Monday, October 27, 2008
Heading Toward Elections in Israel
Livni does have a few things going for her. Having just gotten on the job she's actually in the best position to gamble on new elections that she will ever be in, because the general public has yet to be disgusted by her. Backed by a heavy PR campaign focusing on accentuating her positive image, Livni is hoping to ride her new position to an election victory. With Kadima's approval ratings in the toilet, this may be her only chance to secure Kadima's survival.
Naturally the usual way the left prepares for elections is by crying about right wing extremism and arresting a few people for supposedly plotting to commit something that usually falls apart at the trial level. Lately they've raised the bar to actually committing staged attacks, all meant to convince the Israeli public that their imaginary "right wing extremists" are more dangerous than the Arab terrorists they're busy coddling.
Labor has managed its own resurrection game replacing one unpopular leader with one formerly unpopular leader. Barak still enjoys too much public confidence despite his abysmal failure once again. And though he's prepared to push the Saudi peace plan, it's not clear that his credibility has been exhausted again. As the only military leader in the public eye and the political sphere, Barak still holds more credibility than many of his rivals in and out of the party. While Labor has destroyed itself several times over, it may well be in a position for a resurgence as the leading party again.
Likud meanwhile remains the obvious but weak alternative. Netanyahu has always polled better in America than he has in Israel, his speaking style and campaigns lack the shrill tabloid edge so common in Israeli politics making him appear presidential abroad, but weak, cold blooded and effete in Israel. Netanyahu comes into any race with two major deficits, he is a conservative candidate in a country where the press is left wing, and his style is at odds with a Mediterranean country. Additionally Netanyahu comes into the election having lost several elections already and heading a party crippled by Sharon and partially integrated into Kadima. While some Kadima defectors may be returning to the Likud, they're all but certain to sow even more chaos there.
Threatening Shas with elections is a fairly safe bet for Livni, with an Iranian crisis and a possible economic crisis rising the party does not have a lot of appeal for voters right now, and its cynical willingness to trade Yerushalayim will also hurt it. Eli Yishai has always bargained that he can play the devil's game, extract enough concessions and then cite principles and jump off the train just in time. This is a maneuver that Shas has repeatedly managed to pull betraying the country for a few million shekels time and time again, but this time it may not pay off.
Shas' only real cards are its network of institutions and exploiting Mizrahi concerns over inequality that have flared up again in the wake of the Kadima primaries and the defeat of Mofaz. But the blind religious loyalty to Ovadya Yosef and the willingness of Shas voters to buy into the new spin of Shas as the protectors of Yerushalayim should not be underestimated. The remaining religious parties meanwhile are busy with their own internal feuds that have all but put them out of the game.
On the Russian front Avigdor Lieberman's ambitions remain deluded and corrupt despite an attempt to posture as right wing. On the Putin front, Gaydamak is still a real threat but not as much as he once was, after all there are only so many positive headlines that can be bought with showy philanthropy, but while he will likely not be a major player, nothing can really be ruled out either. If he can exploit the internal division in the religious parties to take control of Yerushalayim, Putin will have control over Israel's capital and if his party enters a coalition government, Putin may have his own Israeli minister. Either one is a rather grim prospect.
Either way barring a miracle the elections do not look good. With Peres in power and abusing his constitutional authority forming a non-appeasement coalition government will be trickier than ever. Even if Likud manages to become the dominant party it will face a landscape of post-Zionist parties leaving Netanyahu saddled with Shas all over again. But the odds are rigged toward Labor-Kadima, despite the revelations that both parties are prepared to hand over Jerusalem, the Golan and even accept the Saudi plan.
The problem with Israeli voters is that they have virtually no memories and are willing to accept the same batch of scoundrels after a short waiting period. There may be few second acts in American politics, but Israeli politics is all 2nd, 3rd and 4th acts as the same corrupt leaders take another shot at the top job, turning off many voters and leading to even greater public apathy.
And if Kadima-Labor take power again, Israel will likely have run out of time and survival options. A Livni government will do its best to make good its secret international agreements which will include the handover of major parts of Israel and the release of a new wave of terrorists. And even with a McCain administration in DC will likely be unable to do anything useful about Iran. As for an Obama administration, that will simply mean an open door for dismantling Israel at express speeds.
If the elections fail to save Israel, it will be up to the modern day Macabees to do so.