriented faction led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak sticking with Netanyahu’s coalition. That group should also disappear in the next election.

 

 

The remaining party has veered to the Left and put the priority on domestic social issues. That might well revive the party—especially with the defection of lots of Kadima voters—but it won’t win them an election. The party is now led by Shelly Yechimovich, whose career experience consists of having been a radio journalist and has never been a cabinet member.

 

Of course there were social protests in Israel last year about high prices for some consumer goods and for apartments. These are genuine problems. But these are the result of economic policies that also brought Israel one of the best records of any developed country in the world during the international recession.

 

And the fallout from the Arab Spring puts national security issues front and center once again.

 

Along with this has been the collapse of the social protests. Last year the movement could mobilize hundreds of thousands—though the media exaggerated its size—and had broad public sympathy across the political spectrum.

 

Now it is reduced to a few thousand at most. Why? Because the loony leftists ousted the moderate leadership which had some realistic proposed solutions.…

 

There are three key factors necessary to understand contemporary Israeli politics.

 

First, Netanyahu is not seen by the electorate generally as being right-wing and hawkish but as being centrist. He has successfully been developing this posture now for about 15 years without much of the Western media appearing to notice.

 

Second, Israelis don’t really see the likelihood that different policies are going to make lots of Arabs and Muslims love Israel, or bring peace with the Palestinians or end the vilification of Israel in the Left. All of those things were attempted by means of Israel taking high risks and making big concessions during the 1992-2000 period. Israelis remember—even if others don’t—that this strategy doesn’t work.

 

Third, there are no other politicians who are attractive as potential prime ministers.

 

We now know that US President Barack Obama’s administration thought that he was going to overturn Netanyahu and bring Livni to power on a platform of giving up a lot more to the Palestinians on the hope that this would bring peace. The editorial pages of American newspapers and alleged experts still advocate this basic strategy.

 

They couldn’t possibly be less connected to reality.

 

TWO-PARTY POLITICS

Editorial|
Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2012

 

The latest in a series of political crises afflicting Kadima has made the problems of being a centrist party in our political system abundantly clear.

 

The two veteran parties, the Likud and Labor, to a large extent like the Republicans and the Democrats in the US represent the two mainstream positions on cardinal issues such as security and socioeconomics.

 

The ideological room between them is simply too narrow and insubstantial to allow for a third party.

 

Disingenuous attempts have been made—particularly by Yair Lapid, head of the next up-and-coming superfluous centrist party, Yesh Atid—to paint Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich as a radical socialist who is opposed to free market enterprise, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been portrayed as a heartless neoconservative.

 

But in reality the differences between Yechimovich’s social-democratic platform and Netanyahu’s more conservative stance are not so marked, and are similar to the differences that split Democrats and Republicans. Kadima has never fully articulated a distinct socioeconomic platform, while the nuances distinguishing Lapid’s socioeconomic platform from Yechimovich’s do not justify the creation of a separate party.

 

On security issues, Kadima has not brought to the political discourse any new ideas either. Kadima supporters such as Ariel Sharon’s confidant and adviser Dov Weissglas, claim that Sharon created the party because he felt shackled by the Likud’s ideological constraints. After implementation of the pullout from the Gaza Strip and parts of northern Samaria in 2005, Sharon was fast losing support within the Likud, though his popularity soared among the general public. This was only natural since the sort of unilateral dismantling of Jewish settlements—without receiving any Palestinian commitments—was diametrically opposed to the Likud’s ideology.

 

Indeed, it was Labor’s Amram Mitzna—not Sharon—who led his party into the 2003 national elections on a platform of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. If implementation of the disengagement was so important to Sharon, he could have returned to Labor, where he began his political career.

 

To this day Kadima’s stance on security is indistinguishable from Labor’s. Chairman Shaul Mofaz’s peace proposal—which calls for the immediate establishment of an independent, unarmed Palestinian state in part of the West Bank and Gaza and entering negotiations with Hamas, if the terrorist organization wins another Palestinian election—could easily be adopted by Labor.

 

Centrist parties, such as David Ben-Gurion’s Rafi, Yigael Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change, Avigdor Kahalani’s Third Way, and Yitzhak Mordechai and Amnon Lipkin Shahak’s Center Party, never represented substantial political or ideological positions not given expression in either the Likud or Labor.…History has shown that centrist parties are not only superfluous, they are detrimental to political stability.

 

Over the past few decades the size of the two largest political parties has steadily decreased from around 40 MKs on average to fewer than 30, in large part due to the creation of various short-lived centrist parties. Election reforms such as the raising of the 2-percent threshold for entry to the Knesset and the institution of regional elections for some Knesset seats would go a long way toward improving political stability.

 

But so would a good dose of humility. And it might even be in politicians’ best interests to cooperate. A recent survey found that a Center-Left party (Labor) led by Yechimovich, Lapid and Tzipi Livni would garner 40 Knesset seats.

 

A Knesset resting on two strong political parties—one Center-Left and one Center-Right—would foster a more stable political environment while at the same time give expression to two clear political agendas. With talk of early elections in the air, serious thought should be given to taking the steps necessary to make a quasi-two-party system a reality.

 

BAKER DEFENDS LEVY REPORT IN LETTER TO US JEWS
Tovah Lazaroff

Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2012

 

Attorney Alan Baker has defended the government-initiated report he co-authored that calls to authorize West Bank outposts.

 

In a letter to the Israel Policy Forum [see “Link” below—Ed.] last week, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Baker said the so-called Levy report does not close the door to a Palestinian state, and offers Israelis and Palestinians pragmatic solutions to land dispute issues.

Related:

 

Earlier this month, the New York-based forum sent a letter [see “Link” below—Ed.] to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, urging him to reject the report on the outposts penned by a three-member legal panel led by former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy. The other two panel members were Baker and former Tel Aviv District Court deputy president Tehiya Shapira.

 

More than 40 US Jewish leaders signed the letter, stating they were “deeply concerned” by the report, which said that under international law Israel did not occupy the West Bank and had a legal right to build settlements there. The US Jewish leaders said they were concerned that government approval of the report would “place the two-state solution, and the prestige of Israel as a democratic member of the international community, in peril.”…

 

In his letter to the Israel Policy Forum, Baker said he did not believe the US Jewish leaders had read his report. Had they done so, he said, they would not have warned that authorization of the document imperiled a two-state solution.

 

The report’s affirmation of Israel’s legal and historic rights to the West Bank “is not different from Israel’s policy statements over the years, including speeches by all of Israel’s leaders and ambassadors in the UN, as well as in official policy documents issued over the years by Israel’s Foreign Ministry,” Baker wrote. There is nothing in the report that imperils the two-state solution, he said, and added, “The opposite is in fact the case.”

 

The report stated that despite Israel’s legal and historic claim to sovereignty over the area, consecutive Israeli governments have preferred to negotiate with the Palestinians to find a solution to sovereignty issues in the West Bank. “This is completely compatible with the address by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the US Congress last May,” Baker wrote.

 

Lastly, he noted that the document, released earlier this month, offers pragmatic solutions to issues of outpost authorization and land disputes with Palestinians. It suggests the creation of a civilian court to adjudicate such disputes. “The report stresses the need to ensure that genuine land-ownership rights of the local Palestinian population are respected by all related authorities and individuals,” Baker said.

 

“Without in any way doubting the deep commitment of all the signatories to Israel’s well-being as a Jewish and democratic state, it is to be regretted that they have permitted themselves to be drawn so hastily into criticizing the Levy report, without justification,” Baker said….