Analysis News

Will surprising results stop a status-quo Netanyahu-led government?

Despite the surprising weakness of the Right-ultra-Orthodox bloc, the final result of the elections, according to exit polls, is still likely to be a status-quo Netanyahu-led government. Why? Because the big winner in this election, media personality Yair Lapid, is a vapid centrist who is likely to join Netanyahu’s coalition and make little noise on policy — either on Israel-Palestine, or any other topic

Yair Lapid (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

The exit-poll results are in, and Noam has an excellent summary of the headline figures. A lot of the attention, as actual results pour in through the night, will be focused on the balance between the blocs. The common wisdom, based on the polls, was that the Right and the ultra-Orthodox will have something between 64-67 (of 120) seats in the Knesset – a solid majority that was supposed to strengthen Netanyahu’s hand in coalition negotiations.

According to the exit polls, that bloc is actually 61-62 seats, bringing it perilously close to losing its majority. This is a surprising result, especially in light of very low voter turnout among Israeli-Palestinian citizens, who rarely vote for the Right. Yet even if the Right and ultra-Orthodox fall to 60 or slightly below, the outcome might be disappointingly similar to what everyone assumed: a Netanyahu-led government, incorporating some centrist parties.

The basic problem is that the Jewish-Zionist parties of the “Left” or “Center” have never been willing to form a coalition with the non-Zionist Arab parties, or even form a minority coalition relying on their votes. Without the Arab parties, there is no chance that the Center-Left can form a government on its own. That automatically weakens its hand in coalition negotiations.

Furthermore, the Jewish-Zionist Center-Left is currently splintered into two major parties (Labor and Yesh Atid, with 17-19 seats each, according to exit polls) and two smaller parties (Meretz and Hatnua, with 6-7 each, according to the exits). Netanyahu can pick off parts of this bloc at his convenience.

The task is made easier by the most surprising result indicated by the exit polls: the rise of Yesh Atid to become second-largest party after Likud-Beitenu. Yesh Atid is a new party, headed by Yair Lapid, a media personality and the son of late journalist and politician Yosef Lapid, who...

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Israel's major parties support a non-democratic one-state solution

No matter what their beliefs about Palestinians’ aims and desires, the policy of Israel’s leaders does not accord with their stated support for a two-state solution or for a democratic and Jewish state.

Following up on my post regarding the two-state solution (and some of the comments to that post), I would like to put forth a more general and formal version of my argument.

Let’s say that you are stridently opposed to the idea of one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean – one that would be undemocratic, and based on the explicit, formal and institutionalized supremacy of the (soon-to-be) Jewish minority within such a state. Let’s also say that you reject a democratic and egalitarian one-state solution, which would not – in your opinion – be compatible with the Jewish right for national self-determination. What do you do?

That depends on your assessment regarding the Palestinian position. As I see it, there are three possibilities for understanding the Palestinians’ stand.

First, you may believe that the Palestinians will reject any solution in which the state of Israel continues to exist in anything resembling its current form. If that is what you think, the solution is clear: dismantle the vast majority of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and retreat to lines of contiguous Israeli territory.

Such a solution would be good for security, as it does not constrict the IDF’s operational leeway in any way, and indeed it would release precious resources currently directed to defending these settlements. It would show the world Israel is committed to a reasonable solution, and would allow the country to retain both its Jewish and (formally) democratic character. Even the economic cost would be limited, as not all that many settlers live in those isolated settlements. It would entail a political rift with the hard right, but then again, the hard right supports a non-democratic one-state solution, so it is hard to see how friction with it can be avoided, if you stick to your own positions.

Second, you may believe that the Palestinians will only accept a solution in which they get 98 percent of West Bank. In this case, you will just give them what they want. You get to avoid the one-state non-democratic nightmare you are so concerned about, peace with the Palestinians, and widespread international support, probably covering most of the cost of this mass...

