Monday, October 27, 2008

Murmurs & Rumblings in Israeli Politics -- Rumors of Moderation: The Right, Left & Center, A Narrative Of Peace?



The global fiscal melee gripping national and international economies has blunted the luster of the right and set conservatism on a defensive trajectory around the world. This emergent and precarious politico-economic realm has seen Binyamin Netanyahu waver in his right-wing principles to assert more popular views expressed in legislation and public utterances. Yet still his popularity continues to wane while Tzipi Livni becomes more attractive to the Israeli public.

Left: Likud's ultra-hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Pentagon Defense Policy Board architect of the Iraq war Richard Perle, wants to attack Iran in yet another intensely reckless move in the Middle East. He is also a champion of retaining all the lands Israel has amassed through war.

Member of the Knesset (MK), Binyamin Netanyahu has been identified, both internally and internationally, as being the beacon of the Israel right and perennial leader of the Likud (Consolidation) party. Netanyahu rose through the ranks of his party on a platform of drastic cuts to the bloated and inefficient national budget. It was the cuts he made in the to the public sector as well as his bannner stance on the Palestinian "problem" and the occupied terroritories that solidified his success. On these austere tenets he built a superior political career, and rightly so.

Until now, that is. When Netanyahu is prompted about the possibility of enlarging the budget he responds he would not dismiss the idea out of hand, and that all the options are open. The "new" Netanyahu
is espousing a different rhetoric and acting in an altered manner. During the course of 2008, with the prospects of early elections in the air, Netanyahu has raised his hand in the Knesset in favor of a long series of populist laws, the ramification of which have enlarged the Israeli national budget.

Recently, Netanyahu has said that a safety net should be spread for the public's savings in provident funds and pension funds. In this, too, he has joined a long line of politicians who have made the same demand: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, and Meretz MKs Haim Oron and Zahava Gal-On. Is he trying to bypass and outflank the left - pouncing on the popular issues of the day?

Netanyahu commented that a state needs to ensure its citizens' pensions, and that his intention is to spread a safety net, which doesn't promise the profits of the past but only a low gain for the future.

Israel's right was galvanized by the Six Day War of 1967, in which Israel took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Since then, the Israeli right has been composed of two major segments: the secular nationalist right, embodied in the Likud party, and the radical right, spearheaded by settlers of the occupied territories. Binyamin Netanyahu will not vacillate from these core foreign policy doctrines of the Likud - and has shown no tendency to reform these rigid views.

If Netanyahu intends to become a "new" politician, who hands out budgets and tells the public everything it wants to hear, this may deplete his popularity in the end. His reputation and public favor is rooted in policies from the other direction -- as someone who extolled the most stringent national and international program -- a politician who was unafraid to say these difficult things straight out - and also implement them. The public may not be duped by this sudden transformation - this apparent Netanyahu "Damascus moment" in their political calculations during the coming elections. Furthermore, Netanyahu's platform fails to intersect the Israeli public's aspirations to a lasting peace.

The Israeli voters may ultimately, realize that someone who personified a restrained budget and an iron fist facing Israel's borders to suddenly be dragged into populist legislation and who foregos important aspects of that identity must in fact be a fraud. The public may understand that budgetary policy of the past exalted by Netanyahu is responsible for what is now submerging the economy deep into the ocean of the financial hurricane that the world is experiencing.

Netanyahu's two-faced image may be exposed. He keeps claiming that his actions brought prosperity to Israel, but he is the one responsible for the upcoming economic crisis, the death blow to the disappearing middle class, the harm to retirees and the ruin of the higher education system.

Netanyahu's defense posture also drained the public coffers concomitantly, availing fewer resources toward social programs. The public does not need a "new" Netanyahu whose positions steadily move leftward, when Israel already has a long standing left. Although the left, which is embodied by the Labor party is not in a position to contest the elections, it remains a viable factor in the formation of any new government. The left has posited its tent in the Kadima camp for now. It would be a welcome phenomenon if Netanyahu indeed underwent a transformation, which saw a poised arbitration of his strict policies; unfortunately, these adjustments may merely be urgent conveniences to meet a heated political contest.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu represents the old politics - which has lost its hold on the majority of the voting public. Netanyahu plans to join forces with Shas and their seeming extortion politics that the nation has recently witnessed doesn't score him many points toward obtaining a Knesset mandate. Netanyahu's calculating promises to Shas that it will be the first party he will work with to forge a future government will harm his chances in the elections. In a diverse political environment this sort of promises may appeal to Shas's voters but not faltering Kadima and Labor voters who are seeking a broader perspective.

