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Israeli elections: What happened?


In a hotly contested election, Israelis gave the largest number of votes to the center-left Kadima party, but the largest bloc of votes went to the Israeli right. The results of the Israeli elections are heartbreaking for those of us who hope and work for peace - Heartbreaking and inevitable. The decision is clear, even if neither left nor right will admit it, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni must know the truth.

On election night, two Israelis explained in two or three sentences, what really happened in the elections and what motivates Israeli political society today. Amnon Dankner, former editor of Maariv newspaper, was featured as an election night commentator on Israel Channel 1. He spoke clearly for the majority of Israelis when he said that the two great disasters of Israeli policy were the occupation and settlements, and the Oslo process. In other words, Israelis understand that the occupation must end, and also comprehend the impossibility of making peace with the Palestinians. It follows that there is no party that publicly represents the precise view of the Israeli public, and they gave the majority of votes to two parties that at least represented themselves as coming closest, however imprecisely, to representing both views, but with every different emphases.

The real issue for most Zionist Israelis is therefore how to end the occupation without empowering an irredentist and terrorist Palestinian state, and without surrendering what they consider to be essential Jewish rights. Religious coercion and economic issues were really discussed only by fringe parties. But in realiy, there is no party that offers a consensus solution to the central problem of ending the occupation, which may be insoluble.

Kadima is an an improbable merger of right and left that everyone thought would fall apart, and that may yet do so. Nonetheless, Kadima has been the largest party in two elections, because it seemed to offer a way to end the occupation nightmare without surrendering to terrorism: if the Palestinians will not negotiate an end to the occupation, Israel must end it unilaterally, on Israeli terms. But the Gaza disengagement produced even worse chaos and violence than the Oslo accords. To the average Israeli, it seems that every effort to bring peace only generates more and wider violence.

During the elections, Benjamin Netanyahu tried to represent himself as close to the Kadima party in ideology and focused on issues of experience and personality and nuances of policy. Now that the election charade is over, the mask was removed and Netanyahu talked openly of the "Nationalist camp" once again. The demise of the unity government charade was heralded again by the announcement by Netanyahu and Shas leader Eli Yishai that Israel needs a right-wng government headed by Netanyahu.

Benjamin Netanyahu's post election speech must have been shattered every illusion about the "new Netanyahu." The speech was as polarizing as ever and as dishonest as ever. Before the elections, Netanyahu had insisted that right-wing voters had to vote for the Likud rather than Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu. Netanyahu explained that if Yisrael Beiteinu took votes from the Likud, Kadima could be the largest party, and would be asked to form the government. Kadima did get the most votes, but Netanyahu insisted that he would form the next government.

Judging by the campaign and the results of the elections, occupation versus peace is the only issue. Israel is "pre-occupied." No other issue really interested the Israeli public. Almost everyone understands that the occupation must end, either because they don't want to rule another people or because they grasp the demographic realities: Arabs will soon be a majority between the river and the sea.

The second election night insight into understanding Israeli politics, and the relative success of Kadima was offered by Tzipi Livni , when she said that there is no "National Camp" and no "Peace camp." The land of Israel does not belong to the right and peace does not belong to the left, she asserted. Don't we all, after all, have friends of different political persuasions, and don't we all understand that for the most part, left and right both want what is best for Israel and both want peace? The "Peace Camp" was exploded by the missiles of Hamas. The "National Camp," the camp that refuses to give up settlements no matter what, really exists today only the tiny National Union and "Jewish Home" (NRP) parties.

The saddest story of the elections, and the one that may be most important for the future of Israeli politics and society, was the disintegration of the Israel Labor movement. It was due to many factors. The Labor party had built its apparatus around the Kibbutz movement and the Histradrut union, and then recklessly helped to dismantle both. The Likud and the right were happy to build an alternative anchor structure around the West Bank settlements and the Yesha council.

The Israel Labor party and Meretz put all their political capital into the peace process. Social justice, sound economics, ethics in government, the fight against religious coercion, in fact, every principle of the Israeli labor movement and the Israeli left, were all sacrificed to keep together coalitions that would support peace. But the peace process failed. The ultraorthodox parties that were bribed took the money and built nursery schools and Yeshivot, and the nursery schools and Yeshivot taught the students that not one millimeter of "Holy Land" must ever be surrendered. Incredibly, the Labor party and Meretz had forgotten that the political preferences of an electorate are based on culture and ideology. The policy of sacrificing every princiole for peace reached total absurdity when Ehud Barak, Labor and Meretz were in power. To satisfy their right-wing coalition parties, the "leftist" government built thousands of housing units in the West Bank. Settlements could not build peace.

Israel was not ready to give up settlements. The Palestinians are not ready to give up right of return of the refugees, which means destruction of the Jewish state, By allowing and supporting the rise of the Hamas, the Palestinians showed that their society is not ready to live in peace with Israel and not ready to form a state and govern it in a civilized and orderly way. The Oslo accords created a Palestinian almost-state that educated its children in the religion of "resistance" - that is terrorism, and raised impossible expectations about Palestinian "rights." Nothing but collisions could come from this "peace process."

The peace process failed, but neither Labor nor Meretz would admit it.

