ISRAELI ELECTION BUILDUP IS DOMINATED BY NETANYAHU’S CONGRESS SPEECH & ROW WITH OBAMA

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Contents:

 

Deadlock Between the Likud and the Zionist Union Continues: Manfred Gerstenfeld, CIJR, Feb. 25, 2015 — Over the past week, the political debate became heated but remained unfocused.

Netanyahu’s True Electoral Rival: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 19, 2015 — Officially, the election on March 17 is among Israelis.

No One’s Talking About the Palestinian Question: Father Raymond J. De Souza, National Post, Feb. 25, 2015— On Sunday evening, an 18-year-old Palestinian began stabbing 27-year-old Avraham Goldstein, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, near Jerusalem’s City Hall.

In Search of Israeli Leadership: Charles Bybelezer, CIJR, Feb. 23, 2014— With the election cycle in full swing, it has become apparent that Israelis are seriously limited in their choices.

 

On Topic Links

 

United Israeli Front Against Agreement With Iran: Tom Dolev, Jerusalem Online, Feb. 24, 2015

The Appalling Talk of Boycotting Netanyahu: Alan M. Dershowitz, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2014

Is Obama Stirring up Anti-Semitism?: Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 25, 2015

The Palestinians and Israeli Elections: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Feb. 10, 2015

Likud, Zionist Union Spar After Jerusalem Stabbing Attack: Lazar Berman, Times of Israel , Feb. 23, 2015

                                                                       

 

DEADLOCK BETWEEN THE LIKUD AND THE ZIONIST UNION CONTINUES                                                    

Manfred Gerstenfeld

CIJR, Feb. 25, 2015

 

Over the past week, the political debate became heated but remained unfocused. There was a brief moment of unity after MK Uri Orbach of Bayit Yehudi and Minister of Pensioner’s Affairs passed away at the age of 54. He was eulogized by politicians of many parties across the board. The debate over Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to the US Congress continued. To avoid having it become election propaganda, the Chairman of the Elections Committee, Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran, decided that the speech will not be broadcast live in Israel. A delay of five minutes will enable broadcasting companies to cut out any elements they would consider to be propaganda.  The speech will be followed online in real time, thus the measure remains largely symbolic.

 

In view of the fragmented and often low-level debates, President Reuven Rivlin said at the Institute for National Security Studies conference that the candidates for prime minister should focus on the more important issues. He mentioned the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, security threats, the economic situation and the treatment of minorities. In view of Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to the US Congress, Rivlin remarked that Israelis have the right to hear what Netanyahu has to say first, and hear it in Hebrew. The Supreme Court overruled the Central Elections Committee’s disqualifications of MK Haneen Zoabi and Yahad candidate Baruch Marzel.  Eight judges voted in favor of reinstating them, and only one voted against.  Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other right-wing MKs stated that letting Zoabi run for the Knesset was akin to supporting terrorism.

 

The marginal issue of the Prime Minister’s home expenses became one of the most discussed topics of the week. The State Comptroller’s office published a report on the expenses of the Prime Minister’s residence, which, from 2009 to 2011, rose from NIS 1.8 million to 3.1 million. In 2013 they declined to 2.4 million. The report also mentioned several potentially criminal issues related to these expenses.  The Attorney General will now have to decide whether or not to have the police probe the issue.  Likud minister Yuval Steinitz said that, “in 2012, [President] Peres’ household expenditures were 20 times as much as Netanyahu’s.” Steinitz questioned the timing of the report, the more so as the State Comptroller had never investigated the residential expenses of any previous prime ministers. Steinitz added, “Perhaps the comptroller gave in to pressure from the media.” In response to the criticism, the Prime Minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu invited a well-known Israeli interior designer to visit the residence and testify that it was not without its problems. This visit was filmed and put online,  which led to further criticism of various kinds. Former domestic intelligence Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin wrote on Facebook that, "filming the Prime Minister's residence is a serious breach of security.” He added that, "every intelligence service or foreign terrorist organization would pay a fortune to get all those details."

