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Netanyahu's fourth gov't: The good, the bad and the ugly

The next Israeli government will attempt to preserve the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza at all costs. Facing international backlash, the persecution of leftists and Arabs could rise to dangerous levels.

It’s quite clear what the fourth Netanyahu government will look like: A coalition of the Likud’s “natural partners.” These are the same people who have been following and backing Netanyahu since the 1990s: Avigdor Liberman, Bennett’s Jewish Home, the ultra-Orthodox parties, and Moshe Kahlon, who is actually comprises the moderate wing of the Likud. There are all sorts of rumors about sending feelers to the Labor party, but I believe Isaac Herzog will stay in the opposition this time. There is a slightly bigger chance that Yair Lapid can be lured in by Bibi, but the chances are that won’t happen right away.

Socio-economically speaking, it will likely be a better government than its two predecessors. The Jewish Home party, which espoused a radical free market ideology, shrunk dramatically. Lapid, who dedicated his time in power to going after the ultra-Orthodox (the poorest population segment in Jewish Israeli society), will be replaced by Moshe Kahlon, who is in touch with the day-to-day hardships of most Israelis, and especially those with lower incomes. Kahlon has indicated that he has far more well-off targets than the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox in his cross-hairs: the banks, for instance. I sincerely hope if he heads in that direction that he will receive the backing of both Netanyahu and the opposition parties.

In other ways I think that we are headed into a very dangerous era. Netanyahu believes in maintaining the status quo in Gaza and the West Bank. But the Palestinians will continue their anti-occupation struggle; they are not waiting to for Israel’s instructions on that matter. International pressure is building, along with efforts to confront Israel in international institutions. Israel doesn’t have an answer to such steps — it’s enough to look at the distrust with which Netanyahu’s zigzagging on the matter of Palestinian statehood is being met.

In such a case, with each international or diplomatic move or any renewed outbursts of violence, the pushback will be directed at “the enemy from within” — in other words, the Israeli Left, and especially those groups and activists working in the occupied territories, as well as Palestinian citizens. There’s not much Netanyahu can do against the UN or the American government, or even...

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What now, Bibi? — Early election takeaways

Netanyahu picked a fight with a sitting U.S. president and declared there will never be a Palestinian State. It might have helped him squeeze out another election victory, but where is Israel heading?

The Likud and Labor (The Zionist Camp) are tied with 27 seats, but Benjamin Netanyahu has way more paths to bring together the 61 seats necessary for forming a government, and another term for himself. That’s the bottom line of the exit polls published by the Israeli TV channels as the polling stations closed on Tuesday night. Netanyahu and his party members are celebrating, and Bibi is already testing the waters with potential coalition partners.

(Update: Early Wednesday morning, with over 90 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu took a large lead with 30 seats to the Zionist Camp’s 24. Read more here.)

Netanyahu was able to surge in the last few days, following a desperate – and at times, racist –campaign that warned right-wing voters of a “left-wing government backed by the Arabs.” On election day, he published a Facebook status declaring that “Arabs are heading to the polls in masses” and called for his supporters to rush and save the Right from losing power. This was a prime minister warning that his own citizens are voting. But in Netanyahu’s rhetoric, Palestinians were never really citizens anyway, even those who have Israeli identity cards; he sees himself as the leader of the Jewish people, not of Israelis.

The warnings worked. Other right-wing parties hemorrhage support – Bennett and the settlers dropped to eight seats in the exit polls (they had 12 until now), Liberman dropped five, and the far-right Yahad party probably didn’t even make it in. But Likud rose from 20-21 seats to 27-28, and the Right, along with the ultra-Orthodox parties and Moshe Kahlon’s centrist party has about 64 seats. Despite all the recent drama, there wasn’t much movement between the political blocs, compared to 2013 (61:59) or 2009 (65:55).

Sixty-four seats doesn’t constitute a huge majority, but it’s enough for a stable government – as long as Kahlon doesn’t pull any surprises and refuse Bibi’s offer (it’s highly unlikely). Netanyahu will probably try to have a larger majority by inviting Labor or Yair Lapid to join, but whether they do or not, they won’t be able to deny him the victory. Assuming there are no major changes when the final results are in,...

