Thursday, March 19, 2015

Letter to an American Friend -- What You Need to Understand About the 2015 Israeli Elections --Two Days After




The New York Times seems to be having a hissy fit because of the Netanyahu victory. Tom Friedman, the Times editorial, Roger Cohen, Jodi Rudoren subtle tendentious coverage…
Yawn. One article I saw claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "frank admission that he would never agree to a Palestinian state" justified the PLO's continuing push to have the international community unilaterally hand them everything they want -- without having to negotiate with Israel.
What Netanyahu actually said was: "I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel."
That's not a repudiation of his Bar-Ilan speech. It is simply facing the facts on the ground. It is verbalizing the obvious. (Albeit for partisan purposes to win an election.)
The Palestinians refused to reach a deal with Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. They are not about to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. They are not about to de-militarize. They are not about to give up on the "right of return."
And, you know something, Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog could have done no better with the Palestinians than Barak or Olmert.

What about the actual election results?
Let's go over them. The number in parenthesis reflects seats in the current Knesset.
Netanyahu/Likud 30 (18)
Bennett/Jewish Home Party 8 (13)
Israel Beiteinu/ Lieberman 6 (12)
TOTAL HAWKS: 44 (43) +1
------------------------------
Lapid/Yesh Atid 11 (19)
Kahlon/Kulunu  10 (0)
TOTAL CENTER: 21 (19) -2
--------------------------------------
Herzog /Labor24 (15+6=21)
Galon/Meretz 4 (6)
TOTAL DOVES: 28 (27) +1
---------------------------------
Deri/Shas 7  (11)
Litzman/UTJ 7  (7)
TOTAL ULTRA ORTHODOX HAREDIM: 14 (18) -4
 --------------------------------------------
TOTAL ARABS: 14 (4+4+3=11) +3
(they ran as one party though in practice they will re-divide)

That changes everything…
Substantively, the elections change almost nothing. The ideological camps control roughly the same number of seats.

When will the new government be formed?
With any luck after Passover. More probably around Shavuot.

So why are the NYTimes and the White House in mourning?
 Here too, all but one major viewspaper (the one owned by Sheldon Adelson) and all the nightly views shows (sadly, there are no news programs anymore) are also in shock and with depressed anchors pulling their hair out. Even the adorable Yonit Levi
(if every dove looked like her, mamamia…)

Anyway, seeing them so downtrodden raised my spirits.  Except for Yonit, I mean.

Yes, but what about the peace process?
 One of Netanyahu's many weaknesses is that he is not skillful at giving the Americans and Europeans the sense of illusion of momentum they crave. He does not know how to deal with the supercilious Barack Obama.  But neither does Harry Reid.

As far as pulling back to the 1949 Armistice Lines – give or take – which is what the Obama administration is pushing for – that's not going to happen.

Why?
 Because territory and strategic depth matter STUPID. They matter a great deal in today's Middle East. A Palestinian state within walking distance of Tel Aviv makes the Jewish state too vulnerable. It means a couple of mortars can shut down our only airport. Hamas is already ensconced in Gaza. The Islamic State in nipping at Syria. God knows what will happen in Jordan. The PLO is weak and corrupt. How long they could hold Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) if the IDF did not control the Jordan Valley is anyone's guess. And the PLO itself is not just thuggish but is itself a danger to us.

Obama says he will reevaluate the peace process with Israel.
You mean like Gerald Ford did when he was president? That comes with the territory. No Israeli leader can cave to pressure that would have us pullback to the 1949 lines (a/k/a/ the 1967 boundaries).

It can't be that there is no difference between Netanyahu and Herzog.
Oh, there are plenty of differences. But on those you care about, the so-called peace process and on Iran's quest for nukes the two are on the same page. Though you'd not know it from the tone and spin.

Herzog would have let Livni spin with Mahmoud Abbas – there would have been lots of meetings and plenty of momentum. But when push comes to shove our minimum needs are well beyond anything the Palestinians can meet. Maybe that will change one day, who knows.

Right now, the Israeli center knows that the Palestinians remain committed to Israel's destruction. They are engaged in a zero sum game. The difference between Hamas and the PLO is purely over tactics


So you must be thrilled that Netanyahu won.
 Look, in Israel politics is a non-Zero sum game. I would have wanted to clip Netanyahu's wings and force him to form a broad national unity government.

I voted for Moshe Kahlon so I didn't have to vote for either Livni/Herzog or Netanyahu.

But now Netanyahu will be even more insufferable and arrogant. He is great at getting elected – he's a terrible manager of daily affairs.

You are painting a picture of a fragmented society
Yeah, but in this age of new media and hyper pluralism no more so than the US.
The prime minister did not win anything close to a majority – not in the popular vote and not in number of Knesset seats (30 out of 120). In Jerusalem, Likud captured 24 percent of the vote. In Tel Aviv, to take it from a different angle, Labor got just 34 percent.

Herzog says he will stay and lead the opposition.
That's unfortunate – that he won't consider forming a national unity government – but neither will Netanyahu. Maybe after Passover they may reconsider. Unlikely. As a result, we face the "international community," the Palestinian enemy, the Iranian enemy (I'll stop with the enemies) without any chance of building a national consensus. Not to mention this means badly needed electoral reform is still off the agenda. And Obama can continue to demonize Bibi (I wish he'd leave that to me).

Any good news?
Yes. Avigdor Lieberman has lost much of his influence. Eli Yishai and the unpleasant chauvinists he ran with did not get into the Knesset.

But lots of Arabs did…   
Three more than last time. I have no problem with that. That's representative government. The Arabs will accomplish little, though, if they reject coalition-building with the Zionist parties. If they poison the atmosphere than all the social issues we could make common cause on will be pushed aside… Also, the Arabs are divided between Islamists and nationalists and there are plenty of personal animosities just like among the Jews….

Let me get this straight – you're NOT worried about Obama?
I am very worried about Obama. For the most part, Washington protected Jerusalem from the tyrannical majority not just in the General Assembly but in the Security Council too. 
Obama will now probably threaten to let us hang alone. He will encourage the Palestinians to use the UN against us.
If Netanyahu can start being clever, he can out maneuver Obama – not with crass appeals to the Republicans but with smart statecraft and diplomacy.

Anything else?
Yeah. Wish us luck. It's gonna be a bumpy ride until 2016 and bumpier still if Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton replace Obama in the White House.

Stay in touch.



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