 

The sniping between the parties continued. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that Israel would be in a better position to improve the upcoming agreement between Iran and the West if Prime Minister Netanyahu had not caused the deterioration of relations between Israel and the US.  It was a doubtful comment, as the US President Barack Obama has, on multiple occasions and for many years, been whitewashing extreme crimes coming out of the world’s Muslim communities. Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, along with their security executives, visited the periphery of Gaza. Their “security outlook would be based on defense, deterrence and changing our strategy to initiating and building a future and a horizon,” said Herzog. He added that Gaza remains a “ticking time bomb, and Netanyahu failed against Hamas.” Netanyahu responded in a speech in Ashkelon and called Livni “a danger to the state.” He said that Livni claimed that she would not negotiate with Hamas, yet she went to visit Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, only a few days before he signed a unity agreement with Hamas.

 

The Likud has been rather successful in drawing viewers for two of its videos on line. The first one was called the ‘Bibisitter”, where Netanyahu presents himself as a babysitter to a young couple who are going out for an evening. Bibi tells the couple that they can choose between him or Herzog and Livni. The couple answered that in the latter case, it would be their children that would have to babysit Herzog, rather than the reverse, while Livni would leave in the middle. The latter refers to the fact that Livni has been a candidate of four different political parties — the Likud, Kadima, Hatnuah and the Zionist Union — throughout her various election campaigns. The second Likud clip is called Pizza Buji, a play on Herzog’s nickname “Buji”. It had close to 500,000 views within 12 hours. A young man orders a pizza and finds out that it comes with a side order of Tzipi Livni, which the young man does not want. It presents Livni as a liability to the Zionist Union. Herzog wants to debate Netanyahu directly, but Netanyahu is only willing to do so if Livni also participates, as the agreement between Livni and Herzog is that she will replace him midterm should he be elected as prime minister.

 

The social media network further fragments the election campaigns and makes it increasingly difficult to keep track of developments. This the more so as individual candidates also promote messages in their own field of expertise on their Facebook sites. In the meantime, Herzog has bolstered the Zionist Union’s campaign team with Reuven Adler, an experienced advertiser, who worked closely with the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Polls keep contradicting each other. While there are shifts within various blocs, there are hardly any between them. The Likud, Israel Beiteinu and Bayit Yehudi in the Knesset currently have 43 seats, and most polls give them a combined 41-43 seats. The Zionist Union and Meretz have 27 seats in the current Knesset, and according to the polls, may perhaps gain 1 or 2 seats. Centrist party Yesh Atid currently has 19 seats. The polls say that it may have to share with the other centrist party, Kahlon-led Koolanu, to garner up to 20 seats. The three Orthodox parties may share the 18 seats that Shas and United Torah Judaism currently hold. The United Arab List may gain 1 seat over and above the 11 it holds at present.

 

Polls occasionally ask questions about the public’s favorites for particular minister posts. A Walla poll found that Kahlon was preferred as finance minister by 34% of the respondents, followed by the Zionist Union’s Manuel Trajtenberg with 17% and Lapid with 13%. Surprisingly, Livni was found to be the preferred candidate for foreign minister with 24%, followed by the Likud’s Gilad Erdan with 18%, and Liberman with 17%. Lapid came in with 14% and Koolanu’s Michael Oren at 7%.

                                                           

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NETANYAHU’S TRUE ELECTORAL RIVAL                                                                                                

Caroline Glick                                                                                                     

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 19, 2015

 

Officially, the election on March 17 is among Israelis. Depending on how we vote, either Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will remain in office and form the next government led by his Likud party, or Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni will form a government. But unofficially, a far greater electoral drama is unfolding. The choice is not between Netanyahu and Herzog/Livni. It is between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. As the White House sees it, if Herzog/Livni form the next government, then Jerusalem will dance to Obama’s tune. If Netanyahu is reelected, then the entire edifice of Obama’s Middle East policy may topple and fall. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the administration’s desire to topple Netanyahu last spring during his remarks before the Trilateral Commission. It was during that memorable speech that Kerry libeled Israel, claiming that we would automatically and naturally become an apartheid state if we didn’t give Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria to the PLO, Jew free, as quickly as possible. Despite Israel’s venality, Kerry held out hope. In his words, “if there is a change of government [in Israel], or a change of heart, something will happen.”

