+972 Magazine » Dimi Reider http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Mon, 20 Oct 2014 20:13:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 ZARA presents: A striped pyjama with a yellow star for your child http://972mag.com/zara-presents-a-striped-pyjama-with-a-yellow-star-for-your-child/96058/ http://972mag.com/zara-presents-a-striped-pyjama-with-a-yellow-star-for-your-child/96058/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 06:38:38 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96058 Following  outcry, Zara parent company removes product worldwide, while Zara Israel apologizes and says the shirts will be ‘exterminated.’

It’s a SHERIFF shirt for your three-year-old. Obviously. What else could it be?

ZARA Website screenshot 0920 27AUG2014

 

I mean, here, take a better look:

ZARA "Sherrif" shirt screenshot, 0922 24AUG2014

It even says Sheriff in (transparent, cutout) letters across the star.

Why, what else does it remind you of?

The shirt is produced in Turkey and appears to be available in Zara’s Israeli, French, Albanian and Swedish online stores. I’ve reached out to Zara and will update this post with the company’s reply.

Update 1pm IDT: Zara parent company Inditex told +972 the shirt was inspired by Classical Western films and that it is no longer available. The Israeli chapter of the company apologized more profusely, adding that it was decided to remove the offensive product from the shelves – and “exterminate” it.

We kid you not.

[Correction - an earlier version of this post stated the shirt was only available in Israel.]

Related:
Zara apologizes, says yellow star shirts will be ‘exterminated’
Urban Outfitters’ yellow tee causes causes stir over Holocaust association

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Netanyahu tweets Foley execution shot to score points against Hamas http://972mag.com/netanyahu-tweets-foley-execution-video-to-score-points-against-hamas/95820/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-tweets-foley-execution-video-to-score-points-against-hamas/95820/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 21:07:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95820 Bibi went there.

[This post has been updated.]

The official account of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on a roll today comparing apples and oranges ISIS and Hamas. First there was a Venn diagram comparing some of the key similarities between the two groups (although inexplicably skipping some of the equally relevant ones, such as that both group use guns, sport woolly balaclavas and operate east of Sicily.)

Then, however, the prime minister stepped it up a notch by using a frame from James Foley’s murder video and a frame from Hamas’s 2012 summary execution of suspected informants, to indicate that ravens and writing desks Hamas and ISIS are one and the same.

There’s the sheer visual inanity of comparing two strikingly different images. The two frames could not possibly be further apart in colour, composition and content, from the activity captured to the context in which the atrocities were carried out. (The Hamas execution was a horrific atrocity in its own right, of course.)

But there’s an even more sinister aspect. Since the release of the video, friends and colleagues of Foley have called on users not to watch the video – not to give ISIS the pleasure – and editors across the United States and beyond have made the commendable decision not to air or stream it, both to spare friends and family the pain, and to deny ISIS the goal of intimidation they so sadistically sought through their meticulously choreographed butchery.

Netanyahu’s people, apparently, care little for either the feelings of Foley’s loved ones or for handing ISIS a propaganda victory. Here you have it, from the horse’s mouth: the nihilistic goons from ISIS are just as representative of the people they rule as Hamas – for all its faults and its own share of atrocities, a genuine, grassroots, democratically elected movement – is of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Great way to go about it, Bibi.

Screenshot of Netanyahu's tweet comparing Hamas and ISIS. 1149 PM IDT 21 Aug 2014

 

Updates Fri 22/08: About four hours later, the PMO deleted the picture above, replacing Foley’s picture with the Comic Sans Arabic ISIS logo from the Venne diagram. Now the two images look even more different:

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 11.15.20

Also, in the original post I joked about how Netanyahu’s Venn diagram neglects to mention another crucial “shared interest” between the groups – a kink for wooly balaclavas. Luckily, Stephen Pollard and the Jewish Chronicle got Bibi’s back:

BvmLGI8IIAAy9Ce

 

(h/t Daniel Trilling)

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Likud is no longer the largest party in the Knesset http://972mag.com/likud-is-no-longer-largest-party-in-the-knesset/95283/ http://972mag.com/likud-is-no-longer-largest-party-in-the-knesset/95283/#comments Sun, 10 Aug 2014 20:35:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95283 Netanyahu now has the same number of seats as his main coalition partner, Yair Lapid. This leaves him at the mercy of his arch-rival, President Reuven Rivlin, if the coalition would need to be reshuffled without new elections being called. 

Up until mid last month, Netanyahu’s coalition enjoyed a reasonably obvious hierarchy. The Likud-Beitenu list led with 31 seats; Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid followed with 19; Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home barely caught up with 12; and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua closed the list with 6.

This classical enough arrangement suffered its first blow in mid- July, when Avigdor Liberman unilaterally broke off the Likud-Beitenu alliance, taking his party’s 11 seats and leaving Netanyahu with 20. But since last Wednesday even this flimsy pyramid unraveled, sliding instead into a gridlock alliance between several identically sized parties: Likud now has 19 seats, as does Yesh Atid; and Yisrael Beitenu has 12 seats, just like Jewish Home. Tzipi Livni still has 6.

The following is a timeline of how this came about:

December 2013:  Carmel Shama-Hacohen, a junior ex-MK who narrowly lost his seat in the last elections (and thus would be next in line if someone in the Likud-Beitenu was to give up their seat), is offered the position of Israel’s ambassador to the Paris headquarters of the OECD. The offer is made by Avigdor Liberman, then-chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

28 May 2014: After several increasingly divisive attempts to undermine the presidential candidacy of former Knesset chair, Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu is forced to admit defeat and offer Rivlin his support.

29 May 2014: Liberman (now reinstated as foreign minister)  declares his party still won’t support Rivlin, while publicly accusing Netanyahu of going behind his back. The rift is now official.

10 June 2014: Rivlin is elected President, and automatically resigns his Knesset seat, which is passed on to Carmel Shama-Hacohen.

7 July 2014: Liberman splits up the Likud-Beitenu alliance, leaving Netanyahu at the head of a 20-seat faction instead of 31, and taking 11 seats for himself.

6 August 2014 Carmel Shama-Hacohen takes up the OECD ambassador post and resigns his seat in the Knesset.

6 August 2014: Owing to a clause of the electoral agreement between Yisrael Beitenu and Likud, Shama-Hacohen’s place is taken by Yisrael Beitenu MK Alex Miller.