The right continues to be convinced that Israel has put itself in mortal peril by accepting the legitimacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization and agreeing to Palestinian self-rule in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank. But it has yet to figure out how to respond effectively to a dramatic new current in Israel, which ix showing signs of exasperation with never ending wars and its attenuated high costs - both in financial and fleshy outlay - which caught it unawares and underline how out of touch Likud remains with the currents of prevailing Israeli attitude on these vital issues.

In Israel, the words "right" and "left" have less to do with economic or social policies as it does here in the United States. Although, fiscal policy plays important roles in the posture of their respective quarters. There, the marked issue, which divides the two spheres, is whether territories captured in the 1967 war can be given up in the name of peace with the Arabs. And while definitions are imprecise, Israeli leftists generally favor concessions and rightists say no, whether out of security concerns or religious convictions that G-d promised those lands to the Jewish people. The more rightward one moves -- from Likud to small but important parties such as Shas and Tsomet, the National Religious Party and Moledet -- the more hawkish views tend to be.

Israel is set for early general elections after the prime minister designate, Tzipi Livni, failed to broker a deal with the religious right and form a new coalition government.

Livni, who replaced Ehud Olmert as leader of the dominant "centrist" Kadima (Forward) party last month, urged Israel's president, Shimon Peres, to call a new poll.

"I'm sick of this extortion. We'll see all these heroes in 90 days," Livni is quoted as telling her advisers after refusing to yield to the demands of the religious right. (It has been reported that Shas asked for increased state funding of Orthodox families who have had to enter the labor market in recent times in order to make up for rescinded entitlements. Shas was also demanding Jerusalem in-tact, and the enlargement of settlements.)

During a televised interview held between minister Livni and president Peres at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem, Livni attempted to persuade Peres to refrain from holding another round of talks prior to announcing the elections.

Following her interview with the president Livni gave a short public speech. "I was prepared to pay a price for the formation of a new government, but up until the last minute I was not prepared to risk Israel's financial and political future," she said, hinting at Shas' demands, which Kadima claims were excessive.

Left: Tzipi Livni speaks at Presidential Residence. Photo: Gil Yohanan - Ynet

She added, "I made the decision to cooperate with certain partners because I believe that compromise is necessary in such a polarized country. I decided to grant needy families financial assistance because I believe the government is responsible for supplying social needs when they are not narrow, sectarian needs."

"I believe a prime minister is chosen first and foremost in order to promote the interests of the state, and anyone who is willing to auction off his ideals for a seat is not worthy of sitting in it," she concluded.

Just as the right has been riddled with apertures in the US, so has the Likud party in Israel been affected with approval fissures. Likud is enjoying less favor from the Jewish state's public. Israeli polls show Livni edging out rivals in elections. Israel's ruling Kadima party will narrowly edge out its main rival in elections likely to be held early next year, polls in two Israeli dailies found today, October, 27, 2008, a day after Kadima leader Tzipi Livni recommended President Shimon Peres call for an early poll.

The survey published in the Yediot Ahronot daily showed Kadima winning 29 mandates in the 120-seat Knesset, compared to 26 for the hawkish Likud party headed by former premier Benyamin Netanyahu.

The Labor Party, headed by another former prime minister, Ehud Barak, would win only 11 seats, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, whose refusal to join a Livni-led coalition precipitated the current political impasse, would win 8 seats. The poll had an error margin of 4.5 percent.

Another poll, in the Ma'ariv daily, gives Kadima 31 seats, compared to 29 for the Likud, 11 for the Labour Party, 11 for the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beteinu party, and 8 for Shas. The poll had an error margin of 2 percent.

Kadima currently has 29 seats in the Knesset, the Likud 12, the Labour Party 19, and Shas 12.

Left: The logo of the Israeli political party, Kadima (Forward)

The Kadima Platform pledges in order to maintain a Jewish majority, part of the "Land of Israel" must be given up to maintain a Jewish and democratic state - the so-called disengagement plan. While the Likud platform has called for the continued control of these territories.

The eonomic portion of Kadima's platform pointed to 3 major problems the party sought to attack: the standard of living is continuously dropping compared to other developed countries; the poverty rates are increasing; and the extent of inequality is on the rise.

Kadima has the intention to continue advocating financial growth, while at the same time maintaining an environment that will enable the poor to exit the cycle of poverty. The Kadima party saw a link between unemployment and the educational level of the population and aimed to propose policy that would enlarge educational opportunity. The Kadima party envisioned a comprehensive scheme to address growth in the private sector that include a systemic solution for encouraging people to work and employers expand their business. The plan was to implement a negative income tax, tax benefits, covering university tuition, imposing a dramatic decrease in the number of foreign workers and an increase in the number of Israelis in the job market.

Likud upholds: The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.