 

Shortly after Kerry gave his Israel apartheid speech, his Middle East mediator Martin Indyk attacked Israel and the character of the Israeli people in an astounding interview to Yediot Aharonot. Among other things, Indyk hinted that to force Israel to make concessions demanded by the PLO, the Palestinians may need to launch another terror war. Indyk also threatened that the Palestinians will get their state whether Israel agrees to their terms or not. In his words, “They will get their state in the end – whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.”  Indyk made his statements as an unnamed US official. When his identity was exposed, he was forced to resign his position. Following his departure from government service he returned to his previous position as vice president of the Brookings Institution and the director of its foreign policy program. Last September, The New York Times reported that the Brookings Institute received a $14.8 million, four-year donation from Qatar, the chief financier of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

This week, Indyk was back in Israel to speak at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies. There he provided us with a picture of what we can expect from the Obama administration in its remaining two years in office if Netanyahu forms the next government. On the Palestinian front, Indyk warned that Israel shouldn’t be worried about the Palestinians getting an anti-Israel resolution passed in the UN Security Council. Rather, it can expect that the US will join with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution “against Israel’s will” that will “lay out the principle of a two-state solution.” As Indyk intimated, Israel can avoid this fate if it elects a Herzog/Livni government. Such a government, he indicated, will preemptively give in to all of the Palestinians demands and so avoid a confrontation with the US and its colleagues at the Security Council. Indyk explained, “If there is a government in Israel after these elections that decides to pursue a two-state solution, then there is a way forward. It begins with coordinating an initiative with the United States. And then, together with the US, looking to Egypt and Jordan and the resurrection of the Arab Peace Initiative.”

 

As for Iran, Indyk shrugged at Israel’s concerns over the agreement that Obama is now seeking to conclude with the Iranian regime regarding its nuclear weapons program. That agreement will leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state. Indyk suggested that the US could assuage Israel’s concerns by signing a bilateral treaty with Israel that would commit the US to do something if Iran passes some nuclear threshold. There are only three problems with such a deal. First, as former ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich noted, such a treaty would likely render Israel unable to take independent action against Iranian nuclear sites. Second, the US has a perfect track record of missing every major nuclear advance by every country. US intelligence agencies were taken by surprise when India, Pakistan and North Korea joined the nuclear club. They have always underestimated Iranian nuclear activities and were taken by surprise, repeatedly, by Syria’s nuclear proliferation activities. In other words, it would be insane for Israel to trust that the US would act in a timely manner to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Third of course is the demonstrated lack of US will – particularly under the Obama administration – to take any action that could prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. So Israel has no reason whatsoever to believe that the US would honor its commitment. But then, since the Obama administration believes that Herzog and Livni will be compliant with its policies, the White House may expect the two will agree to forgo Israel’s right to self-defense and place Israel’s national security in relation to Iran in Obama’s hands.

 

And this brings us to the real contest unfolding in the lead-up to March 17. When Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner announced last month that he had invited Netanyahu to address the joint houses of Congress on the threat emanating from Iran’s nuclear program and from radical Islam, he unintentionally transformed the Israeli elections from a local affair to a contest between Obama and Netanyahu. Obama’s response to Netanyahu’s speech has been astounding. His ad hominem attacks against Netanyahu, his open moves to coerce Democratic lawmakers to boycott Netanyahu’s speech, and the administration’s aggressive attempts to damage Israel’s reputation in the US have been without precedent. More than anything, they expose a deep-seated fear that Netanyahu will be successful in exposing the grave danger that Obama’s policies toward Iran and toward the Islamic world in general pose to the global security…

 

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

                                                                       

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NO ONE’S TALKING ABOUT THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION                                                               

Father Raymond J. de Souza

National Post, Feb. 25, 2015

                                                                     

On Sunday evening, an 18-year-old Palestinian began stabbing 27-year-old Avraham Goldstein, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, near Jerusalem’s City Hall. The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Birkat, a former paratrooper, was arriving just then and saw the terror attack underway. With his bodyguards, he tackled the assailant and held him until police arrived. Goldstein was moderately injured and is expected to recover. The next day, Birkat was cracking jokes about his heroics with Natan Sharansky, head of the non-profit Jewish Agency for Israel, at a meeting of their board of governors. Sharansky knows something about heroism himself, having survived nine years behind bars in the Soviet Union as a political prisoner. It was one of those only-in-Israel moments: Could anyone imagine Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi or Montreal’s Denis Coderre leaping into action to save someone from a knife-wielding terrorist?

