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Israeli Election Results:

Woe to the Victor Ya'ir Lapid

By Uri Avnery

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 4, 2013

“VAE VICTIS!” was the Roman cry. Woe to the vanquished.
I would alter it slightly: “Vae Victori”, Woe to the victor!
The outstanding example is the astounding victory Israel won in June, 967. After weeks of approaching doom, the Israeli army beat three Arab armies in six days and conquered huge stretches of Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian territory.
As it turned out, this was the greatest disaster in Israel's history. Intoxicated by the very size of the victory, Israel started down a road of political megalomania, which led to the dire consequences from which we are unable to free ourselves to this very day. History is full of such examples.
Now we have witnessed the totally unexpected election success of Ya’ir Lapid. It may turn out to be the same story in miniature.  
LAPID WON 19 seats. His is the second largest faction in the 120-seat Knesset, after Likud-Beitenu, which has 31 seats. The composition of the House is such that it is almost impossible for Binyamin Netanyahu to form a coalition without him.
The former TV star is in the position of a child in a candy store, who can take whatever he desires. He can pick and choose any government post he fancies for himself and his minions. He can impose on the Prime Minister almost any policy.
That’s where his troubles start.
Put yourself in his place, and see what that must mean. 
FIRST OF ALL, what job should you choose?
As the major partner in the coalition, you have the right to choose one of the three major ministries: defense, foreign affairs or treasury.
Seems easy? Well, think again.
You can take defense. But  you have no defense experience whatsoever. You have not even served in a combat unit, since your father got you a job on the army’s weekly paper (a lousy paper, by the way.) 
As defense minister, you would in practice be the superior of the Chief of Staff, almost a Commander in Chief. (Under Israeli law, the entire government is the Commander in Chief, but the Minister of Defense represents the government vis-à-vis the armed services.)
So defense is not for you. 
YOU CAN take foreign affairs. It’s really the ideal job for you.
Since you want to become Prime Minister next time, you need public exposure, and the Foreign Minister gets plenty of that. You will appear in photos alongside President Obama, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and a host of other world celebrities. The public will get used to seeing you in this distinguished international circle. Your telegenic good looks will enhance this advantage. Israelis will take pride in you.
Moreover, this is the only job in which you cannot fail. Since foreign policy is largely determined and conducted by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister is not blamed for anything, unless he is a perfect fool – and you certainly are not that.
After four years, everybody will be convinced that you are prime ministerial material.
Even better: you can dictate the immediate opening of peace talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu is in no position to refuse, particularly as Barak Obama will demand the same. The opening ceremony of the negotiations will be a triumph for you. Actual progress will be neither demanded nor expected. 
SO WHY not take it?
Because you see a big warning sign.
The 543,289 citizens who voted for you did not vote for a foreign minister. They voted for making the Orthodox serve in the army, providing affordable housing, getting food prices down, lowering taxes on the Middle Class. They don’t give a damn about foreign relations, the occupation, peace and such trivia.
If you evade these domestic problems and go to the foreign office, a deafening cry will be taken up: Traitor! Deserter! Cheat!
Half of your followers will leave you at once. For them, your name will be mud. 
Moreover, in order to follow a peace agenda, even pro forma, you must discard the idea of having Naftali Bennett’s ultra-rightist party in the coalition, and take in the Orthodox parties instead. If so, how to compel the Orthodox to serve in the army, akin to feeding them pork?     
THE LOGICAL conclusion: you must choose the treasury.
God forbid!!!
I would not wish this fate on the worst of my enemies, and I feel no enmity towards the son of Tommy Lapid.
The next Finance Minister will be compelled to do exactly the opposite of Ya’ir’s election promises.
His first task concerns the state budget for 2013, already overdue. According to official figures, there is a hole of 39 billion Shekels, something like 10 billion dollars. Where will they come from?
The real alternatives are few, and all are painful. There must be heavy new taxes, especially on the glorified Middle Class and the poor. Lapid, a neo-liberal like Netanyahu, will not tax the rich.
Then there will be sweeping cuts in government services, such as education, health and the welfare state. At the moment, hospitals are working at 140% capacity, endangering the lives of patients. Many schools are falling apart. Lower pensions will spell misery for the old, the disabled and the unemployed. Everybody will curse the Finance Minister. Is this how you want to launch your political career?
There is, of course, the huge military budget, but dare you touch it? When the Iranian nuclear bomb is dangling above our heads (at least in our imagination)? When Netanyahu is promoting his latest scare – the Syrian chemical weapons, which may fall into the hands of radical Islamists?
You can, of course, reduce the pensions of army officers who retire – as is the custom in Israel – at the age of 45. Dare you? 
You could drastically slash the immense sums invested in the settlements. Are you that kind of a hero?
As if this were not enough, the high echelon of economic officials is in disarray. The much respected Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, an import from the US, has just resigned in mid-term. The highest officials in the budget department are at each other's throats.
You would be very brave or very foolish (or both) to accept the post. 
YOU COULD, of course, be satisfied with something less elevated.
Education, for example. True, the education ministry is considered a second-grade ministerial job, though it has many thousand employees and the second largest budget, after defense. But there is one big drawback: any success would take years to show.
The outgoing minister, Gideon Sa’ar, a Likud member (and a former employee of mine) has a knack for attracting public attention. At least once a week he had a new project, which attracted lavish publicity on TV. But serious achievements were rare.
From my late wife’s experience as a teacher I know that the frequent “reforms” ordered by the ministry hardly ever reach the classrooms. Anyhow, to achieve anything real you would need enormous new sums of money, and where would you get them from?
And will a second-grade ministry satisfy your ego after such a glorious election triumph? You could, of course, enlarge the ministry and demand the return of Culture and Sport, which were split off in order to create a job for another minister. Since one of your basic election promises was to reduce the number of ministers from 30 to 18, that may be possible.
But will your voters be satisfied with your concentrating on education, instead of working for the economic reforms you promised?
ALL THESE unenviable dilemmas boil down to a basic one: who do you prefer as your main coalition partner?
The first choice is between Bennett’s 12 seats and the 11 of Shas (which, if they were combined with the Torah Jewry faction, would become 18.)
Lapid prefers Bennett, his far right mirror image, with whom he hopes to enforce his “service equality” program – canceling the exemption of thousands of Torah students from military service. But Sarah Netanyahu, who rules the Prime Minister’s office, has put a veto on Bennett. Nobody knows why, but she clearly hates his guts.
With Bennett as a coalition member, any real move towards peace would, of course, be unthinkable.
With the religious, on the other hand, movement towards peace would be possible, but no real progress towards getting the Orthodox to serve in the army. The rabbis are afraid that if they mix with ordinary Israelis, especially females ones, their souls will be lost forever.
(As for me, I am ready to join a movement Against Service Equality. The last thing we need is a kippah-wearing army. We have quite enough kippahs in the army as it is.)
THESE ARE some of the questions facing poor Lapid because of the scale of his electoral success. His voters expect the impossible.
He has to make his decisions right now, and his whole future depends on making the right ones – if there are any right ones. 
As George Bernard Shaw put it: “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.