Likud 19, Yesh Atid 19, Habayit Hayehudi 12, Yisrael Beitenu 12, Hatnua 6. 

This is not a death knell for  Netanyahu, who became prime minister in 2009 by offering a more generous coalition deal to the ultra-Orthodox parties than did Tzipi Livni, even though she had the lead over Netanyahu by one seat. Nor does it pave Liberman a path to premiership: 12 seats is still 12 seats, and he is still despised by the Israeli electorate who sees him as the right-wing leader least suitable to be prime minister. In fact, it is not immediately clear what Liberman gains in the short term from all this maneuvering, other than greater independent leverage and the freedom to attack Netanyahu without being accused of disloyalty.

But it does put Netanyahu in a tricky situation. If the coalition was to fall without new elections being called, he would have only as good a claim to be entrusted with composing the new coalition as Yair Lapid, and the man to make the call would be Reuven Rivlin. This is the same Reuven Rivlin whom Netanyahu humiliatingly dismissed from his previous post as speaker of the Knesset, and all but committed political suicide to stop from becoming president.

Rivlin has always preferred party over personal interest, so he would probably lean toward Likud regardless. This still makes Netanyahu’s position pretty precarious; if it became apparent that the rift with Rivlin is what stands between the Likud and the next cabinet, the Likud itself would want to get Netanyahu out of the way. The Likud is famously pride of not being as patricidal as its traditional rival, Labour, but Netanyahu is already well on the path from leader to liability, with discontent growing among the rank and file.

If Netanyahu was to be eased out, the most likely consensus candidate to succeed him would be Gideon Sa’ar, touted already for some time as the heir apparent and coincidentally the man who rallied Likud back around Rivlin, delivering him the presidency in the nick of time. Other possibilities, such as Lapid ganging up with the increasingly “centrist” and “pragmatist” Liberman also shouldn’t be discounted.

Either way, Netanyahu is now with his back against the wall – he is at his weakest in any of his three terms, and nearly as weak as Shamir was in the infamous deadlock unity government with Shimon Peres in the 1980′s (Netanyahu’s stunning disregard for international opinion over Gaza should be seen also in this context – he is simply infinitely more concerned about critics much closer to home).

One way to break out of the deadlock would be to call early elections; Netanyahu’s approval ratings are sky high, while Liberman and Lapid, at least, are slumping. Even if someone in his circles is already pushing the idea, elections a mere two years into a term is never a good sign, and at any rate, would seem too self-centered to call when the war isn’t technically over. But unless something in the composition of the coalition changes dramatically in the next few months, he might have no other reasonable choice.

Related:
Lame duck, not nuclear duck: Netanyahu’s staggering defeat
Why the Left’s best president might come from the Right

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‘Captive soldier would have been better off if we shot him’ http://972mag.com/leader-of-rescue-squad-captive-soldier-wouldve-been-better-off-if-we-shot-him/95276/ http://972mag.com/leader-of-rescue-squad-captive-soldier-wouldve-been-better-off-if-we-shot-him/95276/#comments Sun, 10 Aug 2014 14:06:28 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95276 New testimonies emerge from soldiers who believe that the capture of a soldier is too strategically risky to be allowed, at any price. The real risk that the botched rescue operation was trying to avert, however, could well be more political than strategic

There has been some controversy during the war about the meaning of the Hannibal Directive, a once-classified order meant to prevent the capture of Israeli soldiers by enemy forces – notoriously, by allowing Israeli troops to fire in their direction, even at risk of injury or death to the captive. Some have taken the interpretation of the order to the extreme, arguing that it effectively means captive soldiers were to be killed by their own army rather than allowed to be taken as bargaining chips for a future prisoner exchange. Others defended it, stating that it merely allows rescue forces greater flexibility, rather than having them paralyzed by the hostage-takers – even if this flexibility came at the cost of some risk to the hostage.

The directive, originally issued in 1986 and made public in 2003, came to the surface during the latest war because of two incidents in which soldiers (St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, on July 20th, and Lt. Hadar Goldin, on August 1) were initially reported as captive but were quickly declared to be missing and presumed dead. In Shaul’s case, it was fairly obvious within hours of the attack on the antiquated APC in which he was traveling that the soldier was dead and that Hamas had, at best, a dead body. But when it came to Goldin, conflicting messages from the political and military leaderships of Hamas, and the apparently genuine uncertainty within the IDF resulted in an excruciating two days during which the soldier was presumed alive but in captivity. Two days in which his family and his fiancée held on to hope against all odds, only to be heartbroken all over again 30 hours later.

Israeli soldier is sen on board his APC near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip while returning from the Gaza strip, August 5, 2014, after Israel announced that all of its troops had withdrawn from Gaza. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldier is seen on board his APC near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, August 5, 2014, after Israel announced that all of its troops had withdrawn from Gaza. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

What is alarming and what certainly contributed to that uncertainty was the IDF’s conduct in the immediate aftermath of the capture. Shooting generally at the hostage-takers would’ve been controversial enough. But according to reports from the ground, the IDF unleashed much of its immediately available firepower onto the area where it had guessed the captors and the captive could still be located. According to Israeli news site Walla!’s summary of the day’s activity, the IDF

…launched a heavy shelling of buildings in the area, bombed cars moving near the site of the incident, including rescue vehicles moving towards the  Youssef al-Najjar Hospital, brought down buildings and homes that could have concealed exits from the tunnel [where the capture occurred], and filled the tunnel up with smoke. More than 120 Palestinians were killed as a result, and it is possible that the unit that captured Goldin, as well as Goldin himself, were among the casualties.

At the very least, and apart from involving at least one potential war crime, this response showed callous disregard for the life of the captive soldier (not to mention overwhelming disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians.)  Then, on Saturday night, came a startlingly candid statement from the first man who tried chasing the Hamas paramilitaries that captured Goldin – Lieutenant Eitan, now a reluctant candidate for military honors for valor. Eitan told Channel 2 that after first rushing into the tunnel he realized that if he continued on his own he might well end up captured himself, and went back to fetch one more soldier from his team, before going back into the dark.

I’m briefing the guy next to me. We’re moving in and I instruct him to open fire at will, without seeking permission from me… it was a possibility [that Goldin would be hurt], but we don’t hesitate. I didn’t give an order to shoot, I told him you identify [anyone] you shoot. Even if this means killing Hadar, even it means wounding Hadar – this is what you do. Painful as it is, it’s better this way.

