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

 

February 9, 2013

Stubbornness Contest Between Shas and Yesh Atid

Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing difficulty in forming the large coalition which includes as broad a span of political views as possible such that the result will not be dependent on any single party other than Likud-Beytenu. The problem he has struck is the contest between Shas, the Hasidic Party and Yesh Atid headed by Yair Lapid who refuses to compromise on any of the party platform issues he and his list had campaigned upon. One issue which has become a hot button issue finds the religious parties including Shas in direct conflict with Lapid’s Yesh Atid stand that only the top four-hundred Torah students be allowed a deferment from IDF or National Service a part of the share the burden solution. Shas, needless to point out, wishes for an equal or at least very similar style deferment law as the Tal Law which was ruled to be against the constitution by the Supreme Court in a decision made in the final days under Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, a strange concept as Israel has no constitution. Neither side wishes to budge on this issue and Lapid, who is entering the Knesset for the first time as are all the people on his list, will likely be introduced to the concept that if you demand everything you will often end up not in the coalition and you get nothing, such is the way of parliamentary governance. My feelings are that Yair Lapid knows full well that at some point he will need to give in order to get but is going to play hard and stiff for as long as it serves to further his ideals and ideas and bend only at the last moment. Shas will not bend and will need to be bludgeoned into accepting any form of compromise but that is their way and is expected.

Yair Lapid might be playing a dangerous game believing that Netanyahu cannot permit him and his nineteen Knesset seats to join Shelly Yachimovich and the Labor Party in the opposition. He had best do the math and realize that Netanyahu can form a sixty-one seat coalition simply by including the two purely religious parties, Shas and Yahadut HaTorah with eleven and seven seats respectively along with HaBayit HaYehudi which has twelve seats. Add in the thirty-one seats of Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu Party reaches the sixty-one seats out of the Knesset’s one-hundred-twenty total seats, the minimum necessary for a majority to form a coalition. Netanyahu has even spoken with Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yachimovich and even the leader of Meretz, Zahava Gal-On, even though the likelihood of their parties joining the coalition are minimal, as the Prime Minister had stated he wishes to form as broad a governing coalition as possible, even a unity government, though that is next to impossible. All told, the forming of the coming coalition very well may prove to be more interesting than the usual cut and dry same old expected coalition of traditional allies. With some of the difficulties which may come to a head and have to be faced by the coming government, a large and stable coalition that is not dependent on any one party is something that is definitely desirable. I do not envy the members of this Knesset, especially having a fairly good idea of what challenges are coming down the rails like an out of control train.

Back to the tug-of-war between the Hasidic Parties and Lapid’s fairly secular party over exemptions may be the most evident battle ongoing but is not the only and may prove not to even be the most critical or vitally important debate that forming the coalition will need to address. Another of Lapid Party’s concerns that I feel is likely even more important concerns the economy and the price of living. One of the major segments of the economy which needs the magic touch of Netanyahu’s economic miracle workers is housing prices and rents. During the last Knesset Netanyahu took aim at the cell phone monopolies and he opened up that market to greater competition and the prices dropped like an anchor. Hopefully Netanyahu will be able to work similar miracles with housing and rental prices, then taking aim at food prices, especially dairy and the other areas where the number of vendors is quite limited. What makes this area even more important is that much could be gained in relieving some of the upward pressures on food prices that could be attained through annexing at a minimum Area C of Judea and Samaria, the area already under total Israeli rule and control. The additional farm lands and expanded area would serve as a stimulus to the Israeli economy, an economy that is already one of the most robust of the Industrialized West. Another possible benefit from such a move would be to place some pressure on the Palestinian leadership which might be sufficient a shock to bring Abbas to the negotiation table and remove from United States President Obama’s list of misconceptions about Israel, namely that it is Netanyahu who refuses to negotiate and Abbas the willing partner. In the meantime, let’s just relax and watch the barter and other fun that goes with making a coalition. I wonder if there were a way of making coalition forming the national sport of Israel after all, they do it far, far too often.

Beyond the Cusp

November 11, 2012

Radical Differences for Combined Knesset Tickets

A phenomenon almost as rare as the fifty year jubilee has seemingly been set in motion in Israel. The first rumors came from the religious Zionist camps where both the Ichud Leumi (National Union) Party and the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) Party have been testing the idea of merging their tickets seeking added seats in the upcoming Knesset elections. This was soon followed with the revelation that the current front running party, Likud, announced their intent to run a combined right wing parties combined ticket with Yisrael Beitenu which will offer up the combination of Benyamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister and Avigdor Lieberman claiming one of the major Ministries with rumor suggesting he will seek to be Defense Minister. After these announcements there has been rumors and hints of rumors of a merger of all the “center left parties” offering Ehud Olmert or Tzipi Livni or even one where it was rumored that Tzipi Livni offered to be the number two on a ticket if current Israeli President Peres would step down and agree to head such a combined ticket. President Peres laid this rumor to bed very quickly. Some of the wisps of rumors around this seemingly desperate search for an answer to the Likud- Yisrael Beitenu ticket have mentioned Yair Lapid as a possible head and his Yesh Atid (Future) Party leading such a ticket. Then there have been the truly desperate pleadings from Shaul Mofaz hoping to get Kadima included in the list of parties joining this everyone against Netanyahu and Lieberman ticket as otherwise he and Kadima may very well not even attain sufficient support to be included in the next Knesset. This same predicament also haunts Ehud Barak and his Atzmaut (Independence) Party which he formed when he split off from the Labor Party. What are most interesting are the reasons behind these political maneuverings and the very emotional outbursts that have exploded from some of those seeking one of the merged tickets in particular.

