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Chaotic Government Undermines Our Global Standing: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 21, 2013 — The return of Avigdor Lieberman to head the Foreign Ministry will undoubtedly exacerbate the disastrous absence of cabinet responsibility and failure of the government to speak with one voice.
Peres Announcement Launches Race To Succeed Him As President: Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, Oct 7, 2013 — President Shimon Peres’s announcement to reporters who accompanied him to Mexico over the weekend that he would not cooperate with efforts to extend his tenure informally began the election to replace him when his term ends July 15.
The Long, Hard Road Back to Political Relevance: Haviv Rettig Gur, Times of Israel, Nov. 22, 2013— Isaac Herzog’s upset win Thursday over incumbent Labor chair Shelly Yachimovich for the party’s top spot has upended the political calculations of many.
How U.S. Policy is Betraying Not Only Israel, But Also Sunni Arabs: Barry Rubin, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 1, 2013— In 1948, there were hopes that the Arab-Israeli conflict would be resolved in the long run. But it wasn’t.
Arabs’ Home in Israel: Deroy Murdock, New York Post, Nov. 23, 2013
Abbas: Willing to Speak in Knesset, But On Own Terms: Ynet, Nov. 23, 2013
Israel’s Foreign Minister Returns, But Abrasive Style Appears Absent: Jodi Rudoren, New York Times, Oct. 7th, 2013
Who Runs Israel?: Elise Cooper, American Thinker, Dec. 1, 2013
Jerusalem Post, Nov. 21, 2013
The return of Avigdor Lieberman to head the Foreign Ministry will undoubtedly exacerbate the disastrous absence of cabinet responsibility and failure of the government to speak with one voice. This will become especially sensitive now with Israel’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Obama Administration over Iran and the Palestinians. I feel a sense of shame when observing the detrimental behavior of cabinet ministers who are totally uninhibited about publicly attacking and undermining the policies of their own government.
The principle of cabinet government is collective ministerial responsibility. In some governments, cabinets are decision making bodies; in others they are purely advisory. No matter what the extent of their function, cabinets serve to promote the policies accepted by majority rule. Whether coalition partners or individual ministers, those who agree to join the cabinet are obliged to support the government or at the very least remain silent. Should a minister feel so strongly against the policy adopted that he is impelled to agitate against its implementation, he must formally resign and operate from the ranks of the opposition. The lack of accountability by senior ministers who publicly condemn their own government policies and continue to retain office, effectively marginalizes the role of the opposition and confuses the electorate. It is the role of the opposition not ministers, to lead campaigns against government policies.
It is hard to visualize any other responsible administration in the world that would tolerate senior government officials who repeatedly contradict and castigate policies which had already been debated internally and adopted by majority vote. In the US, France, the UK or any other democratic nation, a minister or deputy minister publicly criticizing his government would immediately be removed from office. That is the way Israeli cabinets operated under the early Labor governments and the government of Menahem Begin. It was only after the two-party system began eroding under Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Barak that cabinet responsibility collapsed and ministers began criticizing their government without being obliged to resign.
In recent years, the situation has degenerated dramatically and utter chaos has ensued. Other than a handful of loyal members, ministers, whether from the right or the left, display contempt for the concept of cabinet responsibility and seem primarily concerned with pursuing their own personal agendas. When Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered one of the most effective speeches presenting the case for Israel at the United Nations two years ago, Foreign Minister and head of Israel Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman issued public statements contradicting him. During a recent visit to Japan, Finance Minister and head of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, announced that he disagreed with his Prime Minister’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Minister of Justice and head of Hatnuah, Tzipi Livni, never hesitates to contradict government policy in relation to the Palestinians. Most recently, despite his participation in the actual cabinet decision to release the convicted terrorists with blood on their hands, Naftali Bennet, Minister for Economy and Commerce and head of Bayit Yehudi, orchestrated a campaign of incitement against his government prior to the release of the second batch. Uri Ariel, Minister for Housing and Construction also from Bayit Yehudi, personally participated in a demonstration at the prison against the release.
