TCS Daily


Poor Shimon Peres

By Robert Spain - February 23, 2009 12:00 AM

Anyone with a keen interest in Israeli elections has a particularly satisfying hobby: they are not just interesting, but also frequent. The elections on 10 February were the 18th parliamentary elections the country has held in its 61 years of existence. It's over 3 decades since a Knesset served out its full term without the calling of early elections. And it is not certain that this one will, either.

Reading the mainstream media, the main stories to have emerged with the results are the late resurgence of Kadima and failure of Likud to capitalise on its early poll leads, the rise of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, and the unprecedented situation of the largest party, Kadima, being seen to lead an overwhelmingly smaller block than the runner-up. But these are not all presented fully or accurately.

The seats won in the 2009 (2006) elections were, from right to left, as follows: Right wing and religious right-wing parties 7 (9), Yisrael Beiteinu 15 (11), Likud 27 (12), Shas 11 (12), United Torah Judaism 5 (6), Pensioners 0 (7), Kadima 28 (29), Labour 13 (19), Meretz 3 (5), Arab Parties 11 (10). This has been presented in the media as a right-wing block, led by Likud, obtaining 65 (50) seats and a centre-left block, led by Kadima receiving 55 (70). This is wrong.

Kadima was formed in 2005 by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, owing to the political problems he was facing in the Likud party. Many Likud politicians followed, seeing a better chance there to retain the trappings of power, but many retain their former views. The party is comprised of both representatives of the left and right-wing, and even averaging the opinions of its members, to make it a centre party, does not mean it leads the centre-left block. Particularly not with two launched wars under their belt, whereas for all his right wing credentials, as Prime Minister the Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu did not launch even one. A more accurate depiction would place, say, half of Kadima in the right-wing camp, and half in the left; no centre block whatsoever. Just about any party in Israel can join pretty much any government, either "for the sake of peace" or to "influence the peace process," the latter not necessarily in a positive way. Blocks, while heavily focused upon by the media, are a red herring. Their relevance is to show who is in the strongest position to become Prime Minister, but not necessarily the size and shape of the government that is formed.

Other red herrings that have been discussed heavily of late include the size of Likud. No party aims to be smaller than it could otherwise be, but it is an exaggeration to suggest that the size of Likud (which at 22.5% of seats will comprise under half of any government it forms) will lead to coalition management problems. The last time Likud was "large" (2003) saw an internal split in the party and the formation of Kadima. More important than the relative size of the factions is their discipline, plus their commitment to the agreed government platform.

What hasn't been discussed has been the net gain of 1 seat by the parties representing the Arab sector. While some of this was due to the reluctance of Arab voters to support established Zionist parties -- even dovish Meretz had initially supported the Gaza war -- the growth of the constituency, where a family of 10 children is not uncommon, is also a factor. So why has there been no similar growth in the ultra-orthodox, or specifically the Ashkenazi (Jews of east European origin) factions represented by United Torah Judaism (UTJ)? This constituency has a similarly high birth rate and every incentive to vote, yet fell from 6 seats to 5, a level at which they have consistently remained. The only conclusion is that some ultra Orthodox are voting for non-religious parties, implying that disenchantment is growing in that community. If their proportion of the electorate grows, but vote share remains stable, then their political leaders -- long seen as a unified and cohesive force -- are more riven by splits than is generally acknowledged. The recent mayoral election in Jerusalem also points to this trend.

The trend of growth for Yisrael Beiteinu has also been somewhat overdone. Although detailed polling data is not yet available (and may prove me wrong) part of the allure of the party appears to have been its status as a protest against society, a role filled by the Pensioners (2006) and Shinui (2003) before them. For sure, the party has benefited from the rightward drift in the Israeli electorate, but it has also been anointed -- rather than tainted -- by time in power. Early in outgoing Knesset -- but not at its start - the party joined the Kadima government, and then quit early. Its leaders somewhat meaningless portfolio of "Strategic Affairs Minister" gave him the credentials of responsibility despite his alarming remarks about Israel's Arab neighbours and Arab minority. Leaving this job to sit on the opposition benches only burnished this reputation.

This is why Lieberman can afford to sit in opposition again in this parliamentary term;  that and the fact that only a Likud-Kadima-Labour government can last without him, complicated by their reluctance to see Lieberman potentially gain strength as the leader of the opposition. With this in mind there has been talk in both Kadima and Labour that they should "rejuvenate" in opposition. In the case of Kadima, this would lead to dissolution. While the party may have been formed to facilitate the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza (ironically, the party then led the re-invasion), as mentioned earlier it was joined by many seeking power. Take, for example, Kadima number two, Shaul Mofaz. The former Likud Defence Minister rejected the chance to join Kadima when Sharon first formed it, insisting Likud was his "home." Merely days later, when polls showed his bid for leadership of Likud had single-digit support, he followed Sharon. After losing Kadima's leadership to Tzipi Livni, some say he (and many supporters) are looking for a reason to return. Prior to the election Likud had not wanted these returnees. Given their poorer than expected showing, they may now reconsider.

Labour might fare well in opposition, primarily due to the willingness of many of its 13 MKs to do the hard legislative work required when sitting outside the government. Studies have shown, however, that this is unlikely to help the party reap future electoral gains. That is only likely to emerge from unpredictable natural factors; for example, if support re-emerges for a peace process. It is unlikely that they themselves will be able to affect this.

The irony is that the election results and current state of the Israeli polity are not necessarily making it hard for a government to be formed, or for a government to last -- such coalitions can be imagined -- but it is unlikely that the egos and political considerations involved will allow this to emerge easily.

This all plays badly for one man: President Shimon Peres, whose only constitutional duty at the moment is to (apolitically) choose an MK to form a government, and has found this a greater dilemma than any President has in the past. Should he choose the head of the larger party (Livni) or the larger block (Netanyahu)? Should be give consideration to his former party (Kadima)? What level of involvement should he take in breaking any future deadlocks?

The fact that these questions are being asked means that he is in an un-winnable position, and will be heavily criticised whatever the turn of events (after garnering even greater support, Netanyahu was tasked with forming a government). In this, you have to feel sorry for Peres. Israel's perennial election loser, a man rejected at the ballot by the populace at least four times, and by parliamentarians once (he became President only on his second attempt), has also emerged as a loser in this election. And he wasn't even running.

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20 Comments

Eretz Israel
Israel is in the unenviable position of having been in total control of its situation.. yet having engineered, without meaningful opposition, a totally unworkable outcome for itself. Now we find that the two state solution will not work, while the one state solution is not acceptable to them. That only leaves "no state".

Livni, the supposedly moderate candidate, actually is forced to adopt a position of intractable hostility to any legitimate position Palestinians might hold.. the same way Obama is being forced to adopt a position toward Afghanistan that will make a lasting solution accomodating the wishes of the locals untenable.

Netanyahu, the "right wing" candidate, is indistinguishable from Livni by anyone not totally absorbed in the minutia of politics. Peres, around whom this article inexplicably revolves, is no longer even a player.. and hasn't been for some time. He has no chips left and no good moves. Lieberman, the Moldovan bouncer, the only interesting personality, and the only player able to break the logjam (by destroying Israel), barely gets a mention.

This gaggle of bickering belligerents is never going to be able to form a true coalition. Israel, at this point, looks to be pretty well played out. We have to wait for the next act to open before we'll be able to see where the play is going.

How is Obama being forced to do anything?
He has virtually no political or even constitutional opposition not seen since FDR's days.

And since he gets away with saying one thing while doing another -- courtesy of a sham media -- he doesn't have any worries from the 'fourth branch' of government, either.

As for Israel as a democracy and as an extant nation, it has a Harry Potter situation: one will have to die for the other to survive. The only questions are "when?" and "how?" it goes down. Demographically, those Arab Israelis having 10 kids per family will take over the country via the ballot box within a generation or two. So, either that happens (and Israel the New Homeland of the Jews dies right then and there) or Israel disenfranchises the Arab Israelis much like the Germans continue to disenfranchise third and fourth generation Turks living in Germany.

Of course, everyone will scream bloody murder if the latter happens -- a lot of them being the same German hypocrites who deny citizenship to Turks born and raised in Germany. But its the only way Israel can survive as an even remotely 'Jewish' state.

An Education for Roy [Off Topic But Necessary]
I wish this was around a week or so ago:

"Saving does not mean not spending. It does not mean hoarding. It means not spending for purposes of consumption. Abstaining from spending for consumption makes possible equivalent spending for production. Whoever saves is in a position to that extent to buy capital goods and pay wages to workers, to lend funds for the purchase of expensive consumers’ goods, or to lend funds to others who will use them for any of these purposes.

It is necessary to stress these facts because of the prevailing state of utter ignorance on the subject. Such ignorance is typified by a casual statement made in a recent New York Times news article. The statement was offered in the conviction that its truth was so well established as to be non-controversial. It claimed that “A dollar saved does not circulate through the economy and higher savings rates translate into fewer sales and lower revenue for struggling businesses.” (Jack Healy, “Consumers Are Saving More and Spending Less,” February 3, 2009, p. B3.)"