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Election preview: Netanyahu's moment of truth

The Israeli prime minister called elections hoping to strengthen his coalition, but he underestimated the personal resentment many Israelis feel toward him. One shouldn’t, however, confuse the fierce competition for power with a battle over ideas: even if Labor wins, the end of the occupation is not around the corner.

When Benjamin Netanyahu decided to fire Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and send Israelis to the polls for the second time in a little over two years, many people (myself included) defined these elections as “a referendum on Netanyahu.” Final results will only be in on Wednesday morning – possibly even later – but one thing is clear: Netanyahu’s goal – to rid himself of an unstable coalition and secure a clear majority – will be denied.

Instead, Bibi was forced to conduct the political battle of his life. In this campaign, he poked the American president in the eye, made all sorts of promises to just about everybody, declared war on the publisher of one of Israel’s largest dailies, and buried the Bar-Ilan speech, in which he expressed support for the two-state solution. If Bibi somehow becomes prime minister again, he will have many pieces to pick up. But all that is still far off. Right now, all Netanyahu wants is to remain in power.

Israelis will vote tomorrow on a single ballot — for the party they support. The polls close all over the country at 10 p.m. local (4:00 p.m. EST) — that’s when the exit polls will be published (including on this site). Modified polls will be published toward midnight; results are expected in the early morning. Final results and seat allocations might only come in on Thursday or Friday, once the votes from soldiers are counted (this process takes longer because the Central Election Committee needs to verify that no soldier voted twice — on base and at their home address).

Here are a few things to watch for during those days:

1. Netanyahu’s fate: A few days after the final results are published, the president – who is the formal head of state – will give the opportunity to form a government to the member of Knesset with best chances to succeed. So if a Knesset member can prove he has at least 60 other MKs backing him, he is likely to be granted this opportunity....

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Netanyahu's Congress speech: An election stunt, after all

Netanyahu didn’t offer any new thinking on Iran, but he might have succeeded in regaining control over elections that were slipping away from him

Ever since Speaker of the House John Boehner revealed his invitation to the Israeli prime minister to speak before a joint session of Congress, people have been wondering who exactly is playing who here. Is Bibi risking Israeli-American relations in order to help the GOP score points against President Obama, or did Boehner break protocol — by not informing the White House of the invitation — in order to help Netanyahu in the coming elections? Tonight we got our answer: more the latter than the former.

As far as the international debate on the deal with Iran goes, Bibi’s positions were absurd. Not only did he provide zero alternatives to the deal he is seeking to prevent, he actually asked his biggest ally to walk out of negotiations with Iran, tighten sanctions and wait for regime change. That is not only highly impractical (even if the U.S. is convinced to adopt Netanyahu’s proposed policy, there is little chance Russia or China will do the same), but most chances are that Iran would only intensify its enrichment efforts. In Netanyahu’s playbook, this leads to the military option. Since very few people in the U.S. are anxious to go to war with Iran, Netanyahu actually made selling the deal easier, as the Washington Post  was quick to point out. If even Bibi doesn’t have an alternative strategy to negotiations, the logical conclusion would be to go ahead with the deal. After all, one could always end up going to war if Iran breaks its obligations, and there is no need to do that right now.

Sure enough, the Republicans might have had some fun Tuesday night, especially in seeing all of Israel’s supporters in the Democratic Party moving uncomfortably in their seats. However, I do not think Bibi gave them much to work with; war with Iran does not seem like a winning ticket.

As far as Netanyahu’s political interests are concerned, however, the speech was a major success. Israelis were highly impressed, a sentiment I even heard coming from Bibi’s critics. Likud supporters were practically euphoric, acting as if their quarterback delivered the perfect pass at the last second. This week’s polls were bad for Likud, especially one published several hours before the speech,...

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With Netanyahu, confrontations are a feature, not a bug

Netanyahu believes he can impress Israelis by standing up to the world on his signature political issue. Previous rifts with the White House paid off for him — this time might be different. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will claim to represent the Jewish people in his speech before Congress Tuesday, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t even have an Israeli consensus behind him. His journey to Washington was heavily criticized by Israeli opposition leaders, public figures and parts of the media — especially the Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth dailies, which are taking a clear anti-Bibi stance ahead of these elections. [UPDATE: Netanyahu also had some bad election polls - the worst one this morning. see at the end of this post].