Some ministers speak out against the government on a regular basis. Deputy Foreign Minister Zev Belkin and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon – both members of the ruling Likud party – regularly publicly condemn the Prime Minister’s two-state policy. Danon even contributed an op-ed in the New York Times to this effect. What makes this environment even more bewildering is that our President Shimon Peres, whose role is essentially ceremonial and is expected to boost unity within the nation, is himself one of the worst offenders and unhesitatingly promotes his personal views, frequently contradicting fundamental central foreign policies. Obviously the validity of criticisms is not the point. Many Israelis, myself included, frequently harbor critical views not dissimilar to those expressed by ministers against the government. But once adopted as government policy, ministers cannot pick and choose the policies they will support. Those who justify the system suggest, pathetically, that such behavior reflects the exuberant freedom of expression which infuses Israeli politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cabinet disarray is causing us immense harm on the world stage, presenting our leaders as an irresponsible and squabbling rabble, creating confusion amongst our friends and allies and playing into the hands of our enemies. We are being perceived as a banana republic, and create our own diplomatic crisis each time a minister contradicts official policy.
In the coming months, we will be entering into an extraordinarily complex and difficult diplomatic era. The United States has distanced itself from the Middle East but continues to cling to the flawed concept that the Israeli -Palestinian conflict is the central factor responsible for tension and turbulence in the region. The Obama Administration seems determined to pressure us into making additional concessions to appease the Palestinians, irrespective of the consequences to our long term security. It will require a delicate diplomatic tightrope balancing act to resist such pressures whilst retaining the vital support of Congress and the American public.
There is a need to recognize that in the course of balancing these countervailing pressures confronting us and in order to protect our long-term security interests, our government will, from time to time, invariably be obliged to make a number of unpopular decisions that may antagonize many Israelis. That is the leadership role which a responsible government is obliged to take. In such an environment, more than ever, it is imperative that a united government speaks on behalf of the majority of the nation.
Prime Minister Netanyahu must enforce government discipline. He must insist that any minister who feels morally obligated to publicly oppose government policies must first resign and only then is free to campaign against the policy – from the ranks of the opposition. For their part, ministers must assume a sense of responsibility, set aside their short-term interests to regain public trust and make international diplomacy possible. Israel cannot function as a respectable, democratic nation state unless its leaders subordinate their domestic ambitions to the national interest.
Jerusalem Post, Dec. 2, 2013
President Shimon Peres’s announcement to reporters who accompanied him to Mexico over the weekend that he would not cooperate with efforts to extend his tenure informally began the election to replace him when his term ends July 15. Peres said in the interviews that he intended to honor the law limiting him to one seven-year term. He said that politicians need to know the right time to leave. Nevertheless, sources in the Knesset said they had been approached in recent months by Peres’s associates who actively sought to change the law and lengthen a president’s term to the 10-year term of the chief rabbis. They said that only when it became clear that such an effort would fail did Peres accept that he would leave office in seven and a half months.
The president is elected in a secret-ballot vote by the Knesset’s 120 members. A date for the election has not been set yet, but it is expected to take place in the month following the Knesset’s return from its spring recess on May 12. While no candidate has formally announced his candidacy, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, who lost to Peres in 2007, has never stopped campaigning for the post. Rivlin said he appreciated Peres’s decision to announce that he is not seeking to extend his tenure. “Peres was right to say he will obey the law,” Rivlin said. “He will be remembered as one of the best, more powerful and more influential presidents we have had. I am looking forward to continuing his tradition.”
Rivlin claims the respect of all MKs and support of the majority of Likud legislators, even though he does not have the backing of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The prime minister has yet to find a candidate to support, and his decision could carry weight in the race. “People should vote for me as a veteran democrat who respects democracy and can represent the democracy of Israel better than anyone else,” Rivlin said.
The only other candidate willing to admit at this stage that he intends to run is Meir Sheetrit of Hatnua. He said he has been meeting with MKs to sound out his chances of victory. First elected to the Knesset in 1981, Sheetrit would bring to the presidency 40 years of public service as a mayor, minister with several portfolios, MK and Jewish Agency treasurer. He said he was proud that he passed the law that limited a president to one term. “The law prevents a president from having to play politics,” he said.
Another likely candidate is former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who served as interim president for seven months when former president Moshe Katsav suspended himself to fight his legal battles. Itzik has not yet decided whether to run. But MKs are saying that she would make a good president because she is not seen as right-wing or left-wing, has friends in all the parties, and is the only potential candidate with presidential experience. There are also MKs saying that the time has come for Israel to have its first female president, especially when polls show that the top candidate for president of the United States is former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer is said to be considering running. But the spokesman he hired to handle his presidential run, Nadav Gal-On, said Ben- Eliezer “listens to the public and hears the the many requests made for him to run, but it is too soon to deal with the issue of the presidency, and when we have something to update we will. Ha’aretz raised the prospect of Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom seeking the post over the weekend. His associates denied the report. “It is not true that he is considering running,” a source close to Shalom said. “He has received many requests from people to run, but it is not happening.”
