Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Arlene Kushner on Making Sense of Coming Israeli Elections

Arlene Kushner:
December 6, 2014

A Political Circus

Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)

It wouldn’t do, I suppose, for the political situation to have clarity for too long. Or for the news to simply be promising.  We’ve now entered the circus arena: the rumors are flying, predictions are contradictory, and some surprising alliances are being suggested as possible. All of this defeats clarity and considerably dampens optimism.

I will offer here only an overview, with a promise of more to come when it’s possible to make better sense of how matters will evolve.  In the few days since my last posting - announcing the firing of Livni and Lapid and the advent of elections – there have been news stories and opinion pieces about all of the following:

Caroline Glick, in her piece, “Lapid’s Political Crackup,” two days ago, explained why, in her assessment, the forthcoming election is very necessary.  “The up to NIS 1.2 billion that taxpayers will have to pay to finance the vote scheduled for March 17 is money well spent...

“In 2013, Lapid ran as a centrist...

“Lapid and his ministers from Yesh Atid exchanged their capitalist platform for socialist policies immediately upon taking office. In so doing they put Israel on a path to recession and social upheaval.

“[His policies have] already damaged Israel’s international credit rating.”


Let me add  here that Netanyahu was a superb finance minister in his time, and set the nation on a strong fiscal path.  He would readily perceive and be greatly distressed by what Glick describes here.

Wrote Glick, “....according to polls, Netanyahu has no rivals for the job. It is not merely that nearly three times as many people think that Netanyahu is the best person to serve as prime minister when compared to his closest contender, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. It’s also that the polls show right-wing parties picking up seats, while Lapid’s party is likely to lose more than half it seats in the Knesset.” (Emphasis added)


But JPost political commentator Gil Hoffman wrote two days ago about a Panels Research Poll done for the JPost and its sister Hebrew paper just one day before”: “It asked respondents whether they want Netanyahu to remain prime minister after the vote. Sixty percent said no...”  (Emphasis added)


That was a bit of a shocker when it made headlines.  But making sense of this, while a bit difficult, is certainly not impossible if you read the description of the questions carefully.

Glick was referring to a race between Netanyahu as head of Likud vs. Herzog as head the Labor party, leading the opposition.  But Hoffman was describing a choice between Netanyahu as head of Likud as vs. someone else – such as Gideon Sa’ar - within the Likud party itself.  That’s another matter all together.

People, it seems, feel it is time for new blood in Likud. But have very little doubt about whether Likud should lead the next coalition. Every poll indicates that Likud would command the most mandates (although precise figures vary).


The real battle then, if there is one, may be within Likud itself.

There are rumors that Gideon Sa’ar, who left politics just months ago, is mulling the idea of challenging Netanyahu in the primaries.
Credit: Hebron.com


Then we have Israel Hayom - a staunch Netanyahu supporter, I note – citing a New Wave Research poll that indicated that the right wing bloc would come out ahead on elections. What is more, when asked "who is most qualified to serve as prime minister?" a larger percentage selected Netanyahu than any of the other party heads.



As far as the significant lead by a right wing bloc of parties, there are a couple of factors to be kept in mind:

One is the assumption that Yisrael Beitenu (Israel – Our House), headed by Avigdor Lieberman, is a right wing party.  A reasonable enough assumption.  But there were rumors – probably (hopefully!) no more than rumors – that Lieberman might join forces with Lapid.   That would truly be shocking if so.  Yisrael Beitenu ran on a joint list with Likud the last time around.

But the fact that it was presented as something that conceivably might happen is an indication of how much Lieberman is seen to vacillate.

Credit: presstv


Then you have Moshe Kahlon.  He is supposed to be forming a new party, which is not yet fully registered – with no name or slate announced.  While there is some indication that he intends to focus on social issues, there is enormous speculation as to where he will stand within the line-up of parties.  He is generally counted as part of the right wing when the poll results are presented. But that is not a sure thing.

Credit: Miriam Alster/ Flash 90
Kahlon, who was with Likud, and served as Minister of Communications before his resignation from politics in 2012, was a popular figure. The guessing is that he will pull down a very respectable number of votes.


At the same time that we’re considering all of the above, there is also the jockeying on the left to consider.  We have heard that Livni and Lapid might join forces, but alternately, that Livni is considering an offer from Labor.

Just about every poll I’ve seen shows Lapid’s Yesh Atid way down in mandates; the only way he has any hope at all of making an impact is if he joins forces. Even then it is all fairly dubious.


Ah, and then there’s Shaul Mofaz, currently head of the almost defunct Kadima, who is said to be working out a deal to join Labor as well.

What seems fairly certain is that Kadima will be history, as well it should be, with Livni’s party not far behind.


All of this is without mention of the stories that Eli Yishai of Shas may be mulling a break from the party to start something new.


One other factor that I want to mention here is the specter of attempts by Obama to influence our election results.  As I last reported, Kerry declared right after the announcement of elections that he hoped the new government would resume “peace negotiations.” 

He may have been blowing in the wind. But it is more Obama’s style to do what he can to promote the election of a coalition that will support negotiations. It is no secret in any case that he despises Netanyahu.

I’ve picked up two sorts of rumors:

  • that he is considering levying sanctions against Israel because of our building (at the same time that he is attempting to block sanctions against Iran) and
  • that he is thinking of withholding the US veto against anti-Israel measures in the Security Council. 

The idea would be that the Israeli electorate would realize that Netanyahu had damaged Israel’s relationship with the US and thus vote for his opponents.

There are concerned readers warning me about these possibilities.


I most certainly recognize that Obama is a snake in the grass.  But for pragmatic reasons I am not yet ready to become too distressed about these possibilities.  That is, first, because the Congress is solidly with us. 

And then, my own understanding is that the Israeli electorate is so anti-Obama that, were the president to act against Israel’s interests, they would support Netanyahu with even further strength.  Caroline Glick has written that Obama is aware of this possibility, and hesitant to act, less his gambit backfire.


In my next posting I would like to turn to issues other than the elections. The very serious problems we are facing are not about to go away.

Here I end with a quote I rather liked, attributed to Yuval Steinitz, who, as a very competent Finance Minister, shepherded us successfully through a very difficult fiscal time:

“It’s a problem when the best thing the finance minister has going for him is a good head of hair.”  That’s pretty boy Yair Lapid all over!


© 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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