Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Israeli Election Results:
Woe to the Victor Ya'ir Lapid
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 4, 2013
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.
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
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.
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
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 CAN take foreign affairs. It’s really the ideal job for
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.
WHY not take it?
Because you see a big warning sign.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.)
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
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.
not moved to the right. The fascists have not taken over the Knesset.
Binyamin Netanyahu has not been strengthened. Far from it.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
WHAT IS the lesson of this election?
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.
battle has ended in a draw. The next round can be won. It depends on us.