While it’s easy enough to be shocked at the call made by the officer, on behalf of Goldin’s family, friends, fiancée, that Goldin is better off irreversibly dead than captured, it’s plain even from this interview that Eitan’s decision and subsequent rationalization of the fratricide he and his subordinate were ready to commit are products of a systemic, organizational rationale prevailing in the military. Even if this isn’t the letter of the directive, this certainly appears to be its “spirit” as interpreted by the commanding officers and accepted by the troops. ”That’s what you do,” the lieutenant says in the interview. A colonel in the brigade, interviewed with his face blurred, tells the reporters: “We knew that a kidnapping event would strategically bog down the entire state, so we need to do everything to prevent it from happening.”

Coalition politics, not military strategy 

Most of the rapidly multiplying analyses of the directive, however, ignore the political context of this seemingly military rationale. In fact, it can be plausibly argued that the capture of an Israeli soldier does not, by any means, pose a “strategic” danger to the entire state. Israel has known countless prisoner exchanges over the years, and despite a very small percentage of released prisoners taking up arms against Israeli targets (including civilian ones), it’s difficult to seriously maintain the state’s overall security deteriorated significantly as a result. The much more significant risks of a “kidnapping scenario” are political, and they don’t endanger the entire state, but rather one person – Benjamin Netanyahu.

As I wrote on Al Jazeera America when Goldin’s ultimate fate was still unclear, prisoner exchange is currently the most contentious issue in Netanyahu’s increasingly creaky coalition. In April, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party gave Kerry’s peace talks a coup de grâce when it shot down the last prisoner release agreed on in the negotiations, and went on to reap considerable populist acclaim by forcing through legislation that barred any and all release of future prisoners, making prisoner release an official wedge issue within the cabinet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli Air Force Pilots' Course Graduation Ceremony. (photo: Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli Air Force Pilots’ Course Graduation Ceremony. (photo: Haim Zach / GPO)

Although he might yet recover, today Netanyahu is very much a lame duck prime minister. He already suffered one stinging international defeat, when the U.S. blatantly ignored him as it moved toward a thaw with his favorite bogeyman, Iran. Then he was humiliated bitterly when he tried dividing his own party against itself just to prevent renegade party strongman Reuven Rivlin from being elected president. The last thing he needs right now is a negotiation from a position of weakness, in which the other party holds anything resembling a trump card. It doesn’t even need to be an ace: since Tzipi Livni’s days as chief negotiator for Olmert, any negotiation that’s not effectively an Israeli dictate is perceived as a shameful and dangerous display of weakness.

Negotiating with Hamas either about a prisoner exchange, or even about a ceasefire, with Goldin’s return hanging in the balance, would have been a political nightmare. Goldin’s death – even if, quite conceivably, at the hands of his would-be rescuers – has so far been accepted with equanimity, as yet another regrettable but necessary casualty of war.

Hannibal under Bibi 

I’m not implying here, by any means, that Netanyahu personally gave the order to kill Goldin. Lt. Eitan’s deployment into the tunnel, for instance, was decided on at the brigade command level; and an order as explicit as that was probably never given, by anyone. Not even implicitly. All that was needed to practically ensure the terrible result was the interpretation of the already existing directive as permission to discard the precautions needed to avoid it.

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Rather, I would place a hefty portion of the blame on the overall political culture that flourished under Netanyahu – the  climate in which the Hannibal Directive changed from something hotly debated and even rejected by some commanders as illegal to something seemingly all but self-evident (“that’s what you do”). In fact, it was the current chief of staff, Benny Gantz, who reduced constraints on the directive, bringing its approval down from staff level to field level – effectively ensuring its automatic deployment in the heat of battle and dramatically raising the chances of potentially deadly results.

The recent implementation of the change – only a year ago – and its adherence to the frame of debate set down by the current ruling coalition is very much a Netanyahu effect, reflective of his monomania, contempt for compromise and the habitual conflation of hegemony with survival. It is Netanyahu’s near-allergic aversion to political risks that allowed this extreme interpretation of the directive to take root within the military. Had he been a fraction less concerned about completing his third term, or had the more moderate factions in his coalitions possessed sufficient backbone to push back against the right’s campaign to stop prisoner releases, Goldin might still well be alive. As would over 120 Palestinians in Rafah.

Related:
This is Netanyahu’s final status solution
Hamas: Missing soldier likely killed in Israeli air strike
IDF reservist sentenced to military prison for refusing draft

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Lame duck, not nuclear duck: Netanyahu’s staggering defeat http://972mag.com/lame-duck-not-nuclear-duck-netanyahus-staggering-defeat/91895/ http://972mag.com/lame-duck-not-nuclear-duck-netanyahus-staggering-defeat/91895/#comments Tue, 10 Jun 2014 21:27:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=91895 The slow crumbling of Netanyahu’s political prestige reached its nadir on Tuesday, when his own heir apparent Gideon Sa’ar turned against him to elevate arch-rival Reuven Rivlin to presidency. 

Reuven Rivlin’s victory in the presidential elections on Tuesday was a resounding one, but nowhere near as resonant as Benjamin Netanyahu’s defeat – a domestic political defeat to match his 2013 failure to stop Iran-U.S. rapprochement, which yanked the rug out from under his foreign policy.

Rivlin and Netanyahu weren’t running against each other. Quite the contrary, Rivlin was the candidate of Netanyahu’s own party, Likud, adored by the party’s rank-and-file and Israelis in the street alike. With a bit of self-discipline and an exercise of that most elusive quality of leadership – humility – Netanyahu could have transformed today’s event into a sweeping victory for his party, for the nationalist camp and for himself personally. Worst come to worst, he could have even written it off as a pointless formality, playing on the public’s weariness of the largely ceremonial presidential role. Instead, Netanyahu made it into a personal crusade, raising the stakes of the presidential race immensely and amplifying his defeat to match. He is perceived as having ignored, deceived and ultimately betrayed his own party – and all to lose the race. This doesn’t mean Netanyahu will be going anywhere tomorrow, but it does mean that the historical fourth term he covets is becoming increasingly unlikely, and that like many a Prime Minister to have served three terms, the final blow might well come from his own home party.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The Netanyahu-Rivlin rift goes back to 2009, when the freshly victorious Netanyahu had Rivlin elected once again as Speaker of the Knesset. Rivlin, a tradionalist if there ever was one, soon proved to be much more loyal to parliament and to the letter of the law than to his own party. He stalled nearly every piece of anti-democratic legislation that came his way, deferring votes, sending bills to die in committees and even setting up committees especially to kill those bills he felt impinged on democratic rights. Along the way, he protected MK Hanin Zoabi when the Knesset tried to sanction her for taking part in the Gaza flotilla; elevated MK Ahmed Tibi, the Palestinian Israelis most love to hate, to deputy-speaker; acknowledged the “great suffering and real trauma” endured by Palestinians in 1948; and called for the establishment of one state in all of historical Israel-Palestine, where Palestinians would also have the vote.

Read more on Rivlin: Why the Left’s best president might come from the Right

All this and more could have been forgiven by Netanyahu, who, while grumbling about Rivlin’s obstinacy, made use of him to pour cold water over the more embarrassing excess of Likud’s younger parliamentarians and their coalition allies. The final straw apparently came  later, when Rivlin made a disparaging comment about Netanyahu’s wife and her notorious tendency to intervene in her partner’s political appointments. “Maybe I should ask my wife who to appoint,” Rivlin quipped at a 2010 coalition meeting that dealt with a monitoring position that needed to be filled. “Oh, I forgot – my wife doesn’t appoint people.” This, according to Bibi-watchers across the political board, meant war.

The heir and challenger rises 

And what a war it was. Netanyahu began by breaking his promise to Rivlin to support him for re-election as speaker should he himself be re-elected as prime minister in 2013, appointing Yuli Edelstein in his stead. Rivlin found himself unceremoniously dumped from leadership to the back benches where, true to form, he repeatedly voted together with the opposition and criticized his own party, especially when minority rights were under attack. Netanyahu then proceeded to make it known that while he cannot prevent Rivlin from standing for president, he won’t support him and will be looking for another candidate in his stead.

The only other Likud man keen to stand was Silvan Shalom, but he was discarded early in the wake of sexual harassment allegations (which didn’t materialize into criminal charges, but were severe enough to see Shalom out of the race). Netanyahu then dawdled for some months, before throwing the political equivalent of a tantrum in mid-May and launching a strange and obviously doomed campaign to abolish the presidency altogether. As this would have required a rare privileged majority, the plan was split in two: first Netanyahu would get Edelstein to postpone the election by a few months; then, he would use the time to persuade 80 out of the Knesset’s 120 deputies to dispense with the office of the ceremonial head of state.

Neither part of the plan worked. Edelstein pointedly consulted the candidates before refusing outright to move the election date. The normally complacent Yair Lapid saw Netanyahu’s flopping in the shallows as a convenient time to strike, and announced he would oppose any attempt to abolish the presidential office. Finally, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the man recognized for years as Netanyahu’s heir apparent, flatly refused to support his boss’ maneuver.

File photo of Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Photo: Activestills.org)

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Photo: Activestills.org)

By challenging Netanyahu so openly, Sa’ar transformed himself from heir apparent to challenger, giving other ministers a cause to rally around. Having failed to recruit any support even among his own party ministers, Netanyahu beat a humiliating retreat. By then, members of Netanyahu’s inner circles were describing the prime minister as ‘fixated’ and ‘obsessed.’ As if this wasn’t enough, he spent the last 24 hours before candidacy registration deadline trying to persuade Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid to support the elderly Holocaust author Elie Wiesel, neither a citizen nor a resident of the state Netanyahu would have him ceremoniously lead.

Even after this last dash ended with a whimper, and even after Netanyahu made the most reluctant of endorsements for Rivlin’s candidacy, the Likud prime minister’s minders did not stop trying to undermine the Likud’s  presidential candidate. Rumors about pressure to vote for anyone but Rivlin persisted as late as Tuesday afternoon, when Rivlin and Meir Sheetrit went head to head in the second round. Everywhere outside Netanyahu’s circle of confidantes, however, the party’s rank and file were seething, inundating the MKs with calls and text messages, reminding them that primaries votes were a more important factor in their future than the prime minister’s good graces.

In the end, it was left to Gideon Sa’ar to whip the coalition votes into shape in the second round and lead the charge, securing Rivlin the broad party base the Likud should have given him from the get go. Although Netanyahu’s ostensible support for Rivlin allowed Netanyahu to save face and to pretend Sa’ar was doing his bidding, the line in the sand Sa’ar drew could not have been more clear. Rivlin returned the favor, making Sa’ar the first person he thanked and praised in his acceptance speech. Netanyahu’s deadline might still be a relatively vague one, but next to that deadline there is already Gideon Sa’ar’s name.

Related:
Why the Left’s best president might come from the Right

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Why the Left’s best president might come from the Right http://972mag.com/ben-eliezer-rivlin/91810/ http://972mag.com/ben-eliezer-rivlin/91810/#comments Sun, 08 Jun 2014 10:18:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=91810 The opposition is scrambling as Benjamin Ben-Eliezer withdraws days before elections. The Left’s best candidate may well be on the Right, but political tribalism looks set to triumph.

Benjamin Ben Eliezer. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Benjamin Ben Eliezer. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Labor’s candidate for president, Benajmin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer announced on Saturday that he is withdrawing from the race, just four days before the vote. Ben-Eliezer’s decision came after he spent much of Friday being interrogated concerning allegedly illicit cash transfers from an Israeli businessman, which allowed Ben Eliezer to purchase a luxurious penthouse apartment in Jaffa late last year.

Questions have been asked about the house before, as the Labor candidate’s 60 years on state salaries – first in the IDF and then as parliamentarian and minister – made such an ostentatious purchase somewhat suspicious. The prosecution and police, however, moved in only after businessman Abraham Nanikwashwili was implicated in another investigation, that of bribery and nepotism at the port of Ashdod. According to several reports in the Israeli media, police reviewed Ben Eliezer’s bank accounts without his knowledge and found transfers that the veteran parliamentarian failed to report to the Knesset.

The candidate was called in for questioning on Friday morning, and when interrogators deemed his replies unsatisfactory and evasive, he was told that he was now being interrogated under caution. On Saturday afternoon, Ben Eliezer announced that he was withdrawing his name from the race, decrying the timing of the questioning as suspicious and the entire investigation as a “targeted assassination attempt” against his political career.