A Move to the Center
Uri Avnery

January 26, 2013


IT WAS the night of the optimists.
Tuesday at 10.01 pm, a minute after the ballot boxes were sealed, the three TV news programs announced the results of their exit polls.
The dire predictions of the pessimists were scattered to the winds.
Israel has not gone crazy.
It has not moved to the right. The fascists have not taken over the Knesset. Binyamin Netanyahu has not been strengthened. Far from it.
Israel has moved to the center.
It was not a historic turning moment, like the takeover of Menachem Begin in 1977, after two generations of Labor Party rule. But it was a significant change.
All this after an election campaign without content, without excitement, without any discernible emotion.
On election day, which is an official holiday, I repeatedly looked out of my window, above one of Tel Aviv’s main streets. There was not the slightest indication that anything special was going on. In previous elections, the street was crowded with taxis and private cars covered with party posters, carrying voters to the polling stations. This time I did not see a single one.
In the polling station, I was alone. But the beach was crowded. People had taken their dogs and children to play in the sand under the brilliant winter sun, sailing boats dotted the blue sea. Hundreds of thousands drove to the Galilee or the Negev. Many had hired a Zimmer (curiously we use the German word for a bed-and-breakfast room).
But by the end of the day, almost 67% of Israelis had voted – more than last time. Even the Arab citizens, most of whom did not vote during the day, suddenly awoke and thronged the ballot stations during the last two hours - after the Arab parties cooperated in a massive action to get the voters out.
WHEN THE exit polls were published, the leaders of half a dozen parties, including Netanyahu, hastened to make victory speeches. A few hours later, most of them, Netanyahu included, looked silly. The real results changed the picture only slightly, but enough for some to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The great loser of the election is Binyamin Netanyahu. At the last moment before the start of the campaign he united his list with that of Avigdor Lieberman. That made him seemingly invincible. No one doubted that he would win, and win big. Experts gave him 45 seats, up from the 42 the two lists had in the outgoing Knesset.
That would have put him in a position where he could pick coalition partners (or, rather, coalition servants) at will.
He ended up with a mere 31 seats – losing a quarter of his strength. It was a slap in the face. His main election slogan was “A strong leader, A strong Israel”. Strong no more. He will still become Prime Minister again, but as a shadow of his former self. Politically he is near his end.
What remains of his faction makes up a quarter of the next Knesset. That means that he will be a minority in any coalition he may be able to put together (which needs 61 members at least). If Lieberman’s people are deducted from the number, Likud proper has just 20 seats, only one more than the real victor of this election.
THE REAL VICTOR is Ya’ir Lapid, who amazed everyone, especially himself (and me), with an astounding 19 seats. That makes his the second largest faction in the Knesset, after Likud-Beitenu.
How did he do it? Well, he has the handsome, youthful look and body language of a TV anchorman, which indeed he was for many years. Everyone knows his face. His message consisted of platitudes, which upset no one. Though now almost 50 years old, he was the candidate of the young.
His victory is part of a generational change. Like Naftali Bennett on the right, he attracted young people who are fed up with the old system, the old parties, the old, hackneyed slogans. They were not looking for a new ideology, but for a new face. Lapid’s was the most handsome face around.
But it cannot be overlooked that Lapid in the center beat his nearest competitor for young votes – Bennett on the right. While Lapid did not propagate any ideology, Bennett did everything possible to disguise his. He went to Tel Aviv’s pubs, presented himself as everyman’s (and everywoman’s) good guy, wooed secular, liberal youngsters.
Throughout the campaign, Bennett appeared to be the rising star on the political firmament, the great surprise of this election, the symbol of Israel’s fatal move to the right.
