Sunday, December 14, 2014

Primer on Israeli Politics: What You Ought to Know About Israeli Knesset Elections 2014 Even if it Makes You Sad

When are new Israeli Elections Scheduled?
Snap elections are scheduled for March 17.

Is it too early to predict who will form the next government?
Yes. But if elections were held today, I'd wager the "Labor Party" would form the next government. All Israeli governments since 1948 have been cobbled together. No party has ever won a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Why put Labor Party in quotation marks?
Because it is running with the Tzipi Livni Party on a unified list. And political economy are not big on their agenda.

What happened to Benjamin Netanyahu's popularity?
Good question. All the polls showed him leading Labor Party Leader Isaac Herzog by a considerable point spread. But his popularity has lately been sliding. Suddenly, voters seem to be suffering from Bibi- fatigue.

Any reasons in particular?
Well, he's been in office since 2009. Netanyahu has a track record of being unable to keep the people near him loyal.  His biggest political rivals are people who once were close to him including Avigdor Lieberman to Naftali Bennett.
He's not a guy who generates loyalty and he's always ready to stab a follower in the back.

What else?
He's been inept in managing the cabinet – look at what happened during the summer 2014 Gaza War. An embarrassment of anarchy.
He's been especially bad at managing the relationship with the White House.

But what can Netanyahu have done? Barack Obama is predisposed against Israel.
True. True. In the sense that he has no particular empathy for the Zionist cause.
But for Obama it became personal because Netanyahu is so close to Sheldon Adelson and Adelson was a mega contributor to Mitt Romney. What's more, Netanyahu sent Ron Dermer to be his U.S. ambassador and Dermer was seen to be especially anti-Obama and pro-Romney. 

It's not a good idea to get in a spat with a president already predisposed to siding with the Arabs.

How does this impact on U.S. policy?
The U.S. might not use its veto in the Security Council to protect Israel in a very important vote that could happen any month now…
The Palestinian Arabs (Fatah and Hamas) want the EU and the U.S. at the UN to set a date for when Israel must pull back to the 1949 Armistice Lines … to end what they call the "occupation."
In other words, the Arabs get too have the first installment on Yasser Arafat's phased-plan for Israel's destruction without even having to bargain for it; handed to them on a silver platter. 
I'm not suggesting Romney would not have done the same at the UN – only that by showing open contempt for Obama, Netanyahu didn't help matters. If the U.S. turns against us in the Security Council, we're in trouble. Big trouble.

Ah, but Netanyahu is strong on security…
Oh, Gimme a break! Netanyahu is responsible for the Shalit prisoner exchange. The worst security mistake Israel made on the Palestinian front since Oslo in 1993…

But that's what Israelis wanted….
Yes. But the prime minister is supposed to lead the country. He led from behind.

Anyway, so what?
So the Oct. 2011 exchange  of 1,027 terrorists with blood on their hands was a tipping point. The following year Arab attacks in Judea and Samaria went from 320 to 578.
Attacks in Jerusalem increased significantly to 282 in 2012 from 191 in 2011.
Since Arab "non-violent" protests often involve the throwing of Molotov cocktails and stones the security situation deteriorated. Enemy gangs also used explosives and firearms more than they had in the recent past.
Hamas began intensifying its bombardment of Israel from Gaza and readying tunnels for new kidnappings of soldiers and civilians.
Netanyahu's Operation Pillar of Fire in November 2012 proved inconclusive. 

But the terrorists all signed forms promising not to engage in terrorism
Ahah. Nevertheless, many of the released terrorists some of them operating out of Turkey resumed their old roles or are mentoring  the current generation of Palestinian gunmen. 

2012 wasn't terrible...but 2013 was particularly violent: IDF soldiers killed; civilians attacked.

The third intifada was underway even before we realized it  – albeit on a low-flame.

Then in June 2014 Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, were kidnapped and murdered by a gang with Hamas connections.  

The barbaric retaliatory murder by a group of Jewish low-lifes of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair, who lived in a northern Jerusalem suburb, located near the Jerusalem light rail, added fuel to an already volatile situation.

Next, Netanyahu allowed the summer war in Gaza to drag on for 50 days and the neither-here-neither-there outcome further undermined Israeli deterrence.

So much for Netanyahu's security credentials. 

But the cabinet of 2011 voted for the Shalit deal
True. All but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Uzi Landau, and then-Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon

A leader sometimes has to make concessions...
Fine. But get something in return. When Netanyahu throws in the towel he does so in a way that still leaves us appearing intransigent and we get no points for our troubles. This was true on the settlement-building moratorium and on the 74 prisoners Israel released to "help Abu Mazen" return to the negotiating table.

Yeah, but look at how Netanyahu handled the Iranian nuclear threat.
Exactly, I rest my case.
To be fair, that threat was the responsibility of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert more than Netanyahu. They dropped the ball. But all Bibi's bluffing didn't help Israeli deterrence and it antagonized Obama further. Did anyone really expect the U.S. to go to war with Iran?

So hope rests with Tzipi Livni and Herzog?
Let me be delicate. Livni is a vacillating politician branded by her husband, PR executive Naftali Spitzer. She's way out of her depth.
Herzog like Livni can ride on his pedigree. But he redirected Labor back to the sour, dishonest position on settlements and returned to that fusty mantra that Mahmoud Abbas is a viable peace partner. Shelly Yachimovich had tried to de-emphasize all such nonsense when she led the party but got the boot.  Now, under one roof you've got Herzog, Amir Peretz, and Livni. They might  throw in Shaul Mofaz who let himself be outsmarted by Netanyahu and bears an understandable grudge.

Ah, so Israel's hopes rest with the Orthodox parties…
Yeah, right. The Jewish Home Party, formerly the National Religious Party is a mish mash of interests and rightist factions. Not clear today they'll hold together. Part of the party has made a fetish of defending the settling of hilltops in Judea and Samaria -- making a mockery of centralized Zionist authority.

The party's position on church and state can be deemed enlightened only when transposed against the positions of the ultra-Orthodox haredi parties. There's no Family Court in Israel. It's all controlled by the religious courts. 

Party leader Bennett fancies himself a military genius and clashed with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon during the Gaza war. His main strength: he's got very good English and is a plain talker on security issues.

You're not a fan of the Agudah and Shas ultra-Orthodox parties either…
I favor a separation of State and Synagogue. I respect the haredi parties for advocating for their constituencies. But I oppose the insularity they espouse, and their Tammany Hall style, as unhealthy for the Jewish body politic.

OK. So that leaves Yair Lapid
I always felt Lapid was a flash in the pan and I still do. Israelis always look for "third parties" to save them. And they're invariably disappointed. So what do they do? They await yet another third party…

Lapid talks out of both sides of his mouth on security. He's a suave TV personality and highly accessible tabloid writer. But he was a fool to allow himself to be saddled with Treasury by Netanyahu. Not clear what he is for except being against the haredim.

What, or who, does that leave you with?
Not much.
So by a process of elimination—if Moshe Kahlon (the ex-Likud minister), Lieberman, and Lapid manage to form a unified bloc, I'll hold my nose and maybe go with them – feeling I have little choice. There is time until March to re-think whether Netanyahu is, in the last and final analysis, the lesser of all bad choices.

Any forecast at this early stage?
If I had to predict an outcome today—though the situation is fluid – I'd wager Herzog and his lot will form the next government.
And that the next leader of Likud – if Netanyahu loses big -- will be Moshe Feiglin. He's a man of honor. But alas, his goals are theocratic.
In other words, Likud will become the tea party; "Labor" the Republican establishment. I say that because even Labor will quickly become despised by the Europeans and Obama when they balk at making suicidal and unilateral concessions to the Palestinians…which I'd like to think Herzog and Livni would do when push comes to shove.

Why is the Netanyahu camp so angry at Lieberman?
Both men have few principles. Liebermann is willing to enter a government with just about anybody…he'd go with Labor if the price is right.

All this sounds so dispiriting...

Yep. The only way to begin to set things right is to reform the political system – I'm talking constitutional and electoral reform. And I'm not holding my breath.... 

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