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In controversy over Peres remarks, Israeli 'center-left' pays lip service to two-state solution

The recent controversy over remarks made by President Peres regarding negotiations with Palestinians exposes how the ‘center-left’ pays lip service to the two-state solution, while still preferring a one-state solution with Jewish supremacy.

During the current election campaign, two of the most popular party leaders identified with the center-left have done almost everything in their power to avoid saying anything left-sounding on the Palestinian topic. Yair Lapid, leader (and personification) of Yesh Atid, and Shelly Yechimovitch, head of the Labor party, have often tried to position themselves to the right of this issue (Yachimovitch saying nice things about settlements, Lapid opposing division of Jerusalem and favoring a free hand for the IDF).

Three weeks before the elections, the past few days have witnessed a rare break in this trend. The occasion was a speech by the supposedly non-political head of state, President Shimon Peres, before Israeli ambassadors to foreign nations. Peres presented his well-known position, that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is willing and able to make the concessions necessary for an agreement on a two-state solution with Israel. He criticized statements to the contrary, made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and former Foreign Minister Lieberman (both of the Likud-Beitenu party).

His message apparently resonated with the audience who, later in the same conference, complained that defending Israel abroad is made more difficult by the government’s intransigent positions and actions (a point reaffirmed by a recent think tank report). They were promptly told by Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror to keep their opinions to themselves or resign and run for political office.

The president got only a slightly milder treatment. Likud-Beitenu issued a statement expressing disappointment in the president, blasting him for being “disconnected,” causing damage to Israel’s image abroad, and calling Abbas a “peace refusenik.”

Lapid and Yachimovitch could have settled for defending the popular president, an octogenarian who in two-thirds of a century of political activity has gone from defense-establishment hawk to hated symbol of the left to quintessential consensus figure and elder statesman. Instead, they both chose to combine their spirited rejection of the attacks on Peres with a relatively strong defense of the two-state solution, arguing that it is the only Zionist solution with a national consensus behind it.

The latter point is confirmed by a recent poll, showing a majority support for a two-state solution – including the...

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Israeli minister aptly compares Ariel settlement with Falklands

Last Tuesday, it became official: the IDF (following approval from Defense Minister Barak) recognized the academic center in the settlement of Ariel as a full-fledged university. International condemnation soon followed. A UK minister, for instance, expressed disappointment regarding Israel’s decision, and labeled it an obstacle to peace.

In response, Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar (Likud) argued that “[o]ur connection to Ariel is at least as strong as the UK’s connection to the Falkland Islands.” This comparison is quite apt because Ariel, like the Falklands, is the product of a colonial enterprise, meant to place a metropolitan population amidst a weaker people.

Furthermore, Ariel and the Falklands are both islands. Whereas the Falklands are surrounded by an ocean of water, Ariel is surrounded by Palestinians. It is at the very heart of the West Bank with very little geographic contiguity with Jewish areas of residence inside the Green Line, or even with other settlements in the West Bank. That is why any map that attempts to include it as part of Israel within a two-state solution ends up looking like it was drawn by a cubist painter.

There are distinctions, of course. Most importantly, the other claimant for sovereignty over the Falklands – Argentina – is a sovereign and independent nation. The Palestinians, who have been uprooted to make room for Ariel, are a stateless people living on lands inhabited by them for generations, kept in this position by the very Israeli power that founded and recognized the “university” in Ariel.

Perhaps the most revealing part of this comparison is that Saar, like many of my compatriots, probably sees very little difference between the actual human beings that surround Ariel and want it gone, and the indifferent seawater that surround the Falklands on every side. That might be a greater obstacle to peace than the settlement itself.

 

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Putting together Netanyahu's next coalition might be trickier than it seems

Netanyahu will continue to serve as prime minister after the upcoming elections, but putting together a governing coalition will have significant long-term implications.