 

Yet what was striking was the normalcy with which it was greeted: In the midst of a national election campaign, the matter did not become an occasion for a heated discussion about the Palestinian question. Indeed, when Israeli voters go to the polls in three weeks to elect a new Knesset, the entire Palestinian issue will be in the background. There are at least three reasons for this change in discourse. First, this election, only two years after the last national election, has been unusually focused on personalities, especially that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Observers from different points on the political spectrum have expressed a frustration with the low tone of the whole campaign, which has featured negative attacks on the character of various politicians, rather than affairs of state. Netanyahu is a dominating figure and has been around a long time — his first premiership began nearly 20 years ago and his second term started in 2009.

 

Second, nobody has the faintest idea of what to do about the supposed Palestinian peace process. Gaza is a mess and only months removed from war. The Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank is in power only because it is being protected by the Israeli Defence Forces, lest Hamas take over there, too. Further east in the Hashemite Kingdom, there are serious worries about what might happen should ISIS move southward toward the Jordanian border. To the north, Israel now faces an enormous number of Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon — far more than there were during the war in 2006, and armed with much more advanced rockets — as well as ominous instability on the Syrian border. Even if Israel were to be offered a perfect deal tomorrow, it would not be possible to make an agreement, as it is not clear who would be in charge of the subsequent Palestinian state the day after tomorrow. Abbas, for his part, knows the same, and so is pursuing the Palestinian agenda elsewhere, through UN declarations and manoeuvring at the International Criminal Court. For the first time I can remember, my Palestinian friends here spontaneously speak not of Israel, but of broader regional forces.

 

Third, the entire region is exploding. For decades one has heard the claim that if the Israeli-Palestinian question is solved, everything else in the Middle East would be better. No one believes that now. Even if swords were beaten into ploughshares in Jerusalem tomorrow, it would remain secondary to the main action in the Middle East, which is, in no particular order: i) the question for an Iranian-controlled land corridor from Teheran to the Mediterranean, almost complete now save for territory controlled by ISIS; ii) the rise of ISIS itself, combining brutality with social media sophistication, the better to attract jihadists worldwide; and iii) the response to Iran and ISIS of horrified Arab powers, which explains everything from the president of Egypt visiting Christian churches to the Saudis pumping oil to impoverish the Iranians.

 

Next week, Netanyahu will travel to Washington in mid-campaign for a visit that will highlight his poor relationship with President Barack Obama. On Tuesday, Obama made the point clearly by receiving the emir of Qatar at the White House. Qatar hosts the Al-Udeid airbase, which Americans use to stage attacks against ISIS. But fighting ISIS also helps Iran’s regional ambitions, which Qatar also advances with its support of the Iranian proxy Hamas. That Obama would have him to the White House when he won’t receive Netanyahu is a pointed rebuke, especially when the Israeli prime minister will be speaking to Congress about the Iranian threat. The Israeli-Palestinian question has thus been squeezed out by local forces from below and global forces from above. National struggles have been overtaken by a regional religious war within the Islamic world. Replacing nationalism with religious fanaticism is not a step forward. It’s incredible to think that both Israelis and Palestinians may well pine for the simpler days of the first intifada, and the Oslo accords that followed after.                                                                                                

                                                                       

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IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI LEADERSHIP                                                                                     

Charles Bybelezer

CIJR, Feb. 23, 2015

 

With the election cycle in full swing, it has become apparent that Israelis are seriously limited in their choices. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has served his country admirably, he spent his latest term deflecting criticism of indecisiveness, levied against him his entire political career. Despite repeated “hawkish” declarations on security, multiple terrorist attacks in recent months, invoking memories of the second intifada, exemplify the previous government’s inability to protect its citizenry; this, on the heels of the 50-day war against Hamas, which was an abject failure by any measure. Most importantly, Netanyahu has failed to achieve his primary objective; namely, to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons. While he should be commended for forcing the issue onto the international community’s agenda, the Islamic Republic has nonetheless expanded its atomic program by leaps and bounds during Netanyahu’s tenure, to the point where Tehran has effectively become a nuclear threshold state. Nevertheless, Netanyahu may still win reelection, solely on the basis of being the best of a bad lot.

