Saturday, February 28

The Israeli Government Coalition and Peace Prospects

This illustrates an end to the dove of peace and continuation of the occupation while the political right entrenches itself.

As I mentioned in my last article, despite Kadima’s win over the Likud by one mandate, the next government will be formed by the Likud with Benjamin Netanyahu as the next prime minister. The Israeli electorate moved towards the right in their decision even though the split of the right wing vote went to many extremist right wing splinter parties who gave their support to Netanyahu. This was not surprising as the Likud is a right wing party. Kadima is a centre party that has many members embