Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Morning After: An Analysis of the Israeli Political Landscape

The Israeli elections ended with two and a half victory speeches and one concession speech.

The biggest loser was clearly the Labor Party (HaAvodah). Despite Barak’s star performance in the recent Gaza operation as Defence Minister, the party that had dominated the Israeli political landscape since inception, that had ruled without loss for the first 30 years of nationhood (as Mapai and the Alignment) is tonight no longer a force in Israeli politics. It came in a dismal fourth place, having secured only 12 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset. Israel’s voters, the sons and daughters of socialists, have firmly rejected the left. The Labor party would do best to stay in opposition and regroup, as Likud has done in recent years. The only scenario in which it is likely to be in government is in a national unity government alongside Likud and Kadima (where it may place the national interest over party politics).

Livni, the woman who called these elections having failed in her previous attempts in coalition building, claimed victory after securing first place. Kadima’s 28 seats reflect a one seat margin over Likud and a one seat loss from its position in the last Knesset. Within the span of three years, Kadima experienced two elections; the loss of its founding fathers (Sharon and Peres); a bogged corruption scandal; a worsening security situation; two controversial wars; and a likely recession. Livni delivered an excellent result for her party and should be proud of beating the pollsters. She ran a good campaign, and made the most of the last minute momentum Kadima experienced, buoyed by a high voter turnout. That said, having secured first place, she is back where she was when she called these elections, unable to form a stable coalition.

The other victory speech came from Netanyahu, the man most likely to be Israel’s next prime minister. With all the cards stacked against Kadima, this was his election to lose, which he did. He ran the classic frontrunner’s campaign (firmly rejecting Livni’s repeated requests for a debate) and ended up in second place. On the flip side, Netanyahu led the Likud back from its meagre 12 seats in the last Knesset to a political beast of 27 seats and most importantly, as the leader of the national block, he can thwart attempts by Livni to form a government. He is therefore most likely to become Israel’s next prime minister.

The Russian-immigrant- secular-nationalist party, Israel Bateinu (‘Israel is our home’) claimed half a victory, having delivered 15 seats that may well hold the balance of power in the next Knesset. This result (below polling expectations but above its 11 seats in the last Knesset) moves it from fifth place to third place, surpassing the Labor party. Avigdor Lieberman will play both sides to his advantage. Having ran on a platform that is more nationalist than Likud, he has recently proclaimed that his party cannot be assumed to recommend Netanyahu as the next Prime Minister and may indeed recommend Tzip Livni (if the price is right) or indeed himself for the top job.

Over the next few days, Tzipi Livni would be trying to mend fences with all those who would be happy to see the end of Kadima and try to ensure Shimon Peres gives her the first crack at forming a coalition – an unenviable task. Meanwhile, Bibi Netanyahu would be forming a block that would prevent her from governing. In between the rounds of meeting with political allies and foes, they may well play with Ynet’s recently-released game Build Yourself a Coalition. No doubt, Bibi would be having more fun than Livni. He is more likely to get the message “You can form a government” and far less likely to get the annoying popup: “Your coalition is politically unreasonable”.

Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, may find himself in the awkward position of handing the premiership to his former nemesis, the man who beat him in the 1996 elections, and the man who lost the current elections. He would probably much rather hand the reins to the woman whose party won these elections, to the party he co-founded, and to the people continuing the vision of the partners he lost along the way (Rabin and Sharon). Peres may well facilitate the formation a national unity government with a rotational approach, like the one he entered with Yitchak Shamir following the 1984 election deadlock. Barring that, Peres is bound to choose the candidate most likely to form a stable government, and like it or not, that person is Binyamin Netanyahu.

Only in Israel

  • Will you hear two victory speeches and one concession speech
  • Will you be able to vote for Holocaust Survivors and Grown Up Leaf Party, the party advocating for pension reform fo Holocaust surviors and marijuana legalisation.
  • Will you find a ticket promoting the environment and the separation of religion and state headed by the Chief Rabbi of Norway (son of the former Chief Rabbi of Denmark). Unfortunately, the party did not make the cut and Rabbi Melchior’s exemplarity conduct will be sorely missed in the next Knesset.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Three Falafels: An analysis of the Israeli elections

Three Falafels:

Three Israelis discussing their choices at the Ballot at Shimshon, the Falafel King



Ari: Avoda/Labor supporter

Kefir: Kadima supporter

Lavi: Likud supporter


Ari:  Hey Shimshon, give us three falafels with extra tahina and chilli ...and don’t be stingy with the falafel balls. We’re starving!

Lavi: So guys, don’t tell me you lefties are voting for the same thing again on Tuesday, some more Kadima and yet more Avoda. What do want? Four more years of pain and no gain?!