On the othe other hand, prime minister designate, Tzipi Livni has made us privy to her position on peace in her speech addressing the Annapolis Conference:

I hope and pray that today there is an understanding that instead of fighting, the right thing to do is to build a shared future in two separate states: one - the State of Israel, which was established as a Jewish state, a national home for the Jewish people; and the other - Palestine - which will be established to give a full and complete solution to Palestinians wherever they may be. Those who are in Gaza and the West Bank, and those in the refugee camps in other Arab countries with temporary status, waiting for a sense of belonging to a national state - the same feeling of wholeness that the establishment of the State of Israel gave to the Jewish refugees who were forced to leave Arab countries and Europe and became partners in building Israel.

I believe that the solution of two nation states serves the interests of both sides. Not every celebration of ours is cause for sorrow on the other side, and vice versa. I say to my Palestinian colleagues: Do not bemoan the establishment of the State of Israel; establish your own state, rejoice in its establishment and we will rejoice with you, since for us the establishment of the Palestinian state is not our Nakba, or disaster - provided that upon its establishment the word “Nakba” be deleted from the Arabic lexicon in referring to Israel.

Knowing that the conflict has a solution is not enough. Reaching the solution depends first of all upon us - on the two sides themselves and their ability to conduct negotiations, to touch on the most sensitive points and to provide answers based on the understanding that neither side can obtain everything it wants and that compromises are necessary on both sides.

Left: The Logo of the Israeli party, Likud (Consolidation)

Even though, most of the members of Kadima were Likud associates (members of other parties in the Knesset also joined Sharon) before Sharon brought them along in order to carve his unilateral peace on the Palestinians still, Kadima has since emerged with its own unique centrist and moderate viewpoint in the public psyche. Many of the recent internal events in Israel have strengthened Livni's image and endeared her in the eyes of the voters who are wavering between Livni and Netanyahu. Her refusal to be hoodwinked by Shas has shown her to be a strong leader who stands on principle rather than political expediency. Her replacement of Ehud Olmert, who was mired in scandal coupled with her lack of political opprobrium establishes a public persona of change and new direction in good governance. Although, the peace process seems to be deadlocked, she was one of its principal architects and she has strong international relations' credentials since she served as foreign minister under Olmert.

Why should we care about the machinations of Israeli elections? We should concern ourselves with Israeli politics since the victor among the major parties will formulate the peace issues. Moreover, Israel enjoys US legal protection, military aid and financial support therefore, occurrences in Israel directly effects the disbursment of tax-payer funds in the United States. Furthermore, an unstable and belligerent Israel may drag us into expensive and unpopular wars that have no specific linkages to our national interests.

Hopefully, the winner of the Israeli elections will introduce a peace regime that will be distinguishable in important facets from those supported by its predecessors. Still, international observers must continue to wonder whether the course taken by the new Israeli administration will take on a new impetus that shows a fervent propensity toward peace. Will the new Issraeli government be one that continues the subterfuge of eternal peace talks while it endorses and promotes enlarging settlements or, will it be one that finally, expresses the sentiment of the majority of Israelis and solidifies prospects for a final peace by submitting to international law and relinquish the occupied lands in the name of peace? In Israel's past, the people have gone along with the flow the governments spring, And if the water seems benign and the government shows its approval and sanctions the policy, the public usually, resigns itself and says it's all right, and drinks from the well - they say, Amen.

In other news from Zion, ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers again clashed with Israeli soldiers and police on the weekend after the government ordered the demolition of an illegal outpost. Settlers from Kiryat Arba, a settlement near the Palestinian city of Hebron also rampaged through a Palestinian village, smashing windows and vandalizing graves. Elsewhere, settlers continue to assail Palestinian farmers as they attempt to harvest their olive groves. Defense minister, Ehud Barak, the minister responsible for the Israel Defense Forces, which has sovereign jurisdiction in the occupied territories, gave an interview with Army Radio on Monday, October 27, 2008, condemning the harassment of the harvesters, and said the army was deploying with "supreme effort" to allow the harvest to take place.

Nonetheless, the defense minister hid behind the dubious excuse that "there are hundreds of sites, and it's impossible to be everywhere at once." It would be interesting to see how Barak would react to such an excuse if it were given by Palestinians discussing possible harm to settlers or IDF soldiers. In the same interview, Barak said the Palestinian leadership is incapable of making the decisions necessary to reach a final-status agreement.

Instead of vilifying the Palestinian decision-making ability, it would have been better if the politician tapped to become the senior-most deputy prime minister were to make a decision to enforce law and order in his jurisdiction and allocate the resources necessary to do so. The Israel Police and Shin Bet security service also should not tolerate settlers' shameful attacks on olive harvesters.

We continue to put our trust in good will, justice and the rule of law unfortunately, the attitude of defense minister Ehud Barak is all too common among the political elite of Israel - no matter their political affiliation. But we can continue to hope for a change and prompt them in the "right" direction.



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