The headline result of the upcoming elections in Israel, as Noam Sheizaf has thoroughly documented, is not in doubt. Benjamin Netanyahu will continue as Israel’s prime minister for another term, and will strive to maintain his policy of status quo in every area of policy.

Nonetheless, there are at least two aspects of uncertainty in these elections. First, the potential for more significant changes in areas not related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (such as economic policy or secular-religious relations). Second, these election results could shape the dynamics of the following elections, in which a different outcome is certainly possible (especially considering the incredible volatility of Israeli politics over the past two decades).

To understand these elements of uncertainty, one must examine the different scenarios for post-elections coalition formation. Netanyahu will win, but like all of Israel’s previous prime ministers, his party will not have enough seats to form a government on its own.

The most natural composition of a Likud-led coalition would be what Noam has labeled the right-Orthodox bloc, which will almost certainly hold a majority in the next Knesset. Netanyahu has been reluctant to rely on this formation exclusively, which has brought him down for the slightest of compromises in his first premiership in the 1990s. But having this option would strengthen his hand in discussions with other potential partners.

Right now, the greatest threat for this scenario comes from two tiny parties, struggling to gain enough votes to reach the threshold necessary to get seats in the Knesset.

Am Shalem is an unconventional and hard-to-classify party, a splinter of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, which is nonetheless running hard against current ultra-Orthodox leadership, arguing for modernization in this community. It is likely to draw the majority of its votes from the right-Orthodox bloc, yet it is hard to envisage its participation in a coalition which includes the very parties it is running against.

The second tiny party is Otzma LeYisrael, a far-right party. It will take all its votes from the right-Orthodox block, but its prospects of joining the coalition are unclear. Netanyahu might balk at relying on such rabid extremists, and they could actually prefer the opposition, where they would not be tainted by compromise and could snipe at their slightly-less-hard-right colleagues...

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Attacks on Palestinians highlight history of lax enforcement on Jewish extremists

Recent violent attacks on Palestinians by Jewish extremists highlight the deficient law enforcement and weak penalties imposed on perpetrators of similar past attacks

Two recent incidents have brought attention to the issue of attacks on Palestinian civilians by Jewish extremists. On Thursday, a firebomb was thrown at a Palestinian taxi in the West Bank, injuring six people, one of them seriously. Later the same day, three Palestinian youth were assaulted in a “lynch” committed by dozens of Jewish youth in West Jerusalem, while hundreds stood by without intervening.

Both incidents have sparked widespread condemnation; and the firebomb attack has been labeled a terrorist attack by both Israeli and American officials. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and promised him that Israel will catch the perpetrators of this attack.

Yet this kind of incident is hardly a new development. Last year, the Jerusalem Post warned that Jewish terrorism was “gaining steam.” The article argued that a serious response to this problem is “long overdue,” pointing to several years of warnings by Israeli security officials on this issue.

Despite this, law enforcement on Jewish extremists has remained highly deficient. According to information gathered by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, 85 percent of police investigations fail when it comes to violent crimes committed by settlers against Palestinians. And Netanyahu’s promise to catch the perpetrators of the recent firebomb attack sounds all the more dubious, considering Israel’s record of breaking similar promises when it comes to the spate of mosque arsons which have plagued the West Bank in recent years.

Even when perpetrators are caught, their treatment leaves a lot to be desired. The penalties imposed by courts tend to be severe when it comes to the most violent crimes. However, Israeli presidents over the years have used their pardon powers to mitigate the punishment of Jewish extremists. To illustrate the magnitude of this problem, I have listed the most prominent cases from the last 30 years:

-The infamous Jewish Underground, active in the 1980s, was responsible for numerous attacks in which three innocent Palestinian civilians were killed and dozens were injured. Fifteen members of this terrorist group were convicted. Three of them received life sentences, but were released after seven years when President Chaim Herzog, of the Labor Party, commuted their sentences.

-Allan Goodman,...