Full article: http://www.realclearmarkets.com/printpage/?url=http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2009/02/a_dollar_saved_is_not_a_dollar.html

Production will create its own demand, I suppose
That was so thoughtful of you.. I'm touched.

At the present time, money not spent but put into something like a checking or money market account is probably just buried for the duration. The bank's not going to be doing much with it other than save it themselves.

But in more normal times they might be issuing loans based on their deposits. Which brings us to this portion of your "real clear" comment:

"Abstaining from spending for consumption makes possible equivalent spending for production."

I ask you. What the hell good does production do if there's no one buying? Are those Chevies just supposed to keep piling up on the lot until prosperity overtakes us?

RSVP

There'll be Peace in the Valley
It would be child's play to construct a unified Israel-Palestine. The only thing you would have to do would be to have an Israeli house and a Palestinian house in Parliament. And require that any bill be passed by simple majority in both houses.

That way the demographic balance would not matter. The two communities would have to work in concert if they were to ever get anything done.

It's so simple it's not a wonder ignorant people refuse to consider it. Peace would break out. They wouldn't know how to handle it.

Arab Israelis are not Palestinians
Or Israeli Arabs they are sometimes called.

Either term, it does not refer to the Palestinians, Roy. They have ties to them and a lot of them have family relations with them, but they are full Israeli citizens.

These are Arabs who are Israeli citizens, living in Israel proper.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Israelis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Israelis#Perceived_demographic_threat

that's not true
re-read the article.

"I ask you. What the hell good does production do if there's no one buying? Are those Chevies just supposed to keep piling up on the lot until prosperity overtakes us?"

It is in production that wages are paid, Roy. At least until we all get replaced by robots (don't laugh...that's coming sooner than you think).

No Subject
Roy - "It would be child's play to construct a unified Israel-Palestine."

It's refreshing to see that you're still here and capable of reaching to new heights. I don't believe I've ever read a more ridiculous assertion.

"Child's play". . . as long as one child wants his throat cut.

A people divided
The Arab Israelis are certainly the same people as the Palestinians, save for one historic fact.

The Arab Israelis were those native people who ended up inside the Jewish zone back in 1948. Everyone living in what became the West Bank or Jordan, or were driven elsewhere became what we know of now as Palestinians.

These Arab Israelis are second class citizens in one of those rare modern states that still decides citizenship based on ethnicity. It is citizenship with an asterisk placed beside their names. And if Avigdor Lieberman has his way, they will be expelled.. as will the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank.

Thus the title of my initial comment, "Eretz Israel".

But I notice you have chosen not to comment on my followup, There'll be Peace in the Valley. I wish you would. I describe a simple fix by which a unified state could readily come into existence.

"Child's play". . . as long as one child wants his throat cut.
I note dryly that in their latest dust-up, the ratio of fatalities has been one dead Israeli for every hundred dead Palestinians.

I note also that we haven't seen an instance in Gaza of any Israeli having had his or her throat cut. However we have seen a number of incidents where witnesses report that fleeing Palestinian civilians have been executed point blank by IDF troops while attempting to flee the conflict zone. The method, used on women and children as well as men, has been one shot to the back of the head or to the face. A war crime.

Yet we find many Palestinians.. and for that matter, many Israelis.. still hopeful that a one-state solution can be found. They are, of course, at the moment still in the minority.

Targeting better solutions
"It is in production that wages are paid, Roy. At least until we all get replaced by robots (don't laugh...that's coming sooner than you think)."

This brings us back to advocating the digging of trenches to nowhere, employing armies of guys with spoons.

Any sensible planner would find useful work for unemployed workers to perform. That way their wages do double duty, as income and as a way to improve our nation's infrastructure. We don't need trenches to nowhere.. and we don't need more Chevy trucks.

We do have a demonstrable need for more schools, more highway and bridge maintenance and especially for more social services for the developmentally disabled, the physically disabled, the elderly unable to afford care, high school dropouts, ex-offenders.. a very long list of people who will cost society more the longer they remain as unsolved problems than if their needs (and ours) are attended to by competent state-employed workers.

Around the corner and beyond the bend
"witnesses report that fleeing Palestinian civilians have been executed point blank by IDF troops while attempting to flee the conflict zone."

Do you keep those reports on the shelf with your copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? I'm surprised you didn't mention that the IDF also drained the Palestinian children of their blood to use in satanic rites.

So simple
"Any sensible planner would find useful work for unemployed workers to perform."

Then why didn't the Democratic congress and president do that? Instead they passed a mishmash composed almost exclusively of giveaways. The bill they constructed is actually worse than appropriating money to hire workers to dig trenches with spoons.

There are no 'Palestinians'
"Everyone living in what became the West Bank or Jordan, or were driven elsewhere became what we know of now as Palestinians"

They were Jordanians, Roy. Or Trans-Jordanians as Jordan was called then, I believe. Some were Egyptians and a few Syrians.

And they were not driven from their homes. The 'conquering' Arab states TOLD them to leave their homes so their armies could wipe Israel off the map with little worry of collateral Arab fatalities. How is it Israel's fault that Israel barred re-entry to obvious sympathizers to the enemies that wanted to destroy Israel in order to protect itself?

"These Arab Israelis are second class citizens in one of those rare modern states that still decides citizenship based on ethnicity"

Actually, it is more common than you think, especially in Europe & Japan, where homogeneous cultures define citizenship that way. In Germany, if your father is German then you are German. Thus, descendants of German settlers in the Ukraine during Tsarina Katherine's time who don't speak a lick of German are considered German citizens more than a perfectly Germanized Turk who is third generation. Even France, which is more open to immigration and naturalization, has its North African Muslim immigrants herded into de facto ghettos.

Generally speaking, only in the New World do you see citizenship defined by geographic birth and more welcoming of naturalizing immigrants.

"I describe a simple fix by which a unified state could readily come into existence."

No you don't. You describe another Yugoslavia, pre-planned this time. As long as there are an organized group willing to strap bombs on children, funded and supported by Iranians and Saudies and given 'moral support' from Europe and the American Obama Left, it won't matter what parliamentary setup is proposed, Roy.

shovelling holes is Obama's specialty
"This brings us back to advocating the digging of trenches to nowhere, employing armies of guys with spoons"

1) I don't know who think between us is advocating that, because it is not me.

2) Obama and the Dems ARE not only advocating that, but implementing it. So much for your 'smartest man in the room' concept.

"competent state-employed workers."

That's one thing I do appreciate about you, Roy: Your endless creation of new oxymorons.

...and lies
plenty of lies, it was packed with.

Obama last night: There were no earmarks...blah, blah, blah..

Reality: There are over 9,000 and counting earmarks in the stimulus bill so far.

don't forget..
all the gulag schools that will get repainted...only to be vandalized again. Politicians always target the money for their pet projects, now we see the new messiah Obama is just the same, and he has to also has a lot of paybacks to dole out.

don't forget..
all the gulag schools that will get repainted...only to be vandalized again. Politicians always target the money for their pet projects, now we see the new messiah Obama is just the same, and he has to also has a lot of paybacks to dole out.

A waste of money
There's probably not a person in the country who doesn't think he can come up with a better stimulus plan than the one that's ended up on the president's desk. One person's pork is another person's paycheck.

Our current prez at least has the virtue of consulting all sides while mixing the recipe. No one can say he's been left out. And that was decidedly NOT the case with the last people we had running things. All their advisory panels ran the gamut from A to A.

Not many people are happy with the giveaways to the banks.. other than the bankers. But there's quite a lot of money going into road and school repairs and new construction. And such "shovel ready" projects do in fact perform double service. They offer wages to underemployed people in the depressed construction industry and they give us finished products that everyone in society can benefit from for the next many years.

We need more expenditures like that.. probably fewer expenditures like our very fine Teapot Museum in Sparta, NC, which you should visit some time. As we say down here, it's "rail purdy". All paid for, too.

Palestine as it was
I see you're a fan of Joan Peters. Right.. there were no Palestinians. The entire Middle East was teeming with people except, inexplicably, for the fertile coastal strip south of Lebanon. Which was empty.

And the only people to be found in Palestine were day trippers from Jordan. That would explain why, when the Israeli armed forces drove the Palestinians into Transjordan in 1948, the Jordanians disavowed them.. and have treated them as unwanted refugees ever since.

No, there were many people living in Palestine back when the European Jews began coming. And whether you call them Arabs or Hittites or Hottentots, they were the inhabitants of Palestine. That's why, for convenience, everyone but you calls them the Palestinians.

The Brits even counted them, back in 1946. What they found was a total of 1,076,0780 Muslim Arabs, 145,060 Christians, mostly Arab, 608,230 Jews and 15,490 "others". The proportions living in the various districts of Palestine in that year are conveniently displayed here:

http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Maps/Story574.html

Note that the only district in which there was a Jewish majority was Jaffa. Naturally, countless Zionist revisionists over the ensuing decades have tried to obscure this inconvenient census data.

Anyone thinking that this ancient villager community, bound to the land over many centuries in a feudal system, all decided to pack up and git one day because shadowy masters told them to is profoundly self-deluded.

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