Last weekend, Yedioth ran a long interview with former Mossad head Meir Dagan, who denounced Netanyahu’s Iran strategy as a complete failure: “Netanyahu has caused Israel the most strategic damage on Iran,” said Dagan. Former head of the IDF’s northern command (and former deputy head of the Mossad) Amiram Levin blamed Netanyahu for “hitting the U.S. president between the eyes” Dagan and Levin are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the security establishment was never on board with Netanyahu’s aggressive Iran strategy, and some reports even claim that the IDF and Mossad torpedoed the prime minister’s military option when the moment of decision came.

Yet at the same time, there is a near-consensus view among those in the political establishment that Netanyahu will only come back strengthened from Washington. A strategist for one of the parties told me this week that “most pollsters we talked to believe that Bibi’s Likud will increase by a couple of seats or so by the weekend.” Analysts attribute this to two reasons: first, with his speech, Netanyahu has managed to frame the national conversation around an issue that he dominates, and on which the opposition simple doesn’t have a clear agenda. Second, with Bibi, these kinds of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. They are part of a political strategy that builds on the intense emotions that such moments produce.

Unlike Ariel Sharon, a Likud prime minister who went after the centrist vote in his national election campaign, Netanyahu has always been about rallying the base. Domestically, he highlights the cultural war within Israeli society, constantly pushing messages against “the Left” and the media...

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For a few votes, Labor joins the attacks on Haneen Zoabi

Two years ago Herzog adamantly stated that the Labor party principally opposes disqualifying any Knesset candidates. Now, in what appears to be the groundwork for joining a Netanyahu government, he and Tzipi Livni want to stop Haneen Zoabi from running for office.

The Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s joint list, “The Zionist Camp,” announced this week that they will support a request to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi and Kahanist settler Baruch Marzel from running in upcoming Knesset elections. The motion to disqualify the Balad MK is expected to pass by near consensus in the Central Elections Committee — with the support of everyone from Jewish Home to Labor. Meretz is the only non-Arab party expected to oppose Zoabi’s disqualification.

Disqualifying Zoabi has become an Israeli political ritual in recent years, but one in which Labor hasn’t always taken part. In the most recent elections Labor opposed Zoabi’s disqualification, on the grounds that “some things are more important than hot-bloodedness,” specifically, basic democratic values. There is a video of Labor leader Isaac Herzog at the time making an impassioned speech against Zoabi’s disqualification at the Central Elections Commission. Among other things, Herzog said:

So what changed? Firstly, Herzog now sees himself as a candidate for the premiership. Secondly, the Zionist Camp is down in the polls. Nothing has changed about Zoabi. The disqualification is an attempt to attract voters from the Right and to improve Labor’s position and interests in the Center-Left political block — to throw Meretz a life-line by making themselves seem less “lefty,” and to steal a seat or two from Lapid, Kahlon or even Likud.

But even in political theater there are basic principles that cannot be compromised. Relations between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel are one of them. It is the most volatile and sensitive issue, which was expressed in demonstrations and acts of violence this past summer — primarily against Palestinian citizens of Israel. One of the central sources of hope for a Herzog victory was the prospect that he might stop the steady stream of fuel the Right has been pouring onto that bonfire. Backing the attempt to disqualify Zoabi in these elections is far more than an election stunt meant to steal a few votes from Avigdor Liberman — it is the Labor party becoming Liberman.

Considering that in both Labor and even Meretz there are people...

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Ahead of close elections, Congress gives Bibi a prime-time appearance

The senator from Jerusalem will take all the help he can get these days.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on February 11. Coincidently, Netanyahu’s speech will take place a month and a half before the Israeli elections.

According to most polls, Netanyahu is extremely vulnerable, and is still far from an absolute majority that will win him another term as prime minister. If you think this is the real reason he was invited to Washington, you are in good company. Netanyahu’s campaign, which is having some trouble taking off, is all about his position as “the responsible adult” and “the internationally recognized leader.” Bibi, who doesn’t usually attend funerals of Israeli terror victims, rushed to Paris along with Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman for a photo-up with world leaders after the recent terror attacks in the French capital. But the invitation to Congress is much better – in his previous speech, Netanyahu got 29 standing ovations. Nobody will stand in his way for a photo-op the way people did in Paris.