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Dim prospects for international pressure to end occupation

The international community is highly unlikely to pressure Israel to end the occupation. Both the U.S. and Europe are expanding cooperation and aid, and refuse to use bilateral ties as leverage to change Israeli policy. A solution must come from Israelis or Palestinians or both; the outside world has an auxiliary role, at best

One of the growing signs of pessimism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the belief of many activists that only external pressure on Israel can lead to a just solution. This is the premise of a wide spectrum of efforts, from those calling for mild pressure and diplomatic initiatives, to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The latter often points to the example of South Africa, where sanctions and international isolation contributed to the demise of the Apartheid regime.

Beyond the questions of principle and justice, which are certainly relevant, one must also address the issue of efficacy. Do we have any reason to believe that international pressure on Israel, let alone sanctions, is at all likely? There is an abundance of evidence that points to an emphatically negative answer.

The most important international actor today is, of course, the United States. That country also happens to be Israel’s staunchest ally. Instead of growing more critical of the occupation as it nears the end of its first half century, Washington is ever less likely to oppose Israel’s policies, let alone pressure its government. After some half-hearted attempts at (very mild) pressure during the beginning of his term, the Obama administration has quickly retreated to a position of unquestioning support, lavishing Israel with aid and cooperation. While Washington’s positions on the Palestinian issue have not really changed, using its leverage against Israel in any way is not really on the agenda.

So maybe Europe is the answer? Although not as important as the United States, Europeans’ extensive commercial and cultural ties with Israel provide them with significant tools to apply pressure, if they choose. Certainly, European countries have been far more willing to harshly condemn Israel’s actions and policies than recent American administrations.

But over the past two decades (at least) they have clearly made a strategic choice to move in the opposite direction. Instead of holding relations with Israel hostage to progress on the Palestinian issue, they have decided to largely plough ahead with strengthening ties. Their hope is that...

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The 9 most important questions (and answers) on an Iran strike

As talk of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran veers from frenzy to doubt, I outline the nine most important questions (and answers) regarding this operation: Are the Iranians willing and capable of developing a nuclear weapon? What will happen if they get it? Is a military strike necessary and effective, or harmful? Who is against and who is for the strike?

1. Does Iran intend to develop a nuclear weapon?

Probably yes. Iran (unlike Israel) has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which bars all signatories from developing nuclear weapons, aside from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. But Tehran has already violated its commitments under the NPT, and at least two countries (Iraq and North Korea) have developed or come near to developing nuclear weapons after signing the NPT. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued a religious decree, a Fatwa, ruling that possessing or using nuclear weapons is contrary to Islam. Yet this ruling does not seem to exclude the development of a nuclear breakout capability, where a country could quickly construct a nuclear warhead if it felt the need for it (e.g. Japan). Despite Iranian denials, this seems to be the main aim of their Uranium enrichment program, not to mention work they may have done on developing a nuclear warhead.

2. Can they do it?

Probably yes. Building a nuclear weapon is an immensely difficult and expensive undertaking, requiring the gradual accumulation of complex technical skills. This is part of the reason why predictions about Iran’s imminent possession of such weapons have been disproven again and again over the past two decades.  Yet over that period, Iran has made progress towards that goal, albeit much more slowly than Western intelligence has estimated. If North Korea could do it, it is certainly possible for Iran, although it will have to decide at each point whether it is willing to invest the necessary resources and efforts.

3. Will they launch a nuclear attack on Israel or other countries?

Probably not. Iran has certainly threatened Israel many times, and has not disguised its objection to the country’s very existence. Many argue that a country run by fundamentalist clerics cannot be trusted to operate on a rational basis: its leadership may decide that a divine imperative to destroy Israel overrules any other consideration. But this argument is belied by the...

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WATCH: 'Separate and unequal' - Interview on Israel's legal system

I recently sat down for an interview with activist and filmmaker David Sheen, as part of a larger project he is working on. We discussed Israel’s legal system and the distortions inherent in it, and the possible avenues for change in Palestine and Israel.