Haviv Rettig Gur
Times of Israel, Nov. 22, 2013
Isaac Herzog’s upset win Thursday over incumbent Labor chair Shelly Yachimovich for the party’s top spot has upended the political calculations of many. With 15 members in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset, Herzog controls the third-largest faction in parliament, too small to lead the country but just large enough, at least on paper, to replace the entire right wing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government should they threaten to topple it in order to forestall any impending peace agreement. That simple mathematical fact — a government with Likud, Labor and the two liberal centrist parties Yesh Atid and Hatnua would have the slimmest possible majority, with 61 seats — has set the political system a-flurry with speculation over Herzog’s future steps. Will he seek to join Netanyahu’s coalition? Even if he doesn’t take a seat in the cabinet alongside Netanyahu, the widespread assumption that such a move is now a possibility – his predecessor Yachimovich rejected the idea out of hand – means Netanyahu’s political maneuvering room has just expanded considerably, especially when it comes to the US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians.
As they awoke to this new reality on Friday morning, many political actors who see their future tied up with Labor’s wasted no time in making their opinion known. Israel’s perennial left-wing oppositionist, Meretz leader MK Zehava Galon, called on Herzog “to remain with Meretz in the opposition and not join Netanyahu’s coalition.” Justice Minister and chief Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), who occupies, often uncomfortably, the left-wing edge of the coalition, urged the opposite. After initially calling on Labor to leave “the stands” and join the coalition, later on Friday Livni issued a softer but nevertheless eager call for Labor’s direct involvement in advancing the peace talks. Herzog’s election “has an added, special significance,” she wrote. “I believe Bougie [Herzog's widely-used nickname] truly believes and is committed to a diplomatic solution, and I hope he will mobilize to help change our collective future here. The peace process demands real support, not conditional support,” Livni said in a jab at Yachimovich’s lukewarm statements that she would support Netanyahu’s peace efforts only if such a deal was imminent. Livni concluded with an emphatic statement that bluntly suggested she’d prefer Herzog to several of her current coalition partners: “In short, Bougie, congratulations, and together we can stop the extremists.”
For his part, Herzog refused to satiate the speculation with any commitments. “We just got elected. This isn’t the time” to discuss joining the coalition, Herzog’s spokeswoman Linda Sason told The Times of Israel Friday. At his celebratory Friday morning press conference, when asked directly by an Israel Radio reporter if he would join the coalition, Herzog’s response suggested it was not off the table, though it would require a “clear, daring” act by Netanyahu: “I will serve as opposition leader. And I will meet with the prime minister when relevant… I have said before that if he makes a clear, daring step toward peace, I would be there. I stand by what I said.” Herzog’s aloofness is understandable. One does not begin the delicate dance of coalition negotiations by appearing overeager for membership. And despite Livni’s plea that he not wait for a peace deal, but rather join the coalition to help construct it — the obstacle to that scenario is not Herzog, but Netanyahu. The prime minister has little to gain from abandoning his current right-wing coalition in favor of a narrower one with Labor as long as, in his view, the Palestinians remain implacably intransigent.
And finally, Herzog’s victory celebration is tempered with a grim sense of the deteriorated state of his new fiefdom. He leads a former ruling party that once reliably attracted over 40 Knesset seats, but has failed in two consecutive elections to get into the upper teens. He may be leader of the opposition, but only because the second-largest party, Yesh Atid, sits comfortably ensconced in the coalition. He also feels the pressure of leading a party in which a huge majority of MKs sided with his opponent in the primaries, and which has a long history of undermining and quickly felling anyone who has the misfortune to stand at its head. Herzog’s defeat of Yachimovich marks the tenth ouster of a party leader in 21 years. No Labor leader has won reelection since Shimon Peres’s win in 1988. Of course, it was this very sense of decline that led to Herzog’s dramatic victory with a 16 percent margin. His entire campaign was a vague appeal to the need to return to that past grandeur.