A scramble for candidates

The withdrawal leaves the center-left without its most senior candidate, and sent parliamentarians scrambling for a figure behind whom they can unite – if not for the first round of votes then for the crucial second one, which will be held to determine which of the two leading candidates will receive over 60 votes (in other words, over half the votes available in the Knesset to become Israel’s 10th president). The challenge is made all the greater considering the vote, by law, is private and confidential; at the end of the day, each MK will be voting according to his or her conscience, and party discipline cannot really be enforced.

To add to the opposition’s woes, for each characteristic they might require of a centrist president, there is more than one candidate to choose from. Centrist? All four: former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik,  former finance minister Meir Sheetrit, Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman and former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner. Above the fray of recent Knesset politics? Three out of four (Itzik retired from the Knesset in 2009). Utterly apolitical? Dorner and Shechtman. Women? Itzik and Dorner. And so on.

Each candidate also has their faults and weaknesses, which some MKs might find more difficult to swallow than others. Sheetrit, hailing from the smallest and most centrist party in the coalition that has not yet found the guts to head to opposition, has by now been written off by most analysts, which tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dalia Itzik with George W. Bush and Shimon Peres. White House photo by Shealah Craighead

Dalia Itzik with George W. Bush and Shimon Peres. White House photo by Shealah Craighead, 2008.

Dalia Itzik is too reminiscent of Ben-Eliezer in her relationship with major Israeli business interests; while no criminal investigation has been started (yet), questions are already being asked about her purchase of a multi-million shekel apartment in central Tel Aviv. Memories of her trying to mollify journalists writing about her corporate allies have already begun to surface. And last month, The Marker‘s investigative reporter, Sharon Shpurer, revealed that since her retirement, Itzik has been enjoying a lush career as a corporate board member, receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels for a few hours of her time each month. When confronted about it by Shpurer, Itzik replied: “Who do you want me to work for, poor people?” Not exactly sterling presidential stuff, especially for an Israel exponentially more concerned about crony capitalism and social justice than about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This shift of focus makes many see Justice Dorner as a compelling candidate for the center-left; many recall her role in the landmark Danilowitz ruling, which heralded a new era of equality for same-sex couples, and her firm stance against white-collar criminals. Many more forget her earlier role as president of the Military Courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the 1970s, the era before human rights NGOs and the interventionism of the High Court of Justice in how the occupation was run.

Dalia Dorner at an IDI rountable. Photo by Jonathan Klinger

Dalia Dorner at an IDI rountable. Photo by Jonathan Klinger, Flickr.

What’s more, few of the journalists championing her candidacy for president remember how lackluster was her tenure in her most recent public role, that of president of the Press Association, where she has served since 2006 and where she failed to take a determined stance in any of the crises of freedom of press in Israel during her term (the Kamm-Blau affair and Prisoner X affairs, to name but two). The ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset, which could well once again be kingmakers, have a long-standing beef with the Supreme Court and might well regard these elections as payback time. Additionally, a few of their MKs will be trepidatious about voting for a woman for the top job, even if others  among them might see it as a timely and fairly risk-free opportunity to give a nod to gender equality.

The next presidential term might be the most challenging yet 

Dorner’s record of standing firm to financial powers notwithstanding, it is this more recent record of failing to stand up to state power that should be giving pause to potential supporters. In a way, Shechtman shares the same fault: both he and Dorner are too aloof, too clean, too apolitical. This might be attractive in the short term, considering this has been the dirtiest presidential run in recent memory. But this dirt was just a harbinger of things to come.

Over the next few years, the separation of powers and the structure of government are set to become the key battlefields of Israeli politics; Netanyanu, Liberman, Livni and others want to centralize power in Israel, sucking authority away from the legislature and the judiciary in favor of a bolstered executive, perhaps even a presidential republic. This new arena requires a president who not only cherishes the parliamentary and democratic institutions enough not to be tempted by any short-term boosts to his own power, but knows how to affect parliamentary politics (while remaining above the fray, as the office demands).

Even if Shechtman and Dorner can attest to the their faith in these democratic principles (despite not having a record of such attestations recently), they manifestly lack the set of skills to protect them and to navigate the presidency through the impending crises – both constitutional and diplomatic ones, as the two-state solution finally begins to implode.

The best president for the Left, for whom the Left will never vote

To many, the ideal candidate to tackle both would be another former Knesset speaker and current frontrunner for the job, the Likud’s Reuven (“Ruvi”) Rivlin. As speaker, Rivlin’s commitment to parliamentary democracy (and democracy in general) saw him turn time and again against his own party and its allies, stalling most of the anti-democratic legislation pushed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Liberman’s Israel Beitenu, while at the same time trying to instruct his fellow right-wing legislators about the dangers of nationalist populism.

Reuven Rivlin as Speaker, 2011. Photo by J-Street, Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Reuven Rivlin as Speaker, 2011. Photo by J-Street, Flickr.

As a staunch right-winger, Rivlin is opposed to partition but is emphatically opposed to racism, coupling his opposition to a Palestinian state with support for offering Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians. While this is a stance being taken up by a number of right-wing politicians in recent years, Rivlin, as a democrat, goes one step further. When I interviewed him for Foreign Policy four years ago, for instance, he spoke nostalgically of a rotation-based executive espoused by Revisionist Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky  - and held up by Belfast as one possible inspiration for a future of power-sharing. It’s a far cry from nationalist self-determination, or from the one state advocated by Palestinians and the pro-Palestinian Left. But it still offers infinitely more room for maneuver than anything ever plausibly offered or actually given to Palestinians by the centrist two-state Left.

Rivlin is certainly no left-winger – he hasn’t opposed any Israeli military operation and as communication minister in Sharon’s first cabinet, he presided over a major privatization drive. Still, Rivlin’s tenure as Knesset speaker earned him praise in liberal circles (including the soubriquet of “a bulwark” for democracy from The Economist), and the lasting ire of both Netanyahu and Liberman. Netanyahu, in a lamentable display of panic amplified by a petty squabble with Rivlin over some comments the latter made about Netanyahu’s wife, tried preventing Rivlin’s candidacy by canceling the presidential post at a few week’s notice, and trying to recruit American author Eli Weisel (who is not even an Israeli citizen) to stand in Rivlin’s place. Only when Weisel refused did the prime minister yield and offered Rivlin his sour-faced support. Even if Netanyahu is getting behind Rivlin only so he can eventually stab him in the back (to borrow a Yes, Prime Minister line), he apparently failed to warn Liberman of this decision, prompting the latter to denounce and renounce Rivlin and to hint he himself might support Dalia Itzik.

