ISRAEL’S VOTE: DOMESTIC-ISSUES FOCUS, YES—BUT “SOFT-RIGHT” ON PALESTINIANS, IRAN

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No, Israel Did Not Just Vote for the Center: Michael J. Koplow, Foreign Affairs, Jan. 23, 2013Yesh Atid, however, cannot be accurately described as centrist when it comes to the peace process. Lapid has stated that Jerusalem cannot be divided under any circumstances and insists that standing firm on this issue will force the Palestinians to recant their demand that East Jerusalem serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

 

Daunting Challenges Facing Netanyahu: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 23, 2013The unexpected election results have created daunting challenges for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Many Israelis dislike Netanyahu. He has personality deficiencies and, like every Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion, has made major mistakes.

 

Peace Process? Check the Back Burner: Mark A. Heller, New York Times, Jan. 23, 2013Skeptics like to say that the real Israeli election only begins after the votes are counted, because the electoral system makes it practically impossible for any single party to gain a majority. This week’s election confirms that pattern.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Elections Over, Now Israelis Will Have to Pony Up: David Lev, Arutz Sheva, Jan. 24, 2013

The Lapid Factor: David Rubin, Jerusalem Post Magazine, Jan 23, 2013

Israel’s Elections: What Just Happened?: David Horovitz, Times of Israel,  Jan. 23, 2013

MainStreamMedia Bungles Israel’s Election: Walter Russell Mead, National Interest, January 23, 2013

 

 

 

NO, ISRAEL DID NOT JUST VOTE FOR THE CENTER

Michael J. Koplow

Foreign Affairs, Jan. 23, 2013

 

By the time Israeli voters went to the polls on Tuesday, the nearly universally accepted wisdom held that the right was ascendant. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's faction — which comprises his own conservative Likud Party and Avigdor Lieberman's even-more-conservative Yisrael Beiteinu Party — was poised to win almost twice as many seats as its closest challenger. Netanyahu's erstwhile chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, was leading the surging Bayit Yehudi, a right-wing nationalist party calling for the annexation of large swaths of the West Bank. These two parties alone were expected to win around 50 seats, which would put Netanyahu in a dominant position when it came to forming a governing coalition.

 

The parties considered to be left-wing and centrist, meanwhile, were floundering. The Labor Party, led by Shelly Yachimovich, was expected to win fewer than 20 seats — likely becoming the second largest party in the Knesset but still not achieving anything close to the dominance it enjoyed in the 1990s under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak. Hatnua, a new party chaired by Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister who led Kadima to win more votes than any other party in the 2009 elections, seemed likely to take only a handful of seats.

 

Yesh Atid, helmed by the former newsman Yair Lapid, was expected to pull in a respectable ten to 12 seats — not bad for a newcomer but not enough to make much of a difference in the government. These three parties might have been able to defeat Netanyahu with a united front, but their leaders instead spent their time squabbling. All this — together with a Likud primary that expelled the party's moderates and elevated its hardliners, the emergence of Bayit Yehudi as a viable party to the right of Likud, and the expected increased presence of settlers in the Knesset — indicated that Israel was set to move further to the right.

 

Once the results of the voting began to roll in, however, a new narrative quickly emerged. Not only did the joint Likud-Beiteinu list do worse than anticipated, winning only 31 seats, but Lapid's Yesh Atid outperformed expectations, coming in second with 19 seats. Bayit Yehudi won 11 seats, a respectable showing but not the 16 seats some polls indicated it would receive. Finally, the far-left Meretz Party doubled its representation from three seats in the previous Knesset to six in the new one. Suddenly, observers who had just hours before spoken of Israel's rightward drift were proclaiming the center and left's comeback. The conventional wisdom about the election is now that Yesh Atid has reinvigorated the Israeli center, debunking the notion that Israel's electorate necessarily leans to the right.

