Beyond the Cusp

February 22, 2013

Riding a Rollercoaster with Netanyahu

Going all the way back to the first time Benyamin Netanyahu was elected as Prime Minister in June of 1996  we get to experience the entirety of his position swings during different points and when under varying stresses. Some of the highest points on the ride are when he has made speeches especially those before the United Nations, the United States Congress or when speaking before Jewish groups as the main speaker who is also the guest of honor. These have been Bibi at his best where he has stated the Israeli Zionist positions with elegance, bravado, style, and persuasion. His campaign rhetoric is almost as grand and has a quality of promise and hope that Bibi Netanyahu will be the kind of Zionist with strong Jewish roots and values that supporters desire in their Prime Minister. When many Israelis cast their votes for the Likud and Benyamin Netanyahu that is the person for whom they are casting their vote. That unfortunately is not the person who often appears in the Prime Minister’s office after the election.


Some of the lowest points on the rollercoaster ride with Netanyahu were such as his Bar Ilan Speeches where he capitulated in some measure to pressures from foreign leaders often including any number of European and United Nations dignitaries also including leaders from the United States, especially the President. The promises he offered in both those speeches left many Israelis feeling like they were left only with broken promises from the past election and were no longer assured of the positions represented by the man in the Prime Minister’s office, though it did look like the same Bibi they had elected. Possibly the lowest point in the ride was when Prime Minister Netanyahu capitulated to the demands and deceits imposed upon him by President Obama and the Ten Month Building Freeze on our lands was announced and imposed upon all Israel. The reasoning behind our saying it was placed on all of Israel and not solely on the areas of Samaria and Judea is simple; due to the expensive end to building in these areas there became a great shortage of housing and prices shot up sharply affecting all of Israel. Nothing imposed upon our country’s people living past the Green Line affect only those past the Green Line; it will affect all of us. Israel is far too small nation in size that anything can truly be local, almost anything will end up having nation-wide effects. Thus the Ten Month Building Freeze may have been directed at Samaria and Judea, but it was imposed in reality on all of Israel in the end.


Between the times when Bibi Netanyahu is hitting the campaign trail and sounding very much as we would wish any potential Prime Minister to sound and those periods where he is bent and twisted to the breaking point by the pressures every Prime Minister of Israel is bound to face, we have your basic rollercoaster ride with its peaks and valleys. Add in those superb appearances before the world and speaking freely before those who generally or specifically support Israel and you have momentary peaks which seem almost unscalable. Then there are the opposing moments when Bibi falters and we visit the screaming fall into the dark valleys at the bottom of the tracks wondering if the entirety of the rollercoaster cars will crash off from the tracks and shatter everything onto the hard ground below. Such are the moments when we are left wondering where the man who spoke so wondrously with eloquence and bravery just a few weeks back went and how he could have faltered so completely. Possibly quite fortunately none of us will ever be forced to face such pressures and calamities that are often imposed and thrust upon the leader of the State of Israel. Sometimes we must think and wonder if there are any who might perform with any greater assurance and firmness.


But the question we are all asking is where is this rollercoaster heading? We are all wondering if we will continue to climb a while longer or are we about to take another of those spills down into the depths of the ride once more. Many are unsure as the campaign this time was not as filled with soaring eloquence but rather was somewhat unsettling and leaves us wondering exactly what was promised us not only by Likud, but by Bibi Netanyahu himself. Many were troubled by the call for building a centered governing coalition which was more inclusive than idealistic. If we remember the last time we were promised balance and a new approach that would take Israel forward to a more peaceful future we got something that has not delivered. That was the promise we received from the Likud Prime Minister who later gave us the present of Kadima which also produced Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. This was also the government under whose guidance we unilaterally disengaged from Gaza forcing many thousands of Jewish families from their homes, synagogues, businesses, farms, communities, and their lives as they had built them over many years. This was the government whose decisions led Israel to the terror and horror of near continuous rockets raining down on ever increasing areas of southern communities eventually striking on the edges of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These are important facts which must never be forgotten. These were dangerous ideas and actions which can never be allowed again.