I provide a breakdown of the structure of citizenship in Israel and the different sectors of the population under Israeli control and how the law applies to them.  It’s a system in which there is no single rule of law and in which discrimination and injustice are part and parcel of the legal structure.

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High Court upholds flawed procedure on torture investigations

The High Court of Justice upheld the procedure regarding complaints of torture against Shin Bet agents, despite the fact that this procedure resulted in no investigations after nearly 600 complaints

The High Court of Justice has upheld a controversial procedure governing investigations into allegations of abuse and torture against employees of Israel’s General Security Service, better known as the Shin Bet. According to this procedure, all complaints, usually filed by Palestinians who the Shin Bet detained and interrogated on suspicion of terrorism, are first examined by a Shin Bet official, working under the professional supervision of the Attorney General’s Office. This examination includes interviews with the complainants and the accused agents and review of relevant documentation. The case can proceed to a full criminal investigation only if this official rules that there are grounds to do so: if he finds no such grounds, the case is closed.

This procedure has been strongly criticized by human rights organizations, which submitted the petition that was rejected yesterday. The petition was drafted and litigated by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), joined by more than a dozen Palestinian complainants, and many Israeli human rights organizations.

The petition and the court ruling (see here for the full text in Hebrew) deal with numerous issues of legal interpretation and organizational structure. However, the most relevant fact may actually be a number: zero. That is the number of complaints that resulted in a criminal investigation, out of about 600 monitored by PCATI. Zero is not the number of convictions, nor even the number of indictments. It is the number of cases that were deemed worthy of even opening a professional criminal investigation by an external body. This record is even worse than that of the flawed mechanism of accountability regarding complaints against settlers or IDF soldiers.

The High Court ruling does not seriously address the remarkable outcome of the Shin Bet’s procedure. After plowing through some 26 pages of convoluted legalese, its basic argument appears to be that the system of investigating complaints against the Shin Bet is “evolving,” and the court does not see fit to interject itself into this evolutionary process. It argues that the Shin Bet has improved on its appalling standards of opacity and unaccountability since the 1980s, and chooses to believe the state’s promises that various additional improvements are in the works.

The court...

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Lethal Sinai attack is connected to the Gaza blockade

The lethal attack on an Egyptian military outpost, in an attempted incursion into Israel, is another reminder of the terrorist infrastructure in the Sinai Peninsula. This infrastructure was built in part on the basis of the Gaza-Egypt-Israel smuggling industry, which is fueled by the massive restrictions on movement and trade imposed on the Strip by Israel and Egypt.

Some of the weapons carried by militants in infiltration attempt, August 6 2012 (photo: IDF Spokesperson)

On Sunday evening, terrorists attacked an Egyptian military outpost in the Sinai Peninsula, near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border crossings, connecting Egypt with the Gaza Strip and Israel respectively. Fifteen Egyptian soldiers were killed in the attack, in which assailants seized two armored vehicles and attempted to infiltrate Israel. One of the vehicles was destroyed by a detonation of the explosives loaded on board; and the other was destroyed by the Israel Air Force, preventing the planned incursion. The attack was probably carried out by a global Jihad group, and was denounced both by the Egyptian government and by Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

This attack is yet another reminder of the dangerous situation which has evolved in the Sinai Peninsula. Conquered by Israel in the 1956 and 1967 wars, and returned both times (in 1957 and following the Camp David peace accord with Egypt in 1979). The peninsula is a desert, three times larger than all of Israel, inhabited by about half a million people, many of them the traditionally pastoral Bedouin. In recent times, it has turned into a popular tourist destination, including for some Israelis.

However, over the last decade, it has also increasingly become a hotbed of terrorist activity. This development has to do with the area’s basic features (poor, largely empty, hard to navigate, international tourists as lucrative targets). But the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip is likely to have been a major trigger for the last decade’s deterioration.