It is not surprising that the GOP is in the tank for Bibi. After all, Netanyahu all but endorsed Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential elections. Israeli and American politics have almost merged in recent years and the debate over America’s Middle Eastern policy sounds to the Israeli ear like a battle between Labor and Likud. This is why the U.S. cannot play a positive role in the peace talks – the American positions duplicate the Israeli debate, and as a result, are completely disconnected from Palestinian point of view. Americans always end up being either surprised or angered by every move Fatah or Hamas make – just as Israelis are.

Going back to the elections, it’s clear that the GOP is much smarter in its Israel politics than the Democrats will ever be. Boehner and his party will not only help Netanyahu, but they could end up embarrassing the president on the eve of an agreement with Iran. The problem is that there will be a considerable number of Democrats who will rush to their help – such as those who joined Boehner in inviting Bibi without consulting the White House. (UPDATE: The response from the White House suggests potential complications here.) Sometimes you get the feeling that some Democrats actually...

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Election analysis: A shared Netanyahu-Herzog government?

Herzog and Bibi’s political interests and the fragmented Knesset that is likely to emerge after the elections might force Likud and Labor into a power-sharing deal. Avigdor Liberman and President Rivlin already support the idea.

The Israeli Labor Party, which will participate in the upcoming election under the banner of “The Zionist Camp,” held its primaries this week. Former party leader Shelly Yachimovich won second place (first place is reserved for party leader Isaac Herzog); Stav Shafir and Itizik Shmuli, two of the leaders of 2011’s social protest movement, were elected in top places. Altogether the list leans a bit to the left of what Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who will lead the party, would have liked to see. They run the risk of drawing support from the leftist Meretz rather than from the right, which they need in order to win a Knesset majority and form a coalition. The first few polls conducted after the primaries give Labor 25 seats – one ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Yet what matters most is not who wins more seats, but rather which Knesset member has the best chances of forming a government. The magic number is 61, and reaching it will prove more complicated than it has been in years.

Below is an average of recent polls (not including the last two, although the difference is insignificant), conducted by the independent Project 61. According to the polls, Herzog can count on roughly 41 MKs (from Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties, though the latter will likely not join the government), while Bibi begins with wither 39 (Likud and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party) or 43 seats, in the case that former Shas stalwart Eli Yishai’s new party makes it into the Knesset. [UPDATE: several new polls are out - see at the end of this post].

The rest depends on the ultra-Orthodox (Shas and United Torah Judaism) and centrist parties – Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Three of those parties will help either Bibi or Herzog become the next prime minister.

But the puzzle is not that simple. Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox can’t really work together (Lapid’s entire campaign was based on drafting the ultra-Orthodox, who are generally exempt from military service, into the IDF); it is not clear whether Liberman’s party will survive the recent round of corruption allegations, and there...

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Blame Peres, not Bennett, for the Qana massacre

The twisted logic of Peres’ Grapes of Wrath operation was all about hitting civilian targets. That was the reason refugees sought shelter in Qana’s UN base in the first place.

Yigal Sarna, a journalist for Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, published a dramatic and serious accusation over the weekend against Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home party. Bennett was the commander of a small IDF unit that operated inside the “Security Zone” that Israel occupied in South Lebanon during the 1996 military operation Grapes of Wrath. According to Sarna, Bennett decided on his own to diverge from his orders, got his soldiers into trouble, ordered supporting fire from the regional artillery unit — and those shells hit the UN refugee camp in Kafr Qana. One hundred and two civilians and UN workers were killed and Israel was forced to end its military operation. The incident was later known as the Kafr Qana massacre.

Bennett got some surprising support from the chairman of the board of B’Tselem, Israel’s preeminent human rights organization. David Zonsheine, who served in the same unit and took part in the mission, claimed on Facebook that there was nothing wrong with Bennett’s actions that night and that in any case, he couldn’t have been held responsible for the killing. Other members of Maglan came out in support of Bennett as well.

