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Horse trading between centrist parties reveals leadership failure, looming loss

In a surprise move, former Labor leader Amir Peretz has joined Tzipi Livni’s new party.

Former defense minister Amir Peretz announcing his decision to leave Labor and join Tzipi Livni’s (R) new party. December 6, 2012 (photo: Tal Schneider)

Former defense minister and Labor leader Amir Peretz announced today that he will be leaving his party and joining Hatnua, the new party formed by Tzipi Livni. Peretz, who criticized current party leader Shelly Yachimovich for not having any diplomatic agenda, will be placed third on the new party’s list – exactly the spot he held on Labor’s list. This move – made just before the parties had to submit their final lists to the election committee – concluded a strange couple of weeks, in which Dan Meridor and Benny Begin were thrown out of the Likud, Ehud Barak retired from politics, Livni returned, Avigdor Lieberman got rid of his deputy Danny Ayalon, and Labor lost two of its former chairmen (the other one being Amram Mitzna – Livni’s number two in the coming elections).

All parties need to submit their list of candidates by 10 p.m. this evening. As of then, parties cannot add members or change the order of the list, so the horse trading ends by law.

1. Almost all the recent moves happened among “center-left” parties (Labor, Kadima, Atzmaut, Lapid’s party and Livni’s party). What was once Israel’s ruling ideological and political force – liberal Zionism – is now a fragmented, incoherent, decaying elite, with less influence than ever and fierce competition over the few remaining positions of relative power. One or two of those centrist factions will probably enter the next government, as a third wheel to Israel’s new elite: a nationalist, pro-settlement bloc. They won’t have much influence, and the government’s policies will be determined more by local and international circumstances.

2. The reason those centrist parties didn’t unite as some of their supporters had hoped or expected is not so much due to their ideological differences, but the silent recognition that there is no chance of winning the current elections. The problem is not the fact that one party mentions the peace process and the other doesn’t, but rather that they are all heading for a loss.

Our poll-tracking page has yet to show one poll in which Netanyahu’s right-Orthodox coalition doesn’t enjoy a clear Knesset majority. The politicians understand that, and they are aiming to position themselves better for the day after Netanyahu’s win. If they thought the center-left had a fair chance of winning, they would have joined hands, formed a new government and split the goods among themselves. But since Netanyahu is going to be the next prime minister, it’s better for each one of them to serve as the leader or the deputy of his or her own party, in the hopes that when the right moment comes, he or she could become the leader of the entire bloc. The problem is that demographic and ideological trends suggest this opportunity may never arrive.

3. The maneuvers in the right also have to do with the day after elections. Avigdor Lieberman has ousted all the MKs and ministers who have embarrassed him or given the party bad press. He is clearly trying to re-brand himself as a new moderate, and some people are already falling for it (too easily, I might add). Lieberman agreed to the joint ticket with Likud only in order to become the next party leader. His main rival in house will be Moshe Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff, who is likely to become the next defense minister. Ya’alon is a right-wing ideologue who can make Netanyahu appear moderate; Lieberman wants to position himself to his left. It’s a good tactic, but we should remember that neither of them – nor Netanyahu – is really a moderate of any kind. Naftali Bennett, the rising star of the settler movement and the leader of the National Religious Party, will challenge the Likud from the right, also in an effort to build a name for himself as the leader of the hard right.

4. This is endgame. The right will win the elections, and what will follow will be an ugly rush of “centrist” politicians to join the new government. The next Knesset will be worse than the current one. The process is completed. The tipping point, it seems, was a decade and a half ago, perhaps in the 1996 elections which saw Netanyahu win for the first time. We are not witnessing a change, but the outcome of something that happened long ago – maybe in the decision not to evacuate the Hebron settlement in 1968. A new nationalist-religious elite has taken over the executive and the legislative branches, as well as the military; soon it will have the courts and the media. It is a Tea Party with one of the world’s largest armies at its service. The so-called alternative (was there ever one?) is non-existent, many of its leaders have given up the fight and retired, others are forming a discourse that all but ignores the occupation and regional developments, focusing instead on short-term political goals. The existential crisis this country is facing is not likely to be resolved from within.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. The Trespasser

      זנות זולה

      Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      >The existential crisis this country is facing is not likely to be resolved from within.

