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Coalition deal's bright side: Days numbered for rotten government

The Israeli political system and the media were thrown into a frenzy by the unprecedented announcement that the early elections will be postponed following a coalition deal between Kadima – formerly known as the opposition – and Likud. Everyone is spitting mad: the talking heads have been cheated out of their favorite game; newbie Yair Lapid is like a child who was pushed out of the sandbox; Labor was basking in poll numbers that had it slated for second place, and is now left dazed and confused. The far-right faction of Likud has to get into bed with Kadima, which most Israelis view as a centrist party tilting slightly left.

The morning media conversations obsessed about what a horrible move this was, perhaps anti-democratic, a dirty trick (“nauseating” was a favored description) and, insisted one veteran Knesset television reporter, it tramples the will of the people.

I don’t trust the righteous anger on behalf of the people. The bitter accusations that this is a deal based on “personal interests” smack of bitter personal interests.

There are actually various reasons why this probably a good thing – or at least no worse than the (now counterfactual) potential results of an election.

1. The main towering advantage of postponing the elections until late 2013 is that it ensures only another year and a half of one of the worst governments Israel has ever had – a government that drove hundreds of thousands to the streets in economic desperation, pushed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict past the point of no return, and explicitly set out to mutilate Israel’s democratic process and what remained of its democratic character. If elections were held in four months, all polls bar none showed a resounding Likud victory, the same majority for the right-wing bloc, and ergo – probably a very similar government for another four years. Whatever terrible damage a super-sized coalition majority can do – it’s better to have this for 18 months, than for up to four more years.

2. The elections were designed to usurp another social protest, with the one-year anniversary coming up. I don’t know what kind of showing the public will or won’t make – but now there can be no excuse that the elections are a replacement for protest. Further, the social protesters made colorful headlines but bad politicians. After nearly a year, not a single grassroots party has emerged fully-baked for elections, unless one counts silver-spoon Yair Lapid. Truly new political formations apparently need the extra year and a half to organize.

3. With apologies to all the commentators who see themselves as valiant voices of the public, I didn’t need recent surveys to tell me that the majority (62 percent in a Channel 2 survey just last week – Hebrew) didn’t want elections. The social protesters, to my dismay, were not revolutionaries: they clung to Netanyahu for his full-on go-nowhere status quo approach on the conflict, and just needed him to move over a little to the left on social-economic issues, because in their minds, well-being and the conflict are completely unrelated. It’s hard to see how the deal is anti-democratic, with the two largest parties in the Knesset leading the country (however much I personally dislike them). Kadima’s low poll scores should not be confused with the 2009 election results.

4. Labor now has the chance to show if it’s made of anything – by reviving the phantom opposition. I admit that I’ve been skeptical of new party leader Shelly Yacimovich; while she has branded herself successfully as an active parliamentarian on social/economic themes, I think anyone who doesn’t keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict front and center on the Israeli priorities is doing a historical disservice to the country, its people and the region. Tzipi Livni was a profound disappointment as opposition leader. Not only was she complicit in the government’s ruinous behavior by her silence, but under her leadership, the party initiated some of the worst anti-democratic legislation. For three years, Israel has had no opposition; Labor is now positioned to revive the concept.

5. Iran: Some of my colleagues think that this is a launching platform for a strike on Iran. I don’t agree – Netanyahu had all the platform he needed in Israel before this too, and if anything, Mofaz has been cautious about the Iran strike. (Although why believe anything he says anymore? He also called Netanyahu a flat-out liar and said he would never go into a coalition with him.) The point is, sadly, I don’t think the prospects are changed. Israel will have to come to its senses with or without the kumbaya coalition.

There are alas many dangers and outrages involved in this development too. I’ll bet anything the new government will continue to authorize settlement expansion, and legalize unlawful West Bank neighborhoods slated for evacuation. Further, I loathe the feeling of a male takeover: Livni out, Kadima in, Shelly snuffed out, and not to mention that the whole deal was facilitated by the prime minister’s crony Natan Eshel, who recently left office in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.

But this government’s days are limited.

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    1. XYZ

      What do you mean when you say that “Israel will have to come to its senses”? You yourself say here that the polls show most people are satisfied with the current gov’t and view Netanyahu as most fit to be Prime Minister. The large social protests last summer did not change the poll results showing clear majority support for the curren gov’t. I don’t think most people view the situation like you and the others here at 972…..that Israel is on the verge of some sort of catastrophe if we don’t do what you want.
      The cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen said once that when people ask him what the situation in Israel is he replies “terrible, but the best we have been in for the last 2000 years”. I think most Israelis feel the same way. They know the peace process is dead because the Arabs don’t want it, I don’t believe they want a return to the stifling corrupt MAPAI-socialist system even if they are unhappy with many aspects of the current economic system. It is a basically optimistic view of things. The country wouldn’t survive if most people didn’t basically have this atttitude.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      I’ll bet money Labour join the government too

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      “I’ll bet anything the new government will continue to authorize settlement expansion, and legalize unlawful West Bank neighborhoods slated for evacuation.”
      They are also said to be likely to change electoral rules again.
      Thanks for pointing to the half-full glass, Dahlia.