I tend to agree. The blame lies much higher in the chain of command: those who came up with the twisted logic behind Grapes of Wrath, and most notable then prime minister Shimon Peres, IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak and head of Northern Command Amiram Levin.

As was the case in a similar operation against Hezbollah in 1993, the idea in Grapes of Wrath was to “pressure” the civilian population in southern Lebanon, creating a flow of refugees heading north to Beirut, which would make the Lebanese government demand that Syria force Hezbollah to avoid attacks on Israelis and IDF forces. In other words, to deliberately attack civilian targets in order to deter a paramilitary organization that was operating in the region. This is how the official Israeli Air Force website describes Grapes of Wrath (the IAF’s English site has an entirely different text):

Such twisted ideas were bound to lead to a disaster.

Grapes of Wrath began with dropping leaflets above Shi’ite villages calling on the population to leave. Unpopulated areas around...

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What the polls say about Netanyahu’s election chances

Netanyahu has more paths to the Prime Minister’s Office than Herzog, but also more party leaders who oppose him personally.

Seventy-one days ahead of Israel’s general elections, two major stories are dominating the political news cycle: the showdown between Shas’s former leaders – Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai – and the corruption affair involving senior politicians from Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu party. Both Shas and Liberman lost some ground in last week’s polls, while Yishai’s newly formed party is coming close to passing the Knesset threashold, currently at 4 seats (3.25 percent of the votes).

Netanyahu’s Likud party held its primaries last Wednesday. Likud members chose an uninspiring team that didn’t include new stars, but also didn’t damage the party’s brand and might have increased its appeal in the political center. Two of Likud’s most extreme politicians, Tzipi Hotovely and Moshe Feiglin – were considerably demoted, and will probably not make it to the next Knesset.

These elections are mostly about Netanyahu anyway, more than any other issue or person. With that in mind, Bibi came out slightly stronger from last week, following the failure of his opponents in the Likud primaries and his success in blocking the Palestinian move at the UN Netanyahu’s appeal to the public has to do with an ability to hold on to the status quo at a relatively low cost. A successful Palestinian bid would have angered Israelis but also demonstrated the dead-end Netanyahu’s strategy has reached, thus increasing the appeal of challengers from right and left alike. Given the Palestinian failure, Israelis can go on ignoring the the issue altogether. That is good news for Bibi.

At the same time, Netanyahu is entering this campaign in a relatively weak position, and no poll I’ve seen gives him the absolute majority that would secure his fourth term as prime minister. Instead, we are facing a more complex picture, in which a lot will depend on the political maneuvering taking place after the polls close. The bottom line is this: Netanyahu has more paths to a coalition of 61 MKs than Labor’s Isaac Herzog, but not a lot more. However, even if Herzog does manage to form a government, it won’t be a lefty one (like the Rabin government in 1992) but rather a centrist coalition, more closely resembling the one led by Ehud Olmert.

After the election, President Rivlin will need to...

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Security Council's election message to Israelis: Keep ignoring the occupation

Israel and Washington together blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for the implementation of a negotiated two-state solution within a year. Abbas’s diplomatic efforts have hit a brick wall.

The Israeli government came out with the upper hand yesterday at the United Nations Security Council: a joint effort by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry managed to gather enough votes to block a Palestinian resolution calling for a negotiated two-state solution and an end to the occupation within a year (full text here). Jordan submitted the proposed resolution on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Out of 15 members of the Security Council, eight supported the motion, two opposed and five abstained. Even if the Palestinians would have gathered the necessary nine votes, the American “nay” would have counted as a veto and the motion would have been defeated.

The outcome is a serious blow to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s efforts to advance the cause of a two-state solution through diplomatic measures, after both direct negotiations with Israel and moves in the UN effort failed to produce any meaningful achievements for the Palestinians this year.

There were some indications recently that the Obama administration feared a successful UN bid by the Palestinians would help Prime Minister Netanyahu in the coming general elections (due to take place on March 17). It’s clear, however, that the current outcome is even better for Bibi.

Netanyahu’s strategy is about maintaining the status quo in the occupied territories. Knowing that he will never win an international majority supporting the occupation, Netanyahu is focusing his policy on gathering the support of several key governments to block any measures against Israel, as they did last night. Netanyahu and his supporters see no urgency in solving the issue of the occupation – most of them deny its existence altogether – and they were proven right yesterday.