      The crisis is caused by purely external factors – Arab’s with to destroy Israel.

      Until that one factor is removed everyone will suffer, and it is up to us to make responsible party suffer the most.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        Trespasser, I believe your comments are in violation of the T&Cs of this blog. Oh moderator!

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Just re-read T&C
          Could not spot any violations.
          Would you please be so kind and quote here specific paragraphs?

          You are welcome to disprove any of my claims of course.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron Gross

      moderate n. Someone who thinks like I do.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Witty

      Giving up before trying is the path to failure. Everyone knows that.

      Netanyahu is exposed for the utter negligence of his administration.

      There is an opportunity to unseat him, if tried.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Danny

      Of all the parties running in this election, I like Likud Beitenu the best. Under Bibi’s incompetent diplomacy, Israel’s international standing has suffered major blows to the point that it is at the threshold of pariah status. Paradoxically, it is none other than Bibi and his merry band of crazy rightists that are building the Palestinian state brick by diplomatic brick.
      .
      The next phase of this regressive process is a regimen of real economic sanctions against Israel, and it is at that point that I think a real change will occur in the Israeli mindset, and most Israelis will realize that they must give up the occupied territories.
      .
      Hopefully, when that happens, a real leftist party will emerge that will steer Israel in the direction of the Arab peace initiative of 2000.
      .
      Till then, more constructive destruction please.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The problem with your plan is that even if most Israelis wanted to give up the territories they don’t believe there is anyone to give it to in return for lasting peace.

        Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Israel is NO more isolated than ever. Please recall that the Goldstone report and the arrest warrants for Israeli leaders and military leaders ocurred when the “peace gov’t” of Livni-Olmert-Amir Peretz was in power.
        The recent vote in the UN is meaningless.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Joshua

      “The existential crisis this country is facing is not likely to be resolved from within.”

      Well, Israel may crumble from within due to internal fighting and a complete lack of trust between its various figures, an excessive cunning which would not allow the system to continue to function, if not due to the crimes it commits which are slow to attract sufficient international ostracization.

      Reply to Comment
    7. In 96, Bibi won during Israel’s experiment with “Presidential election,” the PM elected directly; Labor won a plurality in that Knesset. I suspect Russian immigration pushed Bibi over that finish line: internal economic competition augmented by the influx caused voters, in part, to focus on Bibi’s anti Oslo message, hitting the common enemy. The direct election of the PM accelerated the fragmentation noted in this article.

      While I think Noam right that the Courts largely share the winning ideology, I do not see the coming of the rigid lock step of, say, early Nazi Germany. I think the courts will ultimately rebel over jurisdiction within Israel proper, and that this might, only might, begin a path towards real Court autonomy; the more “right thinking” the Knesset, the more likely this path.

      What is the US supposed to do? Unless Bibi pulls a Nixon to China, ground policy will continue toward full absorption of the Bank. A (one sided) minor atrocity might produce a new US stance, but consider that US money to the PA is now frozen by Congress, which retains a significant right-Tea Party block.

      I fear a return to active violence if the new Knesset presses forward. Even absent that, the PA may be forced to try for ICC jurisdiction just for the ideological cover at “home.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        The 1996 election was so close, you could plausibly select practically anything as “the” explanation. I’d say that one artillery shell explains the outcome. As a result of the Qana disaster, Arab Israelis largely sat out the election.

        Reply to Comment
        • I didn’t know about the Arab vote; perhaps this is one when those who did vote turned in blank ballets?