 

The problem with this narrative, however, is that Tuesday's results were not really a victory for centrists and Yesh Atid is not really a centrist party. The largest vote-getter was still Likud-Beiteinu, made up of arguably the most right-wing version of Likud in the party's history and the nationalist and pro-settlement Yisrael Beiteinu. Bayit Yehudi also did well, and it will be the fourth largest party in the Knesset with 11 seats. On the left, Labor underperformed and could not even garner enough votes to win second place as expected. Livni's Hatnua, meanwhile, won fewer seats than even the parochial ultra-orthodox party, United Torah Judaism. Kadima, a real centrist party, has all but disappeared, plummeting from 28 seats to two. Even though the right-wing parties did not do quite as well as they had hoped, the larger picture does not support the claim that the center scored a great victory.

 

Furthermore, the grouping of Labor, Hatnua, and Yesh Atid under a centrist or center-left banner is analytically lazy. On economic issues, those three parties do indeed fall within the left and the center. On security and foreign policy issues, Labor and Hatnua are centrist as well. Yesh Atid, however, cannot be accurately described as centrist when it comes to the peace process. Lapid has stated that Jerusalem cannot be divided under any circumstances and insists that standing firm on this issue will force the Palestinians to recant their demand that East Jerusalem serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state. During the campaign, Lapid chose the West Bank settlement of Ariel as the place to give a major campaign speech calling for negotiations with the Palestinians, and declined to endorse a settlement freeze. None of this is enough to put him into the far-right camp, which rejects the two-state solution and calls for annexing the West Bank, but it also does not make him a centrist. In fact, Lapid's views on security issues are close to those that Netanyahu has publicly staked out.

 

The basic fact remains that the Israeli electorate leans right. Israelis are willing to negotiate with the Palestinians, but the violence of the second intifada and the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza have made them hesitant to support dramatic peace overtures. It would be a mistake, therefore, to see Netanyahu's losses as the result of a resurgent center. Likud's decline largely came from the hard-liners who left the party and jumped on the Bayit Yehudi bandwagon because they believed that Netanyahu was not committed to protecting the settlements and to holding on to the West Bank permanently.

 

Even Yesh Atid's gains can be attributed to some right-leaning voters' decision to abandon Netanyahu for Lapid, who presents a blander and more comforting version of right-wing politics, focused mainly on reviving the middle class. Nobody in Yesh Atid is advocating annexation, as some Likud members are, but Lapid also did not campaign on reviving the peace process, as Livni did. Lapid's brand of politics is reminiscent of U.S. President George W. Bush's so-called compassionate conservatism, which painted a moderate image but drew in right-leaning voters.

 

In short, neither the rise of Yesh Atid nor Likud's decline means that the Israeli center won. Rather, they show that the hard-line right opted to move even further right, and the non-ideological right opted to back a softer version of the agenda it already supported. 

 

 

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DAUNTING CHALLENGES FACING NETANYAHU

 

Isi Leibler

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 23, 2013

 

The unexpected election results have created daunting challenges for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Many Israelis dislike Netanyahu. He has personality deficiencies and, like every Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion, has made major mistakes.

 

But to his credit, over the past four years he has moved Likud to the center and achieved a national consensus. He succeeded in resisting concerted global pressures which would have undermined our security and has created an international awareness of the dangers of a nuclear Iran. He also made crucial strategic decisions that proved to be highly beneficial and undoubtedly provided greater security to the nation than his predecessors. Nevertheless, his electoral strategies proved disastrous….

 

However, the extraordinary success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid may in the long term prove a blessing for both Israel and Netanyahu. It may enable him to introduce highly overdue domestic reforms and to chart a balanced approach toward the Palestinians on behalf of a broad national government.

 

In viewing this, one must dismiss the media nonsense that the elections created an evenly balanced Right–Left division. Setting aside the fact that such terms are meaningless in this context, a government dependent on the support of 12 overtly anti- Zionist Arab MKs is inconceivable.

 

Nor has the nation moved to the Right. The elimination of liberals and the success of hard-liners in the Likud primaries reflected internal party machinations rather than a genuine national shift to the Right. However this cost Likud votes and Netanyahu’s subsequent efforts to compete for hard-right voters may have been counterproductive.

 

This election was not a vote of no-confidence in Netanyahu’s handling of the peace process, relations with the United States or foreign affairs. The only parties directing the campaign against Netanyahu’s external policies were Meretz and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, both of which combined only obtained 12 seats.