So, where do we stand and which Bibi Netanyahu is presently formulating a new governing coalition and choosing the path his new governing coalition will be taking? We have little evidence, but we can look at the little we do possess and try to gain a hint at the picture being painted. We do know who was the first party to be joining with Likud-Beiteinu, and that was Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua (“The Movement”) Party. Along with giving Tzipi Livni the prestigious Justice Ministry which Yair Lapid had desired according to reports, but Prime Minister Netanyahu also granted Ms. Livni’s demand that she be appointed to lead any delegation which would negotiate with the Palestinian Authority. As the old advertising ploy said, but wait, there’s more. Taking this step and allowing Tzipi Livni to hold such office and also have the lead position in negotiations with the Palestinians where she has stated her position as willing to sacrifice virtually all the lands past the Green Line, uproot all the Jewish people residing there, and return half of Jerusalem including the entire Old City if needed if that is what is required to attain a settlement with the Palestinians will make having HaBayit HaYehudi (Israel Home) Party joining the coalition next to impossible. This also would very likely also apply to the hope of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (Future) Party joining any coalition with such intentions. When also including the lack of contact with both HaBayit HaYehudi and Yesh Atid and the apparent intent made by Netanyahu to court Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich to reverse her promise to never join a Party headed by Netanyahu and form a left of center coalition, could this be actually Bibi Netanyahu’s honest intent?


This would be an even harsher reality than when a previous Likud Prime Minister left Likud in order to chase his place in the history books and formed Kadima to conduct his treachery. Should Prime Minister Netanyahu form such a coalition, it would beg the rather impressive and important question; would Likud remain Likud and even if the name continued with Netanyahu, would everybody remain on board or would they seek new pastures? Then if many of the Zionist members of Likud decided to abandon Likud, where would they go, their own new party or join another existing party likely HaBayit HaYehudi with Naftali Bennett. If they were to join Naftali Bennett and Moshe Feiglin also left Likud for HaBayit HaYehudi, then there might be a very interesting and intriguing leadership situation going forward. What has been most confusing has been the number of members within the leadership of Likud and among its members who have intimated that Naftali Bennett will join as if he has no other options. Meanwhile, there have been rumors that HaBayit HaYehudi has restarted their campaign committee in preparations for the possibility that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be unable to form a government. This may come down to whether or not Shas and United Torah can also be brought into the coalition and a compromise be made with Livni and Shelly not to bolt in reaction to Shas being brought onboard. This would also require some grand compromise on the forced service in the IDF of Haredi full time Torah students. However the next few weeks play out, the rollercoaster ride with Netanyahu is about to enter some wild gyrations, sweeping turns, sweeping highs, shattering lows, and who can imagine the rest of the twists which are sure to come. Advice, you want advice? Hold on for your life and pray, pray a lot.


Beyond the Cusp


January 25, 2013

Bibi, Poor Election Results, and Making a Coalition

Back when Benyamin Netanyahu called for new elections he was confident and thought he had made a tactical decision which would not only provide him with a strong coalition, but a comfortable coalition where any of the lesser parties which chose to join being unable to threaten the coalition with a vote of no confidence. He made a couple of serious miscalculations along the way, one before finally calling for new elections and the other subsequent to dissolving his relatively strong coalition confident of a better tomorrow. Netanyahu’s first mistake occurred when he first decided to call for new elections rather than face the difficulties of making a new budget and facing Iran and other threats without a stronger and more stable coalition. He then reversed himself when Kadima, facing possible oblivion if new elections were called, offered to join Netanyahu’s Likud led coalition adding an impressive twenty-eight to the coalition which promised to give it the stability Netanyahu desired. Unfortunately, Shaul Mofaz, the recently elected leader of Kadima, replacing Tzipi Livni, and Netanyahu had a falling out within a couple of months and Kadima pulled out of the coalition which drove Bibi to again call for new elections. There was a short period of indecision and within a week Likud executed a vote of no confidence with coalition partner Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beyteinu. This excess drama and indecision likely was just the initial sign of weakness and began his problems. Soon after dissolving the coalition, Netanyahu and Lieberman merged their two parties in the hopes of forging an unopposable center-right consensus party. This was the next step in the undoing of Netanyahu’s plan as the religious parties resented Lieberman and Yisrael Beyteinu. Then came the months of waiting for elections which soon became a long march towards mediocrity for the Likud- Beyteinu super party.