          Under Reagan the US had “Reagan Democrats” that voted for him but still for a Democratic Congress, the split vote party seen as a check on both sides. I think direct election of your PM produced the same; in that case, pulling votes to Bibi as a check against too much “peace.” It’s the very closeness that direct election produced given the uncertainties and fears of Oslo. So, not causing Bibi’s election as such, but setting up a very close race, where otherwise people would have gone for their party, not Bibi.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Mitchell Cohen

      Noam, I have to disagree with #2. The bottom line is everyone in the “center left” feels like they have to be the boss of their own party and that everyone else should be bowing down to them to join them. Love em’ or hate em’, the right is uniting and setting aside not only ideological differences, but egos as well. For example, Tzipi Livni thinks she is G-d’s gift to this earth and everyone should be bowing down to her. Bibi, on the other hand united with Lieberman and they have certainly had their share of differences. I don’t know why this is so? But, at this point in time, if I were on the left I would be taking lots of notes right about now….

      Reply to Comment
    9. XYZ

      It is interesting how the “Progressive-Left” overlooks the moral issues involved…all that is focused on is technical matters (which combination will be more effective at gathering votes) or big egos (I want to be the head of the party, not you).
      What about all the lies and deceptions and betrayals.
      Tzippi ran in the KADIMAH primaries and lost. Mofaz invested a lot of time and money and energy in order to gain victory and then she throws and conniption fit and decides to destroy the party and all of Mofaz’s investment goes down the drain.
      But let’s go back in time. Believe it or not, Tzippi (and Sharon and Olmert and about 20 other Likud MK’s) were elected to the Knesset on the platform of NOT destroying Gush Katif. They win a big victory. They then turn around and betray all their promises and refuse to get a public mandate through elections for this despicable move. They then decided to destroy the Likud by setting up another party. YOU ALL PRAISED THEM FOR THIS. You all told us “if you don’t like it, tough, the only thing that matters and that counts is 61 votes in the Knesset. Just vote against them the next time” , even though Gush Katif was lost and the lives of thousands of people were ruined. What did you care? You all praised Sharon-Livni-Olmert by saying “look how smart they are…they got all those freiers [patsies] to vote for them and they then stabbed them in the back…..really good!”.

      Mofaz, ONE DAY before he jumped from the Likud to KADIMAH said “I will never leave the Likud, it is my home and we never abandon our home”. How can you ever trust anything he or the rest of the rogue’s gallery say? Do you want a serial liar as Prime MInister?
      Well, you will say, he was lying for us! Yitzhak Shamir is reputed to have said “It is permitted to lie for Eretz Israel”. Yuli Tamir admitted that the Left “lied for the sake of the peace process”. Well, if lying is good, why not lie to advance yourself? Why not steal and cheat, if it advances your interests? Why not say “what’s right is what you can get away with”?

      Shimon Peres pointed out in a recent inteview that Ben-Gurion, a prime founder of the Leftist Israeli political establishment, viewed Lenin as the ideal leader he wanted to pattern himself after. Well, look at the disaster Lenin left behind him in Russia. THat is what is wrong with Israeli politics…an amorality which I attribute to the Eastern European Marxist ideology that was the inspiration for the founders of the Israeli Left. The belief that “only we are correct, the political opposition is illegimiate, all means a justified in keeping ourselves in power”.

      It is this immoral mentality that has destroyed the Israeli political Left-Progressives. This is no different than the rot that destroyed the USSR.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Adam

      ” If they thought the center-left had a fair chance of winning, they would have joined hands, formed a new government and split the goods among themselves.”

      Is that so? At what point does ego and desire for glory consider into it? There’s plenty of center-left and moderate politicians – more “A-listers” it seems, than of the right. The problem is that once they’re big enough stars they start their own party!

      I often imagine an all-star party of all the A-lister center, left, and moderate politicians: Yachimovich, Livni, Peretz, Lapid – then pull in Gal-On, throw in a leader from one of the Arab parties (what was her name on the Gaza flotilla? Put her on the list, but keep her way in the back), give Olmert a call and BANGO – campaign on a platform of moderation and – heck, let’s do it – even peace and try and tell me a coalition party like that wouldn’t sweep the whole damn thing.

      ‘course, it’ll never happen. And for my two cents, it’s down to lack of vision and petty ego.

      Reply to Comment

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