It is not at all clear that rushing to join the right-wing ruling government is the best way to return Labor to its once-storied role as leader of a popular, agenda-setting left. The pressure is great, the stakes even greater. But those fateful decisions lie in the future. For now, Herzog can take comfort in knowing that the mere speculation about his future moves has already caused consternation on the right, where some MKs are sufficiently worried that they have already begun the campaign against Herzog’s entry into the coalition. As the Likud’s Ofir Akunis said Friday morning in a Facebook comment dripping with sarcasm, and directed as much at Netanyahu as at Herzog: “Congratulations to the new chairman of the Labor party. I wish him many long years as leader of the opposition…”
Jerusalem Post, Dec. 1, 2013
In 1948, there were hopes that the Arab-Israeli conflict would be resolved in the long run. But it wasn’t. In 1967, there was hope that the magnitude of Israeli victory meant that the Arabs would eventually come to terms (Egypt and Jordan did in a way, although the final word has not been written). In 1982, people believed that the conflict could still be solved, but it wasn’t. And finally, during the negotiations from 1993- 2000, there were renewed hopes that the conflict would be resolved. It wasn’t. Today, the conflict is even further from being resolved, especially with the entry of Iran, Islamism, and the radical government in Turkey. Maybe it is time to conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict will never be resolved.
There have since been at least three more examples following the same pattern. The first is obviously Iran, its nuclear intentions, its trickery and its desire to dominate the region. But that’s not all; consider what the US has done to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It is probable that Iran is going to give Syria a victory in the civil war. The fact is that Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government are on one side, and Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been on the other side. But now, in essence, the US has objectively sided with Iran, and that is one of the reasons the Saudis are angry. Here is what the Saudi ambassador to England, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, had to say on the matter: “Appeasement hasn’t worked in the past, and I don’t think it will work in the 21st century. That is why the frustration really is toward the main players within the United Nations Security Council, that’s their responsibility. And they will share also the blame, whatever deal comes out, they are responsible for it.”
The statement from the Saudi ambassador to London also expressed in his Times of London interview, an unusually abrasive criticism of the West for what he said was a too-soft approach toward Iran, calling Washington’s “rush” to engage with Tehran “incomprehensible.” A senior Saudi diplomat issued a rare direct threat to Iran, warning that “all options are available” should the international community fail to rein in Iran’s alleged drive to acquire nuclear weapons. This statement could easily come out of the mouth of an Israeli politician. It is amusing that with this parallelism to Israel’s viewpoint, the senior diplomat had to deny that he saw something in common with Israel. In other words, Saudi Arabia feels that it has been betrayed by the United States, and will respond to that betrayal.
Then there is Egypt. Let’s review American behavior. Two years ago, the United States basically helped and celebrated a Muslim Brotherhood electoral victory. Every anti-Islamist knows this. When the Egyptian military coup happened a year later, the US opposed it. In other words, if the Muslim Brotherhood had won and crushed freedom by staying in office, it would be have been backed by the US, but since there was a coup, the election was stolen. Doesn’t everyone in Egypt know that if the coup had not taken place, the US would have supported the Muslim Brotherhood government? Don’t the Egyptians know that the US was willing to sell Egypt into Islamic fundamentalist slavery? Would anyone believe the US would protect any of its other allies? But suddenly, the US turned around and Kerry actually said that the Muslim Brotherhood had “stolen” the revolution. And that is why the Egyptians are turning toward Russia today and do not trust the US. Frankly, one would think the Obama administration wants to sabotage US Middle East policy. By the way, the Egyptians were so angered by their perception of Turkey cuddling up to Iran and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that they threw out the Turkish ambassador.
Arabs’ Home in Israel: Deroy Murdock, New York Post, Nov. 23, 2013 — “I am Israeli,” says Issawi Frej, an Arab member of the Knesset. “I am a citizen here. I want to be here.” The Meretz Party representative also tells me: “The American people don’t understand that there are 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs who live inside Israel, and who are Israelis with rights. Americans think about the Palestinian Authority only, and no one thinks about us.”
Abbas: Willing to Speak in Knesset, But On Own Terms: Ynet, Nov. 23, 2013 — In interview to Voice of Russia, PA President Abbas turns East to Putin to ask for support in statehood bid, peace talks, internal reconciliation. Regarding PM Netanyahu's standing invitation to visit the Knesset – Abbas says willing to come, but on own terms
Israel’s Foreign Minister Returns, But Abrasive Style Appears Absent: Jodi Rudoren, New York Times, Oct. 7th, 2013 — Israel’s new-old foreign minister is a bit hard to recognize these days. Gone, it appears, is the Avigdor Lieberman who accused the Palestinian president of “diplomatic terrorism,” dismissed the prospect of peace as “decades away” and called for Arab citizens of Israel to take a loyalty oath.
Who Runs Israel?: Elise Cooper, American Thinker, Dec. 1, 2013 —Now in the midst of Hanukkah, and having just seen the relationship between the U.S. and Israel fall to an all-time low, there is a need to understand how the American president and the Israeli prime minister can impact the survival of the Jewish state. This is powerfully emphasized with the newly released film, The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers.
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