The Strip, which borders Sinai, is much smaller, more isolated, and holds less sentimental attachment for Jewish Israelis than the West Bank. As a result, it has always been at the forefront of Israeli efforts to “separate” themselves from the Palestinians. Gaza was one of the first places where...

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Response to Burg: Israel's democracy flawed from inception

The New York Times continues to push the myth that Israel was once liberal and democratic, and is now growing detached from these values. Now it publishes an op-ed by a former Knesset speaker, which promotes this notion and similar misconceptions about the United States and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Only a couple of weeks after its unusual editorial arguing that Israel’s democracy is in peril, the New York Times has published an op-ed in the same vein, written by a prominent Israeli public figure. Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, who almost became leader of the Labor party in the early 2000s, has moved sharply to the left over the past few years, and is now very far from the Israeli mainstream. Yet in many ways, his article perpetuates classic liberal myths about Israel (impressively refuted by Yossi Gurvitz), which have already appeared in NYT’s editorial.

Burg takes these misconceptions one step farther, applying them not just to Israel but to the United States and to both countries’ relationship as well. He argues:

It is certainly true that Israelis and Americans “talked about” all these values a generation ago. However, that has not changed. And neither have their actions: in the 1950s and early 1960s, Israel and the United States were not fully committed to democracy, internally or externally, nor respectful of other nations. And whereas Americans have significantly strengthened their internal democracy since the Civil Rights movement (not without some recent backsliding on voting), in all other respects, we are witnessing a continuity rather than a sharp break.

From its inception in 1948, Israel imposed a military government on its Palestinian citizens, which was abolished less than a year before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began. The United States had Jim Crow. Externally, both countries advocated for democracy only when it suited them, and did not hesitate to support heinous and repressive regimes: Israel with South Africa during apartheid; the United States around the world – with one of the most blatant examples being Iran, where the CIA instigated the military overthrow of a democratically elected government by a tyrannical monarch.

Burg laments that “what ties Israel and America today is not a covenant of humanistic values but rather a new set of mutual interests: war, bombs, threats, fear and trauma.” Yet an honest observer of the two countries’ relationship is likely to conclude the opposite. After a...

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An educational ad captures Israel's culture of fear

In other countries, when you say “education is our future”, you usually mean that it will determine the level of prosperity and accomplishment we can hope to achieve. In Israel, the “future” is meant quite literally, in the sense that without education, we would have no future because we would all be dead.

How deep is the culture of fear in Israel? Every day seems to bring a fresh piece of evidence indicating it is quite deep indeed. Last week, I was waiting for the bus, when I saw this poster on the bus stop:

The picture, taken by me, is unfortunately not very clear. The message at the top says “Don’t leave us behind!” The bottom lines read: “Say no to the chalkboard and chalk! Because education is my future. Yours. [The future of] all of us!” The ad is attributed to “HighQ”, an Israeli corporation (with a name in English, for some reason) which specializes in preparing students for the matriculation exams and SATs. The name of the company is followed by the slogan “Presentations in class are not an extra. They are your grade!”

So far, the poster seems relatively unproblematic, if a bit short on understatement and originality. What is truly scary, quite literally, is the text at the very middle of the poster (which I managed to capture a bit more clearly):

It reads: “Yesterday, they said on the news that Israel has the most advanced missiles in the world. They said that our technological progress is the only reason we have not yet been thrown into the sea. I’m a little scared. I don’t know how to swim very well…” This text is presented as a quote attributed to “Maya, soon to be ten years old”, presumably, the girl whose picture appears next to the text.

For context, I should mention that the threat of being “thrown into the sea”, always by “Arabs”, is a very well-known catchphrase in Israel, indicating the existential threat the country presumably faces.

One could criticize this text for its poor taste and cynical tone. But what is much more worrying is that its creators clearly believe it would hit a chord. In their minds, Israelis are frightened ten-year old children, who feel on the constant brink of extinction....

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