There was another similarity between the two: both worked hard. While the other parties relied mostly on TV to carry their message, Lapid “plowed” the country all through last year, building an organization, talking to people, attracting groups of faithful followers. So did Bennett.
But in the end, when a young person had to choose between the two, he or she could not overlook the fact that Lapid belonged to a democratic, liberal Israel and was committed to the two-state peace solution, while Bennett was an extreme advocate of the settlers and of Greater Israel, an enemy of the Arabs and of the Supreme Court.
The verdict of the young was unequivocal: 19 for Lapid, only 12 for Bennett.
THE GREATEST disappointment was in store for Shelly Yachimovich. She was absolutely certain that her rejuvenated Labor Party would become the second largest faction in the Knesset. She even presented herself as a possible replacement for Netanyahu.
Both she and Lapid profited from the huge social protest of the summer of 2011, which pushed war and the occupation off the agenda. Even Netanyahu did not dare to bring up the attack on Iran and the extension of the settlements. But in the end, Lapid profited more than Shelly.
It appears that Shelly’s single-minded concentration on social justice was a mistake. If she had combined her social platform with Tzipi Livni's peace negotiation agenda, she might well have fulfilled her ambition and formed the second-largest faction.
Tzipi’s defeat – just 6 seats - was pitiable. She joined the fray only two months ago, after a lot of hesitation, which seems to be her trademark. Her single-minded concentration on the “political arrangement” with the Palestinians – not “peace”, God forbid – ran against the trend.
People who really want peace voted (like me) for Meretz, who can boast a resounding achievement, doubling their strength from 3 to 6. That is also a striking feature of this election.
It appears also that quite a number of Jews gave their vote to the mainly-Arab communist Hadash party, which was also strengthened.
THE WHOLE thing boils down to two numbers: 61 for the Right-Religious bloc, 59 for the Center-Left-Arab bloc. One single member could have made all the difference. The Arab citizens could have easily provided that member.
I noticed that all three TV stations sent their teams to the headquarters of every single Jewish party, including those who did not surmount the 2% hurdle (like, thank God, the religious-fascist Kahanist list) but not to any of the three Arab parties.
By tacit agreement, the Arabs were treated as not really belonging. The Left (or “Center-Left, as they preferred to be called) relegated them to membership in the “Blocking-Bloc”, those who could block Netanyahu’s ability to form a coalition. The Arabs themselves were not consulted.
Lapid disposed of the “blocking bloc” rapidly. He made short shrift of the idea that he could be in the same bloc with Hanin Zuabi (or with any Arab party, for that matter.) He also squashed the idea that he had ambitions to be Prime Minister. He was not prepared for such an advance, having no political experience at all.
EVEN THOUGH the “blocking bloc” will not materialize, it will be very difficult for Netanyahu to form a coalition.
The prospect of a purely right-wing coalition has disappeared. It is impossible to govern with just 61 seats”, (Though Netanyahu could initially try to form such a small coalition, hoping to add more factions later.) He will need Lapid, who would become a central figure in the government. Indeed, Netanyahu called him an hour after the ballots closed.
In any case, Netanyahu will need one or more of the center parties, making the next government much less dangerous.
WHAT IS the lesson of this election?
The right-religious bloc lost the election, but the “center-left” did not win it,  because they could not put forward a credible candidate for prime minister, nor a credible alternative governing party with a solid, comprehensive blueprint for the solution of Israel’s basic problems.
To create such a new force, it is absolutely vital to integrate the Arab citizens in the political process as full-fledged partners. By keeping the Arabs out, the Left is castrating itself. A new Jewish-Arab left, a community of outlook, political language and interests, must be created – and this act of creation must start right now.
The battle for Israel is not lost. Israel’s “move to the right” has been blocked and is far from inevitable. We Israelis are not as crazy as we look.
This battle has ended in a draw. The next round can be won. It depends on us.




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