Considering Liberman’s own record, his support for Itzik should not come as a surprise. But his explanation of why he won’t vote for Rivlin reads like the best pitch for an opposition vote Rivlin could have wished for:

I have nothing personal against Ruvi. I do have a problem with his positions. I supported him when he ran against Peres [in 2007]… but when he became speaker we realized he wasn’t what we thought. As far as I’m concerned, Rivlin cannot be our candidate for presidency. When he became speaker, his first official visit was to [Palestinian Arab city] Umm el Fahm. If he went to [Druze village] Beit Jan, I wouldn’t have had an issue. But there’s a message about going to Umm el-Fahm. It tells you something.

When we tried to deny [exiled Palestinian MK] Azmi Bishara his parliamentary pension, Rivlin was against. When Faina Kirschenbaum wanted to pass a law against extreme leftist NGOs he was the one to stop this, while at the same time boosting the status of Ahmed Tibi by setting up a parliamentary investigation committee that has not provided a conclusion in six years. He went against us, full on, and this is why we can’t support him.”

And yet, despite such a glowing reference from one of the Left’s arch-enemies, and despite the grief Rivlin’s election would give Netanyahu, there is nothing less likely than the Left rallying to Rivlin’s side (with the exceptions, so far, of Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich and Micki Rozenthal, and Meretz’s Ilan Gilon). This has to do both with sheer political tribalism – Rivlin is from the other gang, the Likud gang, and the Labor-Meretz gang (with a couple of honorable exceptions) seem to have no greater priority than to spite the other bunch, whatever the long-term price may be; and with the fetishization of the two-state solution. Meretz’s Zehava Galon has put it best some weeks ago: “We’ll have freedom of the vote,” she wrote, “but I can’t imagine anyone supporting someone like Rivlin, who believes in a binational state.”

Corpse-worship and tribalism over strategy

No Israeli president can do anything  to advance revive the two-state solution. The earth never saw a more adamant two-stater than the departing president Shimon Peres. Yet in his seven years as president, much as in the preceding seven years as the rubber-stamp for Sharon’s and Olmert’s occupation policies, his impact on advancing partition has been nil. Still, Galon has a point: the president is supposed to be the focal point of legitimacy and respectability, and a one-stater in this post can give the one-state approach a crucial push into the heart of the Israeli mainstream.

Nevertheless, it is startling that this consideration alone could drive a committed democrat and anti-Occupation activist like Galon and others like her to support anyone-but-Rivlin. It was particularly jarring when this “anyone,” at the second and crucial round, was most likely to be Ben-Eliezer – oozing cronyism and wading in stale blood from his short, but brutal tenure as Sharon’s defense minister. Ben Eliezer’s complaint about being the victim of targeted assassination rings particularly grotesque, seeing as he alone signed off dozens of orders for literal, not metaphorical, extrajudicial killings of Palestinian militants in less than two years in office. Including the particularly notorious killing of Hamas militant Salah Shehade and 13 civilians that happened to live nearby.

With Ben Eliezer out the leftist vote is splitting.  The closest thing to rival of choice to Rivlin is now set be Dorner, who has the liberal rhetoric but not the track record or skill set of standing up to the executive, and no vision to offer for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian strife.

 

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Palestinian-Israeli journalist on bail after incommunicado arrest http://972mag.com/gag-order-lifted-on-arrest-of-palestinian-journalist/89762/ http://972mag.com/gag-order-lifted-on-arrest-of-palestinian-journalist/89762/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 09:40:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89762 Majd Kayyal, 23, a journalist from Haifa who also works as editor for civil rights center Adalah, is out on bail  after  days of solitary confinement and interrogation since his arrest on Saturday night. The gag order on the case was lifted hours earlier, after activists in Israel and abroad ignored the ban. 

Update: The Haifa District Court on Thursday morning released Majd Kayyal, a 23-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel and a journalist from Haifa, who was arrested as he was traveling home from Beirut last Saturday night. Police prosecutors who originally applied for an extended remand earlier this week said  Kayyal was suspected of visiting an enemy state and establishing contact with foreign agents.  The foreign agents allegation was dropped as he was released on bail, but enemy state one remains. According to Adalah, Kayyal has been banned from using internet for 21 days, which Adalah is set to challenge in court.

The gag order imposed on the case was removed several hours earlier.

While it is illegal for Israeli citizens to visit “enemy states” such as Lebanon and Syria, many Israeli journalists do so on a regular basis, some by making use of their dual citizenship and some by simply crossing the border. None of them were formally arrested or charged in recent memory.

The journalist, who made no secret of his visit and posted reflections about it on Jadaliyya while still abroad, was not allowed access to legal counsel since his arrest until Wednesday night, hours before the gag order was to be lifted. The state alleged fears that the interrogation would be compromised should he and his lawyers be allowed to meet – a tactic applied frequently to Palestinians appearing before Israeli military courts in the occupied territories, occasionally to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and almost never to Jewish citizens. Even Kayyal’s solitary court appearance at the remand hearing took place only after his legal team was ordered to leave the room.

Kayyal told his lawyers that the questioning so far focused on his visit to Beirut and the meetings he held during the conference. He said he answered all the questions, and explained all of them were held in his capacity as a journalist, according to Adalah. He was checked on a lie detector and found to be speaking the truth, the rights group said.

According to his lawyers, Kayyal was  held in solitary confinement, without a bed, a window, daylight or fresh air, and with an electrical light on 24 hours a day, a tactic used to make detainees lose their sense of time. The questioning was aggressive, he said, and included many questions about his private life. The Adalah legal team said they nevertheless found him to be in good spirits.

On Wednesday, while still under a gag order, Adalah posted reflections on its Facebook page about the denial of right to counsel, stressing in particular the risk of torture. “Meeting a lawyer before and during questioning is a constitutional right, requisite for protecting the right of the detainee for due process,” the organization wrote.