 

Despite some lip service criticizing the government handling of negotiations, the major opposition parties concentrated primarily on domestic social issues. In particular, Yair Lapid’s challenge against ultra-Orthodox extremism – his call to engage them in the draft or take up gainful employment, attracted many voters. In terms of foreign affairs, despite the massive decline of support for Likud Beytenu, the vast majority of the electorate still prefer Netanyahu over all other candidates to retain the leadership.

 

A consensus prevails among Israelis supporting Netanyahu’s view that it is impossible to achieve peace with the Palestinians under their current leadership. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now perceived as a charlatan, speaking with a forked tongue and committed to ending Jewish sovereignty no less than is Hamas. His comments this week regarding Zionist collaboration with the Nazis should not be surprising given his doctorate was premised on Holocaust denial.

 

However, most Israelis have no wish to absorb and rule over millions of Palestinians and oppose annexing the territories or creating a binational state. They favor the status quo, but only until such time as a genuine peace partner emerges and a Palestinian state no longer threatens Israel’s security. Thus, in the present climate, most Israelis back Netanyahu’s unwillingness to make further concessions and endorse his efforts to achieve interim solutions….

 

In this environment, with the Europeans ready to impose more unrealistic demands upon us, our ties with the US are more crucial than ever. Yet recent signals from the US administration are troubling. Obama has nominated as defense secretary a man with a consistent record of hostility toward Israel and opposition to any form of military action against Iran.

 

Obama’s offensive remarks on the eve of the election that he has a better understanding of Israel’s needs than Netanyahu represented blatant interference in a sovereign country’s domestic affairs and a display of contempt for an ally. Should Congress provide Obama with a free hand, over the next four years he could make our life extraordinarily difficult.

 

The US could suspend employing its veto against one-sided UN votes sanctioning Israel; there may be calls to accept the indefensible ’49 armistice lines as borders (with swaps which the Palestinians will never agree to); requests for additional territorial concessions to the Palestinians without reciprocity; demands for a settlement freeze including within the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem; pressure to divide Jerusalem, despite the fact that even most Israeli Arabs prefer to remain under Israeli sovereignty.

 

However, despite Obama no longer requiring votes or support for re-election and despite his obvious dislike of Netanyahu, he cannot simply ignore or overrule the wishes of Congress. Fortunately, as of now, the US-Israel relationship remains solid and Congress is committed to retaining the alliance.

 

To retain our strong ties with Congress and the American people, Netanyahu must create a broad government and demonstrate that he is acting on behalf of the entire nation. He would then have the ability to make concessions on secondary issues while remaining firm on those matters that can impact on Israel’s basic security requirements. He would also be able to demonstrate to the world that his policies are supported by the vast majority of Israelis and expose the falsehood of liberals seeking to depict Israel’s policies as being based on hard right influences rather than a national consensus.

 

The principal obstacle which could thwart this would be his inability to retain support of both Shas and Yesh Atid and also respond to popular demands that haredim participate in the draft or national service and become encouraged to work for a livelihood rather than being lifelong recipients of welfare.

 

This will undoubtedly represent a key condition for Lapid joining the government and Shas (many of whose supporters, unlike United Torah Judaism, serve in the IDF) will be under pressure to compromise on this issue. If Shas, Yesh Atid, Kadima and Bayit Yehudi join Likud-Beiteinu to form a coalition, Netanyahu would then preside over a stable government based on 74 MKs not subject to intimidation by any single faction.

 

The effervescent Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi, whose dramatic surge was also a highlight of the election, will be obliged to overcome his previous confrontations with Netanyahu and control the extremists in his party. Failure to create a broad coalition would confront Netanyahu with a nightmare situation of heading a narrow government whose policies would be subject to the veto of haredim or ideological hardliners promoting annexation and convinced that we can stand alone without the support of a superpower.

 

Under such circumstances no stable government could be formed. The chaos arising from this would undermine our ability to confront our adversaries and withstand global pressures. To avert this situation, we are entitled to demand that our political representatives behave as patriotic Israelis, suspend their differences and collaborate to promote the national interest.

 

 

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PEACE PROCESS? CHECK THE BACK BURNER

 

Mark A. Heller

New York Times, Jan. 23, 2013

 

Skeptics like to say that the real Israeli election only begins after the votes are counted, because the electoral system makes it practically impossible for any single party to gain a majority. This week’s election confirms that pattern.