Then came the coup de grace during the campaign. For reasons which will be the raw meat for dissecting what not to do in a campaign, the senseless and viscous attacks by numerous members of Likud aimed at the Jewish Home Party, the one party that most observers would have thought would be a natural fit with Likud, inflicted harm on both parties though it appears that Likud was the greater harmed. There were the claims that the lead of Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett, was the difficulty as he had once been the Chief of Staff for Bibi which led to a messy split between the two. Some placed the problem with Bibi’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, as the one who had some difficulties with Bennett which drove the spite campaign. Whatever the source, the viciousness and pure undiluted bile heaped on Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home Party drove many away from the Likud-Beyteinu Party as many nationalists were put off and dismayed by the attacks on another nationalist party. The attacks also did result in lower support for the Jewish Home Party as they had been designed to be. The result in the end was a falling off from a combined total of forty-two seats for Likud and Beyteinu in the previous Knesset to thirty-one seats in the new Knesset. This loss of eleven seats not only damaged the power for the new combined party but also will force the Likud-Beyteinu Party to rely on and be susceptible to the whims of even the smallest parties who they will end up depending on to form their coalition. The damage was so complete as to have been just short of the cusp of allowing for a left-leaning coalition being formed blocking Netanyahu from making a coalition and allowing for a social issues coalition instead of what Netanyahu hopes to build, a nationalist and capitalist bent coalition. There are so many good old sayings that could be utilized to cap off this article, but in the spirit of allowing everyone their own freedoms, unlike the mistakes made by Likud-Beyteinu with their limiting attacks, we will allow you to choose your own to finish with your favorite.

Beyond the Cusp

January 21, 2013

Israeli Elections and the Need for so Many Parties

One question often asked about Parliamentary systems of governments is why the countries who have them need to have so many parties while the opposite is asked of the American where people wonder how they can be represented by significantly only two parties. There are of course as many answers to these two queries as there likely are parties in Parliamentary elections. Actually the American elections have numerous parties but the vast number of the so-called third parties never seems to end up making much of a showing with very few historical exceptions. The reason is in countries with parliamentary systems there are many political parties which center themselves on serving a reasonably significant segment of the society and the central issues, sometimes a single issue, which more or less serves only those people. Then there are usually two, or on rare occasions as in the United States three, parties which run on a general platform aimed at the population as a whole. The result is which party will eventually form the governing coalition out of those two main general issues parties and how many, as well as which, of the minor parties will they need to give guarantees to form their coalition. In this manner the people who are loyal to the smaller parties will each be an instrumental part of the ruling coalition and through that membership has an ability to sway, or actually more like force, the major party to pay a price and thus assure their members have their issues addressed. Where in many parliamentary systems one or the other of the main parties will actually manage to gather the necessary seats on their own therefore not finding a coalition necessary, in Israel that has proven quite impossible in recent history and that, I believe, is the uniqueness of the Israeli political landscape which might need some investigation.