“Such meetings are also necessary for monitoring the investigation and preventing the use of unlawful investigative means, including torture. It is a right according to both Israeli and international law. When the detainee is suspected of security-related offenses, this right become conditional… security-related interrogations are often accompanied by protracted periods of detention, and are not recorded through audiovisual means, as questionings on offenses carrying a punishment of 15 years or more normally are… it is a draconic practice usually applied to Palestinian detainees in order to break them psychologically,” Adalah said.

In the same hearing where Kayyal’s remand was extended on Sunday, a sweeping gag order was imposed by the Haifa Magistrate’s Court on the entire affair – an increasingly standard practice by state agencies who do not have a case for applying military censorship laws and resort to lowest-instances courts to rubber-stamp injunctions. As in earlier cases, media outlets abroad took the lead on ignoring the ban, with Electronic Intifada even posting the classified transcript of the remand hearing, which prompted a question on the arrest at the State Department hearing on Monday. On this occasion, a growing number of Israeli independent publications also chose to defy the ban.

The trend began with Adalah’s own Facebook page, which posted the fact of Kayyal’s arrest immediately after it took place and before the imposition of the gag order the following morning, prompting breaking news coverage on the site Arab48. Arab48 continued its coverage even as the ban was imposed, and several Hebrew blogs picked up on the story – with the blog OR139 even titling its post “Gag order.” Al-Ittihad, the Haifa-based printed newspaper of the Communist Party, went even further, printing news about the arrest during the week. So far, no known steps have been taken against any of the publications, but many other media outlets held back – mainstream media in line with its habitual kowtowing of the security services line, and independent media for lack of financial resources to withstand a lengthy court case – even if they would be acquitted at the end.

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Haaretz columnist Reuven Pedatzur killed in traffic accident http://972mag.com/haaretz-columnist-reuven-pedatzur-killed-in-traffic-accident/89703/ http://972mag.com/haaretz-columnist-reuven-pedatzur-killed-in-traffic-accident/89703/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:43:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89703 Senior Haaretz security analyst Drץ Reuven Pedatzur was killed last night in a traffic accident on Israel’s coastal highway, emergency services said. He was 66 years old.

Reuven Pedatzur, 1948-2014. Photo by Barry Levinson (Courtesy)

Reuven Pedatzur, 1948-2014. Photo by Barry Levinson (Courtesy)

A reporter, commentator and columnist for Haaretz for almost 30 years, Dr. Reuven Pedatzur also co-hosted a military affairs program on Israel’s Army Radio, wrote for Al Monitor and contributed to many other publications at home and abroad. In a field dominated by sycophancy and regurgitation of official spins and figures, Pedatzur was known as a fiercely independent critic and a bold analyst. He was also one of the most respected civilian experts on Israeli military expenditure, a notoriously murky field jealously guarded by the defense establishment. He combined his journalistic career with an academic one, teaching at Netanya College and the National Security College, and with that of a commercial pilot, most recently flying for Israeli airline Arkia.

Pedatzur frequently took the top brass to task about their insatiable demand for funds, and regularly accused them of employing scare tactics to intimidate both the public and the civilian decision-makers. On some occasions, he did that not only in their face, but to their face. ”A few years ago, during a routine argument between the Finance Ministry and the IDF over the size of the defense budget, I showed up at the office of the chief of staff’s financial adviser with a graph on the defense budget published by the Treasury,” Pedatzur wrote in his column in 2012. “The graph clearly showed how the defense budget was growing annually. Are the figures in this chart acceptable to you in the IDF, I asked the adviser. Yes, of course, he replied. In that case, why do you say they’re cutting the budget when the figures show that it’s constantly growing? You don’t understand, the adviser scolded me, we demand a certain sum for the defense budget every year, and when they don’t approve what we requested, that’s a budget cut as far as we’re concerned. That happens every year, and this time too. The IDF requests an add-on of about NIS 4 billion, and if it doesn’t receive it, that’s a cruel budget cut.”

Over the years, Pedatzur criticized many prestigious IDF projects, especially the much-touted missile defense systems Hetz and Iron Dome. Earlier in his career, Pedatzur published an investigation about the less-than-spectacular performance of the Patriot missile defense system during the First Gulf War. He was interrogated repeatedly for unlawful possession of classified documents (a universal practice among security journalists), and Israeli police sought to charge him with aggravated espionage. The attorney general office threw out the case. Nearly 20 years later, Pedatzur stood by his younger colleague Uri Blau, when Blau was brought to trial (and eventually convicted) under nearly identical circumstances.

According to police and paramedics at the scene, Pedatzur pulled over to the side of the road late last night, got off his motorbike, and was almost immediately hit by a passing car. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver who hit Pedatzur told police he drove behind the journalist for a while, until the latter pulled over, climbed off the bike and stepped onto the road – too quick for the driver to avoid hitting him. Channel 2 reported police are inspecting the driver’s mobile phone, to determine whether he was using it when he hit Pedatzur.

Pedatzur’s last column, published on the morning of his death, criticized Chief of Staff Benny Gantz for failing to comment on the radical settlers who attacked an IDF post in the settlement of Yitzhar. “Gantz’s silence communicates to his subordinates that they would be better off to avoid engaging with the settlers, and that it would be good if they stood aside when settlers go berserk, vandalize military property, attack those who were sent out to guard them and, of course, when they attack Palestinians and their property,” he wrote.

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Lapid’s Passover prayer: Lord, get the Palestinians away http://972mag.com/lapids-passover-prayer-lord-move-the-palestinians-away/89689/ http://972mag.com/lapids-passover-prayer-lord-move-the-palestinians-away/89689/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:43:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89689 Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the great secular crusader, has finally found God. And he has but one thing to ask of Him. 

Finance Minister Yair  Lapid, the moderate mainstay of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, published today a long, rambling post drenched in self-pity (typical enough, on the most reassuring of Jewish holidays). The post is titled  ”A (private) Prayer for Passover,” and it contains the following paragraph:

“There used to be a 16th century philosopher called Zeno, who asked: “Can God create a rock He himself cannot lift?” At the time they thought the question had no answer. That it was a paradox. Now we know that the answer is yes. There is a rock like that, and it’s called the Palestinians. And it’s true You can’t lift it, Father who art in Heaven, but could You roll it aside a little bit? Because this rock is a stone placed upon our hearts. They say You can’t stop a madman coming in with a knife to a school in Jerusalem, trying to kill students. But this is precisely why You are omnipotent. We need you in that place in which we always needed You: when all other possibilities failed. And even then, our Lord and Lord of our Fathers, it is not enough (lo dayenu).”

The paragraph has been picked apart by eye rollers – Zeno didn’t live in the 16th century (this, and only this bit, was later edited out from the post), he didn’t invent the omnipotency paradox (it was probably Ibn Rushd), how exactly  several millions of people are one rock, which is also a stone, and who placed it on our collective heart.  The most chilling bit, though, is the core of the “prayer”. Lord, make the Palestinians move away somewhere. Just anywhere. Get them out of our face.

Lapid may not be intelligent, moral, strategic, erudite, principled or good at math, but there is one quality that cannot be denied to him – he is a walking, talking, writing barometer of the Israeli public mood. This is how he got his stardom, this is why he scooped up all these profile votes: because he reflects to Israelis Israelis as they wanted to see themselves. And this inane little ramble touches on the the very heart of the Israeli attitude to Palestinians: They are a nuisance.

Thomas Friedman, back in his actual reporting days in the midst of the First Intifada, had a similar insight in his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem: the rage of the Israelis against the Palestinian is the suburban middle-class rage of people who think they’re home-owners but are constantly reminded that their home is not only their own, and no, they most certainly cannot just kick their shoes off and relax. It is a violent rage (try reading comments on Israeli news sites), but it is curiously like unyielding irritation. And it makes any atrocity Israeli does to Palestinians easy to shrug off and look away from, so long as there is any hope it’ll get them to shut up.

In a way, this craving for Palestinians to shut up and eff off is why anti-normalization is actually soothing and anesthetizing to most Israelis  - we’d find it a lot more difficult to deal with a constant, inescapable inundation by Arabic and Palestinian presence in thought, music, politics, art, in our streets and on our airwaves. It is so powerful a craving that Lapid, the crusading-secularist-de-lux, publicly turns to God. And freedom from having to hear of someone worse off than him – indeed, directly subjugated by him – is the freedom Lapid, champion of the crumbling middle class, is asking for this Passover. Something to think about on only on the Palestinian front, but on the social justice one as well.

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Netanyahu gains popularity as peace talks collapse http://972mag.com/netanyahu-gains-popularity-as-peace-talks-collapse/89608/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-gains-popularity-as-peace-talks-collapse/89608/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 16:00:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89608 The prime minister’s personal popularity goes up, while the Likud and Habyait Hayehudi gain seven more seats between them if elections were tomorrow. The Left loses four seats. Coalition troubles aside, ‘peace’ remains electorally toxic. 

The biggest losers from the collapse of the peace talks are the pro-peace parties, a Haaretz weekend poll suggests - a finding unlikely to delight those hoping Netanyahu would swap his hard-right coalition partners for more moderate ones.

According to the poll, conducted soon after the peace talks went into a spiral due to a cancelled prisoner release and the newly announced settlement building plans – Kerry’s “poof” moment – Netanyahu’s personal approval rating went up from 40 percent to 45 percent since mid-February. His faction, Likud-Beitenu, would get five more seats if elections were tomorrow (37 seats instead of 32 in February). Habayit Hayehudi, openly annexationist and home to Construction Minister Uri Ariel whom Kerry indirectly blamed for scuttling the peace talks, would get 15 seats instead of 12.

Read +972′s full coverage of the peace process

The main centrist block in the coalition, Yesh Atid, which neither did nor said anything of substance about the peace talks, manages to keep to the 14 seats it had in February, and the popularity of its chairman, Yair Lapid, improved a little bit from dismal to appalling (from 18 percent in February to 25 percent today). Lapid is still the most unpopular figure in Israeli politics (67 percent think he’s doing a lousy job as finance minister), with Yesh Atid continuing to be the Liberal Democrats to Netanayahu’s Tories – enablers and disposable lightning-rods.

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

If anyone thought this was an opportune moment for the opposition parties to raise the Oslo flags once more and ride triumphantly into power / join demurely at the tail of Netanyhu’s train to the White House lawn, the  slump in popularity of all the remotely pro-peace parties would suggest otherwise: “pro peace” remains the single most toxic brand in Israeli politics. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua goes from five seats in the February poll to three today (half of the six seats it actually has now), while Kadima is mercifully wiped out of existence – from two seats to none. Labor loses a seat (15 from 16 in the previous poll,) as does Shas (from 10 seats to nine.)  Even the steady rise of Meretz, the only dovish party to see a consistent rise in the polls since the election, appears to have been checked for now, as it slumps back from 10 seats in the previous poll to nine (but still gaining on the six seats it has today).

To cap it off, the men the poll names as most  popular in Israeli politics are the man of no influence over public opinion and the man with no publicly known opinion – President Shimon Peres  and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz,  respectively. As Peres is not expected to ever run for public office again (one hopes), Gantz has been the great benefactor of the poll, with much speculation about his political future this weekend. Gantz is known precisely for not having ever taken a stand on anything whatsoever, and his very appointment came as a compromise after an epically compromising, House-of-Cards-style dirty war between patrons of a dovish and hawkish candidates for chief of staff. Gantz was deemed to be neither; his lack of notoriety is in itself notorious, and helps more and more in Israel mistake him for a saint. So whatever his future might hold (Gantz is set to retire in 10 months, but would need to wait three years before he can run for office), it seems fair to assume he’ll continue the strategy most Israelis seem to prefer in relation to the peace talks.

Chief of staff Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Chief of staff Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

None of the above means, of course, that Netanyahu is unassailable. Israeli politics are rarely moved by public opinion polls alone or, indeed, by public opinion. (Recent legislation helped take care of that.) Netanayhu is at one of his weakest points, because his entire third premiership is built as a balancing act between the rightist and center-right blocks in his coalition, keeping both busy enough with the peace talks not to go after his own throat; Livni is a particularly useful buffer, and if she was to retire, the very delicate balance could well start unraveling; or, worse still, with Iran receding further and further as a real threat and the peace talks no longer keeping his rivals occupied, public opinion might well turn to the one issue where Netanyahu is indefensible – the socio-economic front. But whoever tries to snatch leadership away from Netanyahu will put ending the occupation as their very last talking point – and will do their best to keep it off their to-do list altogether. At least until external pressure turns Israeli heads once more.

Related:
The peace process needs a whole new outlook
Bennett’s response to Palestinian UN bid: Annexation
The rejectionist: Netanyahu and the peace talks

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