 

By comparison, a Tzipi Livni-led government would undoubtedly steer the country toward the nearest iceberg. Livni is perhaps the worst high-profile politician in Israel’s history, her resume a laundry list of colossal failures. As foreign minister in the Olmert government, Livni spearheaded UN Resolution 1701, which left securing southern Lebanon to international peacekeepers after the 2006 war against Hezbollah. Nearly a decade later, Iran’s proxy has amassed some 100,000 rockets and is battle-tested after fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Later, as leader of Kadima (the Likud offshoot responsible for pushing through the disastrous disengagement from Gaza), Livni was unable to form a government despite winning the most mandates in the 2009 election. She was thereafter totally irrelevant as head of the opposition. Most recently, Livni failed miserably in her role as chief negotiator with the Palestinians, overseeing a futile nine-month process that, like all “peace” talks before them, culminated with a surge in Palestinian terrorism. Then there are the middle-of-the-pack candidates: Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon with his newly-formed Kulanu party. The reality is that time is not on Liberman’s side and, despite attempts to rebrand himself as a moderate, it appears as though diminishing popular support will preclude him from becoming prime minister. For his part, Lapid is the latest Israeli political flameout after an awful run as finance minister; at least half of his mandates will likely be scooped up by Kahlon, this election’s trendy “centrist” running a campaign premised on “social justice.”  

 

Which brings us to what were the two great hopes of the upcoming election, emanating from opposite sides of the political spectrum. But, sadly, both Labor’s Isaac Herzog and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett have recently proven they are likewise not ready to assume the mantle of leadership. Herzog is by far the more disappointing. Steeped in Zionist tradition, he could have been the first leader of the Left in decades with mass – perhaps even crossover – appeal; but by joining forces with Livni – whose party was unlikely to pass the electoral threshold – and agreeing to a rotating premiership, Herzog effectively signaled to the nation that he is not ready for the top job. Compared to Netanyahu’s decision to merge with Liberman prior to the last election – a move that, according to polls, virtually ensured Netanyahu would be asked to form the next government – Herzog comes off looking like a serially- dependent political neophyte. Bennett’s case is more complex. While he has become the face of the “far Right,” an alleged fierce opponent of territorial compromises to the Palestinians, recent statements suggest he may not be the consummate ideologue. During his appearance at the Saban Forum in December, Bennett contradicted his previous position by saying that he would not, as prime minister, annex Area C of the West Bank, suggesting that such a process could take up to four decades. In the interim, he called for enhanced cooperation with the Palestinian leadership.

 

The bitter truth is that Israel is suffering from the absence of leadership, which has created a sense of alienation, if not dejection and even anger, among the population. While the Jewish state has faced incredible challenges in its brief history, it has overcome them only because past leaders believed in more than simply amassing power, and acted in accordance with those convictions. They understood Israel to be a living, breathing cause, and that without proper guidance that cause would begin to erode. And this is where Israel finds itself today, its legitimacy eroded. Much of this is attributable to our enemies, but successive Israeli leaders – or lack thereof – have played their part.

 

Charles Bybelezer is a correspondent for i24news, and a former CIJR Publications Manager

 

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On Topic

 

United Israeli Front Against Agreement With Iran: Tom Dolev, Jerusalem Online, Feb. 24, 2015—Regarding the upcoming elections in Israel, candidates are usually found arguing or attacking each other. With regards to the Iranian nuclear program, however, Netanyahu, Bennett and Ya’alon were able to display a joint front.

The Appalling Talk of Boycotting Netanyahu: Alan M. Dershowitz, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2014—As a liberal Democrat who twice campaigned for President Barack Obama, I am appalled that some Democratic members of Congress are planning to boycott the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 to a joint session of Congress.

Is Obama Stirring up Anti-Semitism?: Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 25, 2015—Barack Obama is running scared. In advance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress next week about the growing threat of a nuclear Iran, the normally placid president of the United States is suddenly breaking out into a political sweat.

The Palestinians and Israeli Elections: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Feb. 10, 2015—So far, the Palestinians have shown little interest, if any at all, in the upcoming Israeli elections, slated for March 17.

Likud, Zionist Union Spar After Jerusalem Stabbing Attack: Lazar Berman, Times of Israel , Feb. 23, 2015—The ruling Likud party and the Zionist Union, its main rival in the upcoming national elections, squabbled Sunday hours after a Palestinian teenager stabbed a Jewish man in Jerusalem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                    

               

 

 

 

                      

                

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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