 

The merger of the tickets by the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu had a straight forward and simple reasoning, they announced that they seek to offer a united right of center, pro-Zionist ticket which could, if the elections produce their expected results, offer the Israeli public a stable coalition which could take definitive actions which the current coalition has found to be problematic at best. They hoped to be able to join with a few other parties and because of the strength resultant from their combined list for the Knesset have sufficient strength to offer stability in the government that presents a straight forward set of objectives that would take advantage of the power garnering the increased seats in the Knesset would offer.

 

The combining of their lists by Ichud Leumi and the Habayit Hayehudi Parties, the first to initiate the idea though the second to actually accomplish a merger, stated their reasoning plainly, they would garner anywhere from two to four or possibly more additional seats than if the two parties ran separate tickets. After the merger announced by Netanyahu and Lieberman, these two religious Zionist parties said that they saw advantage for their representation from the merging of Likud with Yisrael Beitenu. They felt that with the inclusion of the mostly secularist Yisrael Beitenu Party joining with Likud which contains a faction which is religious and that this merger could be used to persuade some of these Likud members to vote for the religious Zionist ticket rather than vote for the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu ticket. This will remain to be seen and there is a good likelihood that they would possibly see an extra two, maybe three, seats in the Knesset. The difference if the extra seats did come from the more religious faction of Likud would not make such a great difference as these two tickets are very likely to be joined in the ruling coalition in the Knesset. There are many who would very much like to see a coalition consisting of these two combined tickets and not needing any other parties to clear the sixty-one seat requirement for a ruling coalition, though sixty-five or greater would be preferable.

 

The center left coalition is completely imaginary at this time. Despite all the noise and predictions of great victories that such a combined ticket would produce, no concrete plans or even cotton-candy offers have yet surfaced. There have been several names offered up as being the savior who simply by heading the ticket would produce a lock on controlling the next Knesset and preventing Prime Minister Netanyahu from retaining his position. Logic would predict that Shelly Yacimovich as the leader of the Labor Party, the strongest of the center left parties, would be the choice to head this coalition yet she has been most remarkable by the absence of her mention. Instead we have heard such things as Tzipi Livni returning to lead or be the number two on the ticket behind Ehud Olmert or Shimon Peres at the top of the ticket. The actual and very real problem in forming such a coalition is that the parties which would have to make a combined stand have almost nothing in common beyond their visceral hatred of Netanyahu and Lieberman.

 

Much of the talk around the forming of a center left ticket has been all about preventing the fanatical right-wing, Zionist, pro-settlement, war-mongering, lunatics who simply want to bomb Iran, start a war with the entire Middle East, refuse to even negotiate with the Palestinians, and pick fights with the President of the United States, Barack Obama. In the few days since the reelection of President Obama by the voters in the United States, there has been almost fanatical screaming about how a Biberman Coalition, the name given to the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu combined ticket with an intent to make it sound all the more menacing though I find it almost too cute to do so, would destroy any semblance of normalcy in Israeli-American relations. There have been numerous claims made by Ehud Olmert and many liberal media sources such as Haaretz that Benyamin Netanyahu campaigned and endorsed Mitt Romney to such an extent as to very likely destroy any possibility of the Prime Minister even being able to hold a civil conversation with President Obama. This problem in and of itself is supposed to make the reelection of any coalition that would place Benyamin Netanyahu back as Prime Minister to be suicidal and therefore unthinkable for the Israeli public. These hyperventilated protestations of imminent doom are completely unfounded as Prime Minister Netanyahu did nothing of the sort and even when pushed to state a preference refused to entangle himself in the internal political issues of the United States. If the Prime Minister is guilty of anything, it was of receiving Mitt Romney with the respect one would show a candidate for the Presidency of the United States when Mitt Romney campaigned in Israel. He treated him exactly as he had done for Barack Obama when he visited Israel when he was the candidate in 2008. I am hoping that the center left parties do manage to knit together their dreamed joint ticket for the coming elections in Israel as I really want there to be no exclamations of if only we could have had our coalition the vote would have been different after the results are in. I want all the political views to have their best possible presentation to the people of Israel so that whichever group forms the next ruling coalition has the obvious strong majority support of the electorate. That is going to be necessary as decisions with tsunami-like repercussions and ramifications are going to need to be addressed by the next Israeli government. This is not just true of Israel, but is going to be true for many of the countries in the world as critical times and crucial choices are going to be made in the near future. Israel is one of the countries where their choices going forward are going to have a much larger potential impact than has been the case in the past.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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