      Just before Bibi’s coup de théâtre, Haaretz posted a piece by David Landau on Livni’s demise and reasons therefor, in which he described an effective opposition.
      “The role is – to oppose. First and foremost to oppose the government, with every political and rhetorical resource at his or her disposal.

 Livni ….. thought her main role was to run for prime minister. From day one, she was campaigning. That meant she thought with faux sophistication, curbing her tongue instead of lashing out with it; nodding-and-winking at middle-of-the-roaders instead sharpening the political debate and widening the divide.
      But a leader of the opposition is judged, when elections eventually come around, by how effective he or she was in opposition, not by how pale a shadow he or she was of the prime minister.”
      Shelley Yacimovitch, new leader of the opposition, has hitherto been soft on the central issue, as you say, Dahlia. Hope she remembers that her job now is to sharpen the debate and widen the divide.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Moshe

      What XYZ said…but really as important as coming to some sort of solution with the Arabs may be it is not front and center for the 99%. Israelis priority’s in no specific order are livelihood, standard and quality of living, crime the police and court system, education, health care, personal freedom/liberty’s. And no mater how the facts are twisted it is not part and parcel of any peace agreement. Of course the security situation is high on the list as well, due to a myriad of reasons peace itself is not. And most Israelis don’t believe that there is an actual peace partner who has the Arab peoples backing to make real, difficult, painful and realistic compromises as opposed to handing Israel a list of demands and refusing to deal unless they get what they want. It does not matter if Israel does this or that, the way people see it the PA will always find reasons not to sit at the table. The fact is if freedom and independence from Israel were the top priority they would come and negotiate even with Bibi.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Wishful thinking, Dahlia. If Israelis were going to vote Netanyahu back into office this fall, what change will make them not do it in 18 months?

      Kadima is just returning to its origins in Likud. I don’t know why people regard it as a left-leaning party. It was Ariel Sharon’s personal party, and who would call Sharon a leftist? With Sharon in the vegetable bin, Kadima has no more reason for existence.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jack

      Israel have basically become a one party state.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Mark

      “Israelis priority’s in no specific order are livelihood, standard and quality of living, crime the police and court system, education, health care, personal freedom/liberty’s.”



      Please put down the opium pipe. Israel’s one and only priority, now and forevermore, is security. Security, security, and more security. That’s all Bibi whines about daily. That’s all Bibi’s Water Carriers in Washington, D.C., whether in Congress, the Administration, or AIPAC, whine about daily.

      Security, security, and more security.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Louis

      An interesting and insightful commentary. I am wondering now if the entire leftist community should not take this opportunity to join the Labor party and create an anti Occupation real social justice faction within it… that is instead of more small parties…

      It has always been clear that Kadima is Likud in sheeps clothing. Mofaz proved it. Bibi’s only national priority policy is to preserve and perpetuate the Occupation.

      I fear, no less, the Knesset will continue to run amok and pass those legislation that Kadma was part of…

      Reply to Comment
    9. […] Dalia Scheindlin at +972mag has some interesting thoughts on the “bright side” of the new, horrifying super-coalition put together by Kadima MK […]

      Reply to Comment
    10. Kolumn9

      Louis, even were the entire leftist community to join Labor it would still be irrelevant. Labor is also not an anti-occupation party. It is a party devoid of a real policy on Judea and Samaria outside of criticizing the Likud/Kadima governments.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Jack, above, sounds right. This new coalition will just (re)shuffle resources around. I know of no clear ideological divide among your parties except “you’re not us.” The settlements will continue on course, the PA will be deemed unfit for peace because it demands growth stops during talks. Your political system is going to turn you into indefinate occupiers of a single State where those in the Bank have yet to show they deserve Israeli citizenship.
      While the Israeli/Palestinian issue may well be the most important issue for your country, there is a clear supermajority which refuses to face this. I neither see nor can conceive of a dynamic to alter this trend.

      Reply to Comment
    12. amazona

      Dahlia honey: it’s days (the coalitions) are numbered? Your word in God’s ear…let’s hope the next Bibisurprise is not suspending elections indefinitely…

      Reply to Comment
    13. Mareli

      And I was thinking US politics were crazy. Israeli politics are Insanity Central. Good luck, y’all.

      Reply to Comment

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