Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Israeli Election and The Unbearable Lightness of Meaning

After the blow-by-blow blogging of the Israeli election over at Israellycool and IRIS, what meaning is going to be squeezed out of the election results?

YNet is offering the following numbers for the election results:

Kadima:30 seats (could end up as little as 28)
Labor: 21 seats
Israel Our Home: 14 seats
Shas: 12 seats
Likud: 10 seats
National Union – NRP: 9 seats
United Torah Judaism: 6 seats
Pensioners' party: 6 seats
Meretz: 5 seats
Arab parties: 7 seats
Green party on verge of reaching threshold

and offers the following conclusions:

* Kadima will likely form the next government, but would not be as powerful as it had hoped
* The Likud has collapsed, and may end up as the fifth-largest party overall
* Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Our Home has become the third largest party
* The Pensioners' party scored a major surprise with a much higher total than expected
* The 17th Knesset may be one of the most split ones in history and would likely feature a fragile coalition

Frank Gaffney Jr. of The Washington Times, writing before the election results were known, suggests that Israeli voters are operating under a dual set of delusions:
The first delusion is that the Israeli electorate is voting -- as it has done time and time again over the past 14 years -- for someone who promises them security in the face of an increasingly virulent threat from the Palestinian community. Currently, the Palestinians are led by Hamas, a terrorist organization explicitly committed to the destruction of the Jewish State. A succession of previous prime ministers have run on such a platform, then proceeded to indulge in various diplomatic maneuvers that have put Israel at still greater risk.

The second delusion is that what amounts to cutting-and-running -- in this case, it is running behind a security fence, yet remaining within easy range of artillery and rocket fire -- will make matters better. In fact, Mr. Olmert's plan for turning over much of the high ground of the West Bank, its vital aquifers and strategic depth in the immediate wake of Hamas' electoral victory can only embolden those and other Islamofascist enemies of freedom. It will compound the danger they pose, not only to Israel but to all of us.
John Podhoretz has this analysis:
So the polls are closed, and the story is: Oy. Exit polls say the new party founded by Ariel Sharon did the best, winning around 30 seats. But since last week it was projected to win 40 seats or more, the results have to be a huge disappointment for the party, Kadima, and its head, Ehud Olmert. The left-wing Labor party won somewhere between 20 and 22 seats, and you'll hear that this was a huge triumph, but really, it only represents a gain of one or two seats and doesn't mean a lot. A right-wing party, Yisrael Beitenu, is dominated by Israelis of Russian origin, and it seems to have won more seats than the traditional Right-wing party, Likud.

Likud was humiliated, winning somewhere between 11 and 14 seats. It is headed by Bibi Netanyahu, the Tasmanian Devil of Israeli politics. The horrid irony of this whole election is that if Bibi hadn't decided to challenge Ariel Sharon -- the most popular politician in Israel's history -- last fall for leadership of Likud and almost pull it off, Sharon wouldn't have left Likud to form the new Kadima party. Had Bibi just been patient and less greedy, he would have been in place when Sharon was felled by his stroke. He would have gracefully taken up leadership of Likud due to Sharon's incapacitation, and would have sailed into the prime minister's seat for a second time. Instead, he has been squashed like a bug, brought down by his own hubris. It is highly unlikely Bibi will ever rise to power again.

As for what happens now, Kadima will be asked to form a government. And if Kadima succeeds, it will be a very weak government. And there will probably be another election by the end of 2007.
An Unsealed Room also points out Netanyahu's error:

Looking back, Bibi Netanyahu made the political mistake of his career when he led his "rebellion" against Sharon last November. Such a short time after that, Sharon suffered his first stroke, and then the second, and he was out of the picture. If Bibi had just held back just a little while longer, opposing the Gaza pullout if he wanted, but from within the Likud, he would have been heir apparent.

Instead, he made his badly-timed power play, made Sharon unwelcome in his own party, opening the door for the establishment of Kadima and the rise of Ehud Olmert. We'll know in a little while whether this mistake sealed Netanyahu's fate permanently. But as mistakes go, this one was a doozy.

Powerline contends, unlike Podhoretz, that Labor is a big winner in the election:
I suspect that Labor is the real winner (along with the Palestinians who are celebrating Likud's defeat). Kadima's policy with respect to the Palestinians probably will be to Labor's liking -- i.e. soft. And in exchange for Labor's support, Kadima may well have to move away from free market economic policies. Thus, the coalition may prove to be center-left in name only, as a party that remains highly unpopular drives the country leftward.
With victory in hand, Olmert is appealing to the Palestinians:
Declaring an election victory, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appealed to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas early Wednesday to enter into negotiations over the permanent borders of Israel, but added that Israel would act alone if peace efforts remained stalled.

..."If the Palestinians are wise enough to act, then in the near future we will sit together at the negotiating table to create a new reality. If they do not, Israel will take its destiny in hand," Olmert said in a speech to Kadima leaders. "The time has come to act."
If Abbas is anyway going to get further concessions from Kadima, why should he sacrifice his standing with Palestinians--and Hamas--to negotiate with Kadima? Why respond to a non-existent carrot when Israel is beating itself with a stick?

Meanwhile Kadima is offering Hamas a great deal--free terrorism for up to one year, with no obligation!

For the first time, Kadima yesterday indicated that the Hamas government, due to be sworn in on Wednesday, would have up to 12 months to comply with demands that it renounce terror and recognise Israel.

"We will give a reasonable time for Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) to meet those demands ... six months or a year," Kadima candidate Haim Ramon told foreign journalists.

All of which tends to validate Powerline's key insight--or post mortem--on the meaning of the election results:
It's interesting, but not heartening, to compare these fragmented election results, in the context of low voter turnout, to the crystal clear Palestinian election results. A people who knows what it wants has a big advantage over a people who is unclear. And when the former wants to destruction of the latter, things become scary.
Question: If Sharon's victory over Mitzna was not a mandate against the Disengagement, why should Kadima's victory yesterday be seen as a mandate for further Disengagement?

Update: Other blogs, other thoughts--

o Westbankblog writes that The Glass is Both Half-full and Half-Empty
o Treppenwitz shares his thoughts in the middle of I'll always have gum
o Boker Tov Boulder gives reaction from Arutz Sheva and Debka in Olmert's Kadima wins 28 seats
Soccer Dad has a post on another angle to the election and links to other blogs in It's the economy, habibi (not bibi)
o Hashmonean writes about the shambles of the election in Elections 2006 | Who tossed the Fragmentation Grenade?

Crossposted at Israpundit

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