The most likely reason that Israel has so many parties which regularly hold what results in being sufficiently significant numbers of supporters in election after election likely has to do with much of the Israeli population having come from such diverse areas, cultures and other determining backgrounds. It might also have to do with the diverse issues confronting Israeli society and the effects it has on the various sectors of the society. Perhaps a couple of examples would shed some light on what I mean. The Green Party in Israel, as in numerous other places, directly addresses largely issues concerning the ecology and issues of sustainability and harmony of life when concerned with pollution and other environmental issues while Shas serves the Sephardic Hasidic sector of the society. The coming Israeli elections will actually witness a passing of one party from its temporary position of prominence and the rise of the next party rising to challenge the perennial top vote getters, Labor and Likud. The party passing back into the background is Kadima which had figured prominently in recent years since its founding but appears to now be fading as it faced some leadership challenges and may be splintering with many of its members returning to their origins. Taking its shot at entering the significant polling parties appears to be the Jewish Home Party. Time will tell if its rise will end up being the passing of the torch on the nationalist side and their becoming a perennial power or if this is simply another political party taking its turn in the limelight. But the real story behind the coming Israeli election is the story that usually is behind them, who will be the heartbreakers who will hold the coalition leading party to slowly roast as they grill them to pay the piper or suffer another election. And that is the one advantage the plethora of smaller parties has in Parliamentary systems, election and campaigning tends to cost them far less so they fear dissolving government less. That may be their true power.

The one oddity that arises on somewhat rare occasions is the unity government where the two main parties decide that for the good of the country they will make an agreement to share ruling the country. These governments give the vision of a balanced, strong government but often it proves to be just an illusion as where in love opposites attract, in politics, not so much. Some of the intrigues in Israeli politics does not revolve around the election or even its results but upon the decision made by a politician who has been chosen to chair the Presidency, a presumably apolitical position currently so politically filled by Simon Peres. This will especially be interesting at the back end of the coming elections as everybody will actually not be assured whether President Peres will give the nod to the leading vote getter or once again allow the second place, or third place should Jewish Home finish their rally ahead of the Labor Party, and give Shelly Yachimovich the first shot at forming a coalition. The one guarantee we can likely count on is that Naftali Bennett will not be asked, short of a decree from above, to form the next coalition. It is not like President Peres doesn’t have a history of allowing the second largest party from making the coalition over the party actually garnering the most seats. The other question which may have a strong bearing on the future of Israel is will the Jewish Home Party garner sufficient seats to make Benyamin Netanyahu’s only possible choice to form a coalition be to include Naftali Bennett in a lead position or include the Labor as well as Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni and Shas Party and then figure how to ride such a multi-headed monstrosity.

In a strictly serious last peek, what would make this election surprising?  It would be astonishing if the merged Likud-Beyteinu Party collapsed sufficiently to not lead the next government. What would not be as surprising is should Labor break twenty seats in the Knesset that they would be allowed to try and form a coalition before giving Netanyahu, what he and others likely would believe, the first chance to form a coalition as head of the leading vote getting party. President Peres would likely claim that Bibi was only leader of Likud and that it only received about twenty seats as well as Lieberman’s Beyteinu Party corralled the remainder. In a metaphysical way that would be karma payback for Netanyahu forming a coalition over Tzipi Livni when Kadima led Likud in the votes department. Anybody think that may have been the lynchpin which once pulled drove her over the edge and her making destroying Netanyahu seemingly her life’s singular goal in life. Then it is anybody’s guess which side Shas would prefer to have leading the coalition they join but one can be assured they will likely be providing the deciding numbers for the next governing coalition. And lastly, is it possible that Benyamin Netanyahu has made a deal to lead the next coalition by promising to not allow Bennett and Jewish Home be included and instead include Yair Lapid, and by some miracle, Tzipi Livni along with Shas and whatever other parties are needed to reach sixty-one members in the coalition. And lastly, would Shelly Yachimovich be able to swallow hard and join in a unity government for the sake of allowing Israel to make the difficult choices which will likely confront the next government. The most puzzling thing is trying to figure out exactly why any practical and sane human being would actually seek to be responsible for what Israel may possibly face in the near future. Whoever is chosen and leads the next Israeli government, though initially believing they have attained a great goal in life, I pray they are still of the same mind by the end of their term as Prime Minister. I do not envy the choices they will need to decide and can only hope their decisions are wise and for the best for Eretz Yisroel going into the future and may that future hold all the promise which we dream about in our prayers. Well, this will definitely be an interesting week, in Jerusalem and in Washington. Washington’s reactions may prove to be the most intriguing and interesting when all is done.

Beyond the Cusp

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