Despite the bad blood between Netanyahu and the Obama administration, the Washington continues to play a key role in allowing Israel to maintain the current trends on the ground. The Obama administration made clear, well in advance, that it wouldn’t allow the Security Council to pass a resolution placing any deadline on the Israeli occupation, now closing in on its 50th year.

As far as the internal Israeli conversation goes, the long-term consequences of the vote could be even worse than the short-term ones:...

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The hand that holds the status quo together

The Palestinians put forward a Security Council resolution calling for the end of the occupation by 2017. The Obama administration, which has supported essentially every Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, has promised to use its veto power.

The Kingdom of Jordan on Wednesday submitted a resolution draft to the United Nation Security Council, which calls for the establishing of a Palestinian state as well as a deadline for the occupation: 2017, two years from now. The proposal, which could be voted on at any time, was drafted by the Palestinian Authority in the aim of breaking the diplomatic impasse in efforts to establish a Palestinian state.

According to reports, should the Obama administration vetoe the resolution, the Palestinians will join dozens of international agencies, including perhaps the International Criminal Court – a move that may allow the court to hear future charges against Israeli officials.

The United States opposes the Palestinian motion. The Israeli media reported yesterday that Secretary of State Kerry informed Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority that the U.S. will veto the resolution should it come to a vote. It seems that the Americans also object to a more modest resolution proposed by the French government. The French proposal is said to put forward several parameters for a final-status agreement, setting a two-year deadline for negotiations.

The idea of a deadline on the occupation is required to solve an inherent problem with the diplomatic process: it depends entirely on the Israeli will to make concessions. There is simply no incentive for any Israeli leadership (not just Netanyahu’s) to move forward, certainly not at a time when Israel enjoys relative calm and prosperity, as it has over the past decade. The negotiations are not balanced: one side is holding all the cards while the other depends on its good will; one side is in a state of emergency, and the other can ignore the issue altogether; one side gains international credit by merely agreeing to talk, while the other side of the deal — a Palestinian state — is only promised in the very distance future, if at all.

Millions of Palestinians have been living under military rule in the West Bank and siege in Gaza for almost 50 years. The lack of any form of Palestinian sovereignty directly affects millions more who are stuck in refugee camps and cannot...

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Bennett is not the problem

American administrations have a tendency to blame the ‘radical’ settlers for torpedoing peace missions. The real problem, however, is with the ‘moderates’ who are complicit in maintaining the status quo. 

There is a lot of talk in some circles about Naftali Bennett’s appearance at the Saban Forum last weekend (video below). Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party and is the star of the Israeli Right, took to the stage with former special envoy to the peace process Martin Indyk. Bennett essentially declared that Israeli will never accept the two-state solution, that there will be no more “land for peace” and that he has the Israeli public behind him. “How many more missiles need to fall on Ashkelon until you wake up?” he asked Indyk, who remained mostly speechless. Bennett shared a clip of the event on his Facebook page.

Bennett, with his overtly confrontational attitude, is clearly the new boogeyman in the eyes of the Obama administration. According to mainstream thinking, if he ends up being appointed the next defense minister, the peace process will be as good as dead. This is a mistake: there is no hope for peace with Bennett, but this is not where the real problem lies.

American administrations have a tendency to divide societies into “good guys” and “bad guys,” or “moderates” and “radicals.” Moderates, they believe, are the ones you can do business with, and thus are the political forces worth cultivating.  The Israeli case is no different: there is a non-stop effort to decipher whether or not certain politicians – specifically rising stars and potential leaders – are “moderates.” The settlers are always the radicals, while Labor leaders are the moderates as long as they show some interest in the Palestinian issue. Liberman was a radical; now he is a potential moderate. Netanyahu was the exact opposite; there was a moment when he had the ability to become a moderate, but is now considered a hopeless case.

While amusing, this game misses the point entirely. Besides a lot of wishful thinking, it betrays a simple misunderstanding of Israeli politics. What political leaders think or say is not as important as the balance of interests and the environment that shape their behavior.

The heart of the matter is this: the common denominator that allows coalitions in Israel to exist is an agreement on the status quo with...

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