Kefir: First of all, Lavi, I’m not a leftie. Don’t forget the days we attended those Likud rallies together. Do you remember the one in ’96, when Olmert, then Mayor of Jerusalem, stood by Bibi [Netanyahu] and unveiled the election slogan ‘Peres will divide Jerusalem’?!; Remember the rally at Zion square where we chanted till we lost our voices ‘Arik, king of Israel, may he live forever’?! I’m not some starry-eyed leftie!

Lavi: Yeah, I remember. And now Arik [Sharon] is a vegetable, while Peres, who is still alive and kicking, will hand over the premiership to Bibi next week. Meanwhile, it is Olmert who offered North, South and East Jerusalem as part of final status agreement with Fatah. How the tables have turned? Imagine what happens if Hamas takes over the West Bank and starts shooting Qassam rockets from East Jerusalem at Ben Gurion airport or worse, here at Shimshon - the Falafel King.

Ari: It’s all very well to sit in opposition and criticise an incumbent, but the right never seems to come up with an alternate solution. I don’t think Kadima has all the answers, and it is a party formed in opportunism, but at least it made some brave decisions.

Lavi: Like what?! the disengagement?! I remember three years ago you were both arguing in favour of disengagement from Gaza, saying we had no business there. Leave them and they will leave us, you said. But we left them and they didn’t leave us. They elected a government that has our destruction as its aim; they used their borders to smuggle in weapons and fired thousands of rockets at us. I see the sacrifice but where is your peace?

Kefir: True, but at least now we can hit back. We can close borders when we need to. We can build a security fence between us, which you know very well has curbed the wave of suicide bombings that preceded disengagement. It is far easier to deal with an enemy state than with an insurgency.

Lavi: If only the world saw it that way. Look at them demonstrating, they want to put Olmert on war crimes trials; they call Peres a traitor. Peres! the darling of the left. So, you ceded territory, created a stronger enemy and gained zilch diplomatically. Where has Kadima disengagement plan taken us? This is achora (backwards), not kadima (forwards). Only Bibi stood up and predicted this is how it will turn out, while your leaders were busy expelling our own people from their homes.

Ari: But that’s the nature of peace. You make it with enemies, not with friends. And besides, what is your solution? Population transfer?!

Lavi: Drop it! Bibi is not Lieberman. The solution is to negotiate with the right partner from a position of strength, and not to negotiate from a position of weakness with partners who are either unwilling - like Hamas, or incapable - like Fatah, to stem the violence.

Ari: But meanwhile while you wait for your ideal partner, the problem is only getting worse, not better. You cannot have two million people living under occupation without expecting things to heat up. People have a right to live freely in their land!

Lavi: What occupation are you talking about? The one they have today with full control over their subjects; international recognition; government institutions and elections and an independent security apparatus? – or the old fashioned one, where under ‘occupation’, we supplied all their basic needs, and witnessed their population quadruple and life expectancy increase from 46 to 73?

Ari: It’s about pride, national pride. They are entitled to have a land like you do; to sing their own Hatikvah! This is not about the past, but about the future. The reality is that they, like us, are here to stay.

Lavi: If only they, like you, accepted that we are here to stay.

Kefir: Don’t forget, Lavi, that the biggest threat the Palestinians can inflict on us is demographic rather than military. As soon as they become a majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, the Palestinians will be seeking a one state solution, in which you and I will become a minority. Your choice is simple: either you give them their country or compete with them in the bedroom and at the ballot. The sooner we divorce ourselves from them, the better. Kadima is all about pragmatism, not idealism. There is no easy way out here. We have to strive for peace with the likes of Fatah while weakening the forces opposed to peace, like Hamas.

Ari: Well, that sounds not unlike the position of the Avoda. After all, it was Barak who led Operation Cast Lead, and he certainly delivered a military success as Minister of Defence, something that cannot be said of the diplomatic accomplishments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Hey, Kefir?!

Lavi: Ari, Ari, listen to yourself boasting military credentials. What happened to “Lift your eyes with hope; not through the rifles' sights; sing a song for love; and not for wars”. I see you guys no longer sing the ‘song of peace’. Disillusionment has set in, huh?!

Ari: I suppose, that’s somewhat true, but mark my words, the day will come and we must bring on that day. But maybe not this time around. This election is already over before it began... Bibi will become the next prime minister and will lead a broad-broad coalition with Barak on the inside and Livni on the outside – if he can afford to.

Kefir: Why would he prefer Barak over Livni?

Lavi: Both Likud and Avoda would be happy to see your party crumble in opposition. Kadima was a one term party and you had your day in the sun.

Ari: Okay guys, let’s drop the subject. How about we give the voting booth a miss this Tuesday and pop by my place for a barbeque instead?

Kefir: That’s a better way to spend a public holiday than standing in a queue.

Lavi: Count me in!

Ari:  Hey Shimshon, can we have some Turkish coffee here?! ...and don’t be stingy with the sugar. I’ve seen bitter days!