 

As expected, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged as the leader of the largest party. However, the reduced plurality of his Likud Party (which merged with Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Is Our Home) will further complicate the task of assembling a majority that can satisfy the policy preferences and personal ambitions of both his partner parties and his own base….

 

So to the question that most non-Israelis are asking — “What do the elections mean for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?” — the answer is, “Not much.” Despite relatively impressive macroeconomic performance, Israelis have been increasingly incensed by such issues as the unequal distribution of the benefits and burdens of growth, “sweetheart” wage agreements in some sectors of the public service, overcrowded hospitals, and unaffordable housing, especially for young people.

 

The year 2011 witnessed the largest and most sustained social protests in recent history, and in the month before the vote, news of an unexpectedly large budget deficit concentrated attention on the prospect of spending cuts and/or tax increases. A poll released just before the election showed that for 60 percent of potential voters, socioeconomic issues were the primary concern, with security second, at 19 percent, and peace a poor third, at 16 percent.

 

In other words, two months after a brief little war in Gaza, the prism through which much of the outside world views Israel — the conflict with the Palestinians and its possible resolution — now barely figures on the Israeli radar screen….

 

The reason is not that Israelis are opposed to the conventional formula for peace — “Two states for two peoples” — or even merely ambivalent. Surveys have for years shown a consistent majority of between 60 and 70 percent endorsing the principle. Instead, the explanation lies in the lack of felt urgency — certainly as compared with domestic economic and social challenges and even with the temporarily dormant Iranian nuclear threat — coupled with cumulative fatigue at the futility of all previous efforts.

 

As a result, the next Israeli government, regardless of its precise composition, will almost certainly not undertake any major new initiative on this issue. Its leader and most of its prospective members will in any case not be inclined in this direction, and they will not be pushed by public opinion to become more proactive.

 

The Israeli election will not revive the moribund peace process. The only thing that might conceivably do that is a deus ex machina named Barack Obama. By clearly communicating that some positive movement is necessary to sustain the vibrancy and intimacy of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, Obama can provide for Israelis the sense of urgency they do not feel….

 

Finally, nothing Obama does can be effective unless it fully complements an equally visible redefinition by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of the purpose of the process. For while Obama may inject an element of urgency, only Abbas can dispel the sense of pointlessness — by clearly communicating that positive movement will culminate not just in Israeli concessions on territory but also in a definitive termination of the conflict, the renunciation of any further claims, and the peaceful coexistence of two states for two peoples.

 

If Abbas is not inclined to move in this direction, or if his own political constraints prevent him from doing so, then the Israeli election will continue to resonate inside Israel but it will quickly fade from everyone else’s view.

 

Mark A. Heller is principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University, and editor of the quarterly journal, Strategic Assessment.

 

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Elections Over, Now Israelis Will Have to Pony Up: David Lev, Arutz Sheva, Jan. 24, 2013Among the edicts Liebman expects to be enacted: a 2.4% average increase in municipal taxes; 2.8% higher costs for water; 10%-15% more money to be laid out on electricity bills; and increases in food, fuel, and housing costs.

 

 

The Lapid Factor: David Rubin, Jerusalem Post Magazine, Jan 23, 2013—After Likud-Beytenu’s Pyrrhic victory in Tuesday’s elections, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu now faces the formidable task of piecing together a new coalition. Given the diverse group of potential partners, this will be no easy feat.

 

Israel’s Elections: What Just happened?: David Horovitz, Times of Israel,  Jan. 23, 2013—Israel voted for change, and moved a little from right to center; Lapid is the big success but Netanyahu is still a winner, albeit battered and constrained.

 

Analysis: A Vote for Internal Change: Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 23, 2013After slogging through a dead, relatively uneventful campaign, the Israeli electorate went to the polls Tuesday and sent their leaders an unmistakable message: Change.

 

MSM Bungles Israel’s Election: Walter Russell Mead, National Interest, January 23, 2013The story as far as we’re concerned is the spectacular flop of the West’s elite media. If you’ve read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right—the far right. That was the judgment of journalists at the NYT, WSJ, BBC, NBC, Time, Reuters, Guardian, HuffPo, Slate, Salon, Al Jazeera, and countless others.

 

 

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