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Devil's advocate: New Elections in Israel

09/18/2008

Tzipy Livni has evidenlty just become head of Israel's Kadima party (pending finalization of eleciton results) and has a chance, at least, to form a moderate government that will pursue the peace process. For those who support peace, the sensible course would seem to be to support Livni.

According to Aluf Benn, Livni tells supporters

"I'm here because of the uber-objective, which is a Jewish and democratic state. That's why I support the establishment of a Palestinian state, on condition that it will be the national solution for all the Palestinians, just as Israel is the national solution for all the Jews."

Hopefully, we all agree about the objective. The question is whether if it is attainable, and if so, what is the best way?

Livni faces two choices. The probable choice she will make is to try to form a government. Very likely, this government would have to include the Shas party, which objects to the peace process. and has crippled it by vetoing any discussion of Jerusalem. Without Shas (12 seats) she will likely have no coalition. Kadima has 29 seats and Labor 19, for a total of 48. Given survey results that forecast a drastic drop in Labor party representation, Labor is not anxious for elections. The Pensioner's party has 7 seats. They are very interested in joining a coalition, because, having done nothing while in the government, their party is given 0 mandates in any elections by all surveys. The dovish Meretz party would be happy to join a peace coalition, but it would bring only 5 seats. That gives a total of 60. In the unlikely, but not unheard of, event that Meretz can serve in the same coalition as the ultraorthodox United Torah Judaism party (an amalgam of Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah, this government could have the support of 66 MKs. However, United Torah Judaism, though historically dovish, would be unlikely to favor compromises over Jerusalem and would exact, as they usually do, a steep economic price for its cooperation.

This new government would face formidable obstacles in implementing Tzipy Livni's goals. Israeli-Palestinian peace has been stymied by a collection of immovable objects and irresistible forces in both the Palestinian and the Israeli polities. Despite PM Ehud Olmert's commitment to peace, the settler lobby has forced the continued building of settlement housing in the West Bank and settlers have made themselves into literally immovable objects, successfully opposing attempts to dismantle illegal outposts.

On the Palestinian side, the Hamas represent themselves as an irresistible force, and the Palestinian Authority and others have set themselves up as immovable objects. Hamas advertises over and over that it is opposed to any peace agreement with Israel. Until and unless that changes, the Hamas is obviously not a peace partner. The Palestinian Authority has buttressed itself behind several negotiating positions that they know cannot be presented to the Israeli public in any realistic political scenario: a claim to all of East Jerusalem that denies Israeli rights entirely, refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, demand for "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees.

The Hamas have already signaled their opinion of a potential Livni government. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum is quoted as saying that the Kadima primaries were a contest between extremists. Coming from the spokesman of a genocidal and racist party that came to power by throwing its opponents off rooftops, that is a memorable example of the delicious irony generated by evil regimes. It provides the backdrop for the political action in this part of the world and lends perspective.

For Livni to attain her goal, Israel would have to somehow eliminate the Hamas government in Gaza, and somehow convince Israelis that a Palestinian state would not turn into Hamas -run nightmare state that rains rockets on Ben-Gurion airport. She would also have to get the Palestinian authority to budge from its immovable negotiating positions, which have not changed since Mahmoud Abbas announced them in 2000. To do that, she would have to demonstrate some real good will by freezing settlement expansion and really eliminating illegal outposts - a process that has gone on for a long time with shamefully little results. All this activity would have to rest on a narrow and somewhat shaky coalition. There is therefore not much chance that Livni's strategy will succeed in breaking the 15 year futile stagnation of the peace process. Historically, the difference between between Likud party policy and the policy of the Labor party or Kadima has not been that great. The Likud builds settlement units, neglects the economy and domestic needs and allows Palestinian terror and incitement, while the more moderate governments allow Palestinian terror and incitement, neglect the economy and domestic needs and build settlement units. The Likud pursues the peace process reluctantly and achieves nothing, its opponents pursue the peace process with enthusiasm and achieve nothing as well.

Add to that the very irregular way in which Livni would have come to power through primary elections. It is easy for opponents of the peace process to claim that the government does not represent the people and has no mandate to negotiate such crucial issues. This would tend to delegitimize any deal that Livni's government could bring before the people.

So we turn to the second of Livni's two alternatives, which is to go to elections. In those elections, the Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu and its potential right-wing coalition partners would likely win a majority based on opinion surveys. But Ehud Olmert did not say he would resign in that case. He will resign evidently, only if Livni can form a government (or "immediately" - it is not clear which). Nobody wants to be stuck with Olmert and his legal problems any longer. Therefore, Livni really has no choice other than to try and form a new coalition. The real choice is in how much she is ready to compromise on her principles to attain that coalition.

It seems that Livni may not be able to have both her peace principles and a government that supports them. If she goes into the negotiations with the idea that she must avoid elections at all costs, then Shas and United Torah Judaism can leverage on those fears to force formation of a government in their image.

That makes elections seem less ominous than they might otherwise be. Opinion polls have not proved themselves to be very reliable. Livni was slated to beat Shaul Mofaz handily according to opinion surveys, but beat him by only a razor thin margin if at all (Mofaz will contest the ballot count). In an election campaign as opposed to primaries, Livni will have a better chance to make herself known, and to pin down Benjamin Netanyahu about the realistic cost and consequences of the policies he advocates. She has a chance to win a real mandate for peace.

If Netanyahu is nonetheless elected, he, and the immovable objects of the Palestinian side, would both face a moment of truth. Is he really willing to end the peace process, and face the consequences in terms of withdrawal of US and world support for Israel? Like Ariel Sharon, he would find that "from here, it doesn't look the same as it did from there." For that matter, that is exactly what Netanyahu found out the last time he was Prime Minister. He didn't succeed in stopping the peace process. He only succeeded in making everyone angry at Israel, and then making everyone in Israel angry at him.

Neither Tzipy Livni nor the Israeli left should be so paralyzed by the specter of a Likud victory that they are willing to give up their principles in order to avoid elections. It is time that the left became immovable objects too. Participation of parties of the left in a Livni government should not be a foregone conclusion, regardless of the principles or actions of that government.

In the past, Meretz and Labor bargained away principles in order to join or make "peace" coalitions. As it turns out, this did not advance the cause of peace. Constitutional law, good government, rational education, economic and defense policies and separation of religious and secular law were sacrificed to "peace." The "peace" part of the bargain never came to fruition. But the other parts did. Israeli society moved progressively to the right, became more theocratic, more corrupt and gradually eroded its own foundation principles. Ironically, by sacrificing other principles for peace, these compromises undermined the Israeli labor movement. Instead of bringing peace closer, they helped to create a society that can be dominated by big business, organized religious extremism and the settler lobby, moving the prospect of peace further and further away. In every election, the representation of the left shrank, because they themselves had lent a hand in creating a society inimical to their own principles. Each year there are more and more graduates of Yeshivot, and less and less members of labor Zionist youth movements, less and less workers and engineers and more and more rabbis, less kibbutzim and more settlements, because of the laws that were enacted to satisfy the demands of the religious right. Both Meretz and the Labor party have to stand fast for their principles, because in any negotiation, it is the most immovable object that succeeds in resisting the irresistible force.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000716.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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