Both Meretz and Labor conducted nihilistic and pointless campaigns. They avoided issues which could have won them votes: growing poverty and social injustice, misuse of natural resources, a failing education system. Labor studiously avoided defining who and what it is and what it stands for. Meretz long since redefined itself as a party that promotes "leftism" for the sake of leftism, marching off resolutely and obediently to the isolated part of the political map that the Israeli right assigned to it.

You would not know from the campaigns they ran that these parties once stood for social justice or civil rights or that it was the Labor Party that created the Israeli state.Meretz, which began its campaign with a grandiose plan for a new Israeli left, finished it with nothing more than the repeated promise that they would not be in a coalition with right wing demagogue Avigdor Lieberman. That is not a political, social and ideological program. Labor ran a vapid campaign focused on repeating over and over that Ehud Barak is not nice and built around a gimmick using a plasterer. That's not a political program either. The Israeli Labor party is supposed to stand for more than just Ehud Barak and the defense ministry, and in fact, Labor fielded an excellent team.

We can most likely disregard all the wishful thinking of different "analysts" who are talking about rotation of Prime Ministers or a center coalition. There might be a government with both Likud and Kadima, but it will be a Netanyahu government. If the Labor party or Kadima had gotten three more seats, it might be different, but they didn't. Netanyahu can't ignore the parties of the more extreme right, and he doesn't want to.

But it is not so simple as arithmetic of right and left blocs. On paper, the right has a bloc of 65 votes. It has a clear mandate. The Arabs of Israel will probably not recommend that Tzipi Livni form the next government. Therefore the "left" has about 48 votes. Netanyahu talked unity before the elections, but he talked "National Camp" after the elections. Whoever joins the coalition, it will be a coalition of the right.

The catch is that the right bloc may exist only on paper. The ultraorthodox Shas party is not an ally of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose secular Russian immigrant constituency, many of whom are not Halachic Jews, want to institute civil marriage. Shas's Ayatollah, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, fumed about Lieberman and Satan. Lieberman likes ultraorthodox Jews about as much as he likes Arabs. In order to form his right wing Camelot, Netanyahu must get Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu into the same government, which is not a trivial problem. Rather than a right wing coalition, it may be much easier for him to form a government with Kadima and almost any other party - which would provide a majority of over 60 mandates. It would still be a right wing government though, not really committed either to peace or to progressive economic policies. Bibi can't remain in a government that is not right wing because if he did, it would cause a revolt in the Likud. Just as Kadima split the Likud to the left, it would now split to the right.

That is not really what the Israeli public wanted when they gave the largest block of votes to the two central parties, but there is every indication that that is what they will get. For most of the Israeli public, there may be no national camp, but for Bibi there certainly is. This government will build settlement units. It will fund Yeshivot and starve universities. It will rob the poor to feed the rich. It will perpetuate religious coercion and discrimination against Arabs. It will ignore the falling level of Kinneret waters. Zippy Tzipi Livni and not-nice Ehud Barak can decide to join this government or not to join it. It won't make much difference.

Those who have already buried the Israel Labor party should remember however, that in the last elections the Likud got 12 mandates, and all the pundits were talking about the disintegration of the Israeli right. In a few months, or even sooner, the Israeli electorate will remember why they voted Benjamin Netanyahu out of office last time. They will wake up to the increasingly harsh realities of the world economic crisis. Netanyahu, like Sharon before him, will find that he can't wish away either the Hamas or Iran or the insistent pressure of the Obama administration. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

As the song promises, "Believe me, a day will come..."

Don't mourn. Organize.

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/00000748.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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Replies: 3 comments

A masterly worded post-mortem of the crash. To be fully honest and after more than 40 years watching events in ME from my corner of the world, the "day that will come" looks more and more like the "sunny day" of Vera Lynn.

But to be optimistic, lets say that as Ronald Reagan invented the polititian-actor who simulates convictions having none that is the base for the scripts of Berlusconi, Sarkozy and Netaniahu, perhaps Obama can start a new cycle were these characters become obsolete and only honest&sincere people can succeed in elections.

Posted by Aleph @ 02/11/2009 10:38 PM CST

Ami, most of the left talk that I hear is over the press, I just don't seem to meet them on the streets, maybe I just happen to the wrong streets. Anyway to get to the point, I must say that I was quite impressed by your seemingly honest and to the point article, quite different from what you usually hear. That is till I got to the end and read about the rich robbing the poor. To be fair I might have completely misunderstood your meaning so if you did not mean rich Yeshiva students robbing poor University proffessors than I profusely apologise. But whom did you really mean.

Posted by Rakefet @ 02/11/2009 11:27 PM CST

I confess I do not know or understand Israeli politics, but I have seen Netanyahoo before on tv here in the states, he used to be a commentator on Television here in America, back during the early 90's, Us here in America elected George Bush Twice. We did not learn the first time, but we sure did the second. Hopefully the Israelis will learn albeit the hard way.

I do not understand how the right, Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, expect peace or even pretend to want peace as long as they build more settlements in the west bank, let alone to not abandon the ones already built. It seems like they are trying to piss off the Palestinians, after all if somebody just took my land I wouldn't be happy about it either. I tell ya these palestinians, 3rd and 4th generation, STILL sitting in these refugee camps since 1967, and you wonder why there is a HAMAS.

Posted by Malron @ 03/10/2009 09:04 AM CST

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