Bible Commentator

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Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

The Second Election:

 

Yigal Sarna (Yediot Aharonot) described Sharon – the Shadow behind the elections - as follows: "There he sleeps, the father of the people, the brutal god of war, the strong man of the Middle East, who built and dismantled the settlements in Gaza, destroyed the political movement he created, triggered the upheaval we are in today - and then disappeared".

 

He did not disappear, the election was based on his policy of unilateralism.

As Ehud Olmert stated:  ‘We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.’

 

Everyone seems to say the election is one of the most boring they can remember. I do not believe that to be the case. It is not boring; people are in despair that no short term solution can be seen. Israeli’s are building walls around themselves. There is no light at the end of the tunneled wall. As one Kadima strategist stated ‘Most Israelis are not looking for peace with the Palestinians. They are looking for quiet, for security, and they want the fence to be high enough so that they don't have to see them [the Palestinians] any longer (Lior Chorev).

 

The conflict will simply just go on. The elections had no competing strategic alternatives; it is only about tactics. It is (to quote Yossi Klein Halevy) ‘Israel's first post-ideological election’.  It is now clear that the election was more about the economy than any previous Israeli election. The religious community largely believing in their leadership about the beginning of the Messianic era is in theological despair and detaching from the State of Israel.

 

It was not boring; Israeli’s do not see any viable vision of the future that is peaceful. There also were no charismatic leaders; which may not be all bad. Maybe Israeli’s preferred defined policies. Olmert policies were specific; Sharon changed radically from his 2001 victory platform and then said he had no future plans after Gaza. Everyone says Sharon would have had 40 or more seats. Apparently policy is also not what Israeli’s want. Perhaps the politicians like the media did not realize people were looking for an economic policy which was no where in sight. Labor’s raising the minimum wage is a long way from a policy.

 

The electoral conclusion was an almost equal number of seats for those favoring the unilateral strategy (Kadima 29) and those more concerned about the economy (Labor 20 plus the Pensioners Party 7). The Labor Party also favors a negotiated settlement to the Palestinian conflict but if that failed they would approve the convergence plan. These three combined to 56 seats will be the base of the new governmental coalition. Shas (who are only interested in the money supporting their own people) or Yisrael Batenu can easily form a stable coalition. The new government will based on two different but not contradictory objectives - unilateralism and social democracy.

 

The right wing consisting of Likud – 12 and National Union/NRP – 9 totaling 21 seats were the big losers.  Yisrael Batenu with 11 seats sometimes considered right wing might accept what Alberto Spektorowski (Tel Aviv University) called ‘post-territorial nationalism’ meaning land is less important than Jewishness or Israeliness. (Some are concerned that this is rascist.) Their head Avigdor Lieberman has already stated that he was prepared to back a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, provided the plan met Israel's security needs. The religious parties Shas with 12 seats and United Torah Judaism with 6 are primarily interested in supporting their own religious organizations.

 

It appears that a majority of Israelis feel the occupation has become a liability rather than an asset. But no one not even Meretz led by Yossi Beilin ran expecting a Peace Agreement.

 

The first issues the new government coalition (weeks after Passover) will be the budget which needs to be passed within forty five days after the establishment of a new government (July 1); the alternative is new elections. Thus the power of Labor and the Pensioners (with either Shas or  Yisrael Batenu) will be a immediate as they will return the safety net back to the poorer classes. If Amir Peretz takes the Defense Ministry as many commentators suggest the money would go from Defense to the lower classes and pensioners.

 

The convergence plan will require several steps; completing the security fence, talking to the settlers west of the fence – essentially in Palestinian territory, negotiations with President Abbas which will fail especially given Hamas in the governmental background, negotiating with Washington and the E.U. The first serious steps toward convergence will not occur until 2007. The convergence plan moving in total perhaps 70-80,000 settlers East of the fence will be both traumatic and politically difficult - given Kadima’s only 22% voting electorate.