Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Arlene Kushner On The Israeli Elections -- Why Now?

From Arlene Kushner:
October 10, 2012

So...It's Election Time

In Israel.  We saw it coming and now it's official: Prime Minister Netanyahu has made the announcement that elections will be held in January.  His preference would be the 15th, although the 29th is also being batted about as a possibility.  Perhaps by the time you read this, the date will have been determined. 
Elections, had they not been advanced, would have been held next October.  After it re-convenes following the break for the holidays, the Knesset will, in short order, be dissolved and the government will function in what is a sort of caretaker mode, with only actions necessary for governance advanced (at least in theory).
The electoral system here is quite confusing to people outside of Israel -- especially to Americans.  I will do my best as we proceed to provide clarifications, beginning here:
We do not elect individuals -- not even the prime minister.  We vote for parties.
Each party advances a list of candidates, and the way lists are established varies from party to party.  Seats (mandates) are allocated to a party according to the percentage of votes received, and persons on the list, starting with the name at top and counting down, become members of the Knesset in accordance with that allocation. Thus, placement on a list is exceedingly important. 
There will be a great deal of jockeying for placement in coming weeks and I'll undoubtedly be writing about this.  No where will this jockeying be more significant than in Likud, which has both a left wing and a right wing flank.
In the normal course of events -- there are exceptions and the last election was such an exception -- the head of the list with the most mandates becomes prime minister. Actually, the head of that list is given time to form a government via a coalition with other parties -- the coalition must include a minimum of 61 out of 120 Knesset seats, and preferably more for stability.  (No one party ever receives that number of mandates by itself.)  If a coalition is established, then the head of that leading party becomes prime minister.
What I can tell my readers now with a fair degree of certainty is that Netanyahu, via the Likud party, will carry the day and will, again, become prime minister. 
Polls have Likud securing a greater percentage of the vote in the coming election than last time.  Last time, Kadima actually drew one more mandate than Likud (but failed to head a government because Livni could not form a coalition); but now is expected to lose big time in the election.  Neither is Labor necessarily expected to do well; it was split apart by Ehud Barak, who currently heads a very meager Independence party, but may pick up Kadima defectors. And so on.  Votes will be divided among several parties, with Yisrael Beitenu and perhaps a few others -- Shas? -- expected to hold their own.
We're going to see some new parties on the electoral scene -- with talk of a centrist-left party established by Tzipi Livni and Haim Ramon -- and the possibility of at least one merger with a combined list -- National Union and Habayit Hayehudi.  There will likely be some old timers (not all of them welcome) involved in this election and some new people, most notably Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party.
Presuming that Likud does win the election, what will have to be watched is the sort of coalition Netanyahu will opt for.  This will depend in part on the electoral success of other parties -- that is, he can be expected to draw on parties with many mandates to build that coalition.  But there are other factors involved as well -- in terms of deals struck, direction in which Netanyahu opts to move, etc.
All coming down the road...
The BIG question is, why? Why did Netanyahu, who, with real effort, could have sustained his government for another year, opt to call elections now?
The reason he is giving is that he cannot pass a satisfactory budget with the current government line-up and he owes it to the people to improve the situation.  Also that a shorter election time is better for the nation.
His full statement is here: PM Netanyahu Statement on Early Elections.
But there are those who are involved in the process who have expressed the belief that Netanyahu's budget might well have been passed with the investment of further effort.  So, if this is a cover for his real reason, what is that reason?
There are a great many theories out there, but I am going to be candid and say that I simply don't know. I will share some thoughts on the matter, but want to point out that much of it is speculation.
What we do know is that Netanyahu's popularity is at an all time high since his UN speech. This undoubtedly gives him confidence that he can move ahead.
I've read suggestions that he gave that speech purely for political reasons, to put himself in a strong place.  But I reject this out of hand.  I know full well how slick our prime minister can be in his political maneuvering -- he's a master at this.  However, I remain convinced that his stance against allowing Iran to go nuclear is real.  In my opinion, his position on this issue has been too consistent and too sustained to be a political maneuver.  And this is hardly my opinion alone: one analysis of the situation said that those close to Netanyahu believe that dealing with Iran is his political raison d'etre.
Of course, what occurs to many is the question of how this impinges on the possibility that Israel may hit Iran.  Some suggest that a strong vote of confidence would put him in an even better position to do this.  Could be.
Others suggest that running an election reduces the possibility that we will act militarily; but some point to the fact that the Iraqi reactor was hit during an election time.
As I said, speculation.  Informed or thoughtful speculation, perhaps, but speculation none the less.
I do expect to have more to say with regard to Iran; and I ponder, still, the entire issue of what time frame there would be regarding our ability to hit successfully.
Another thought advanced: that should Obama lose the election, he would, as a lame duck hungry for a place in history, push on the parties for a negotiated agreement between Israel and the PA.  Were we in election mode, this would provide ample reason for not going to negotiations.  More speculation.
One other reason for holding elections now, a reason that is pure political pragmatics, seems quite plausible to me:  Much of the opposition to Netanyahu/Likud in the center and on the left is in disarray.  Lapid is still establishing his party.  Ramon and Livni are talking but haven't actually established the new party they're hoping for.  And so on.  In essence, Netanyahu has, as Mati Tuchfeld puts it, "pulled the rug out from under the Center-Left":
"Netanyahu has seen the vacuum in the opposing camp grow ever larger in recent years, like a black hole that swallows anyone it encounters...

"Netanyahu knows full well that this vacuum won't last forever. Something will eventually give. So instead of anxiously waiting around for something to happen, he decided to pull the rug out from under all of them. Get all the mice to come out of their holes now. That is why he is insisting on holding elections as soon as possible." 
What I will note here, before moving on to another matter, is the fervent hope that I and many others feel regarding this being the end of the political line for Ehud Barak.  That remains to be seen, but there is some cause for optimism.  He has already been denied a top spot on the Likud list, and his Independence party may not make the cut-off of minimum votes for inclusion in the Knesset.  Much depends on Netanyahu, who should have dumped this guy a long time ago.
A serious charge against the Obama administration has come to the fore with a memo that has now been made public by Reuters:
Eric Nordstrom -- a State Department regional security officer who had been stationed in Libya until two months before the attack on the Consulate -- twice asked his superiors for an increase in security personnel in Benghazi.  This was months before the attack -- in cables to the State Department in March and July 2012.  Nordstrom cited the fact that there had been "over 200 security incidents [in Libya] from militia gunfights to bomb attacks between June 2011 and July 2012. Forty-eight of the incidents were in Benghazi."
He received no answer to his requests.
In comments to a Congressional committee, Nordstrom reported that a State Department official, Charlene Lamb, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi "artificially low."
A public hearing on this matter is to be held today.

Read: U.S. officer got no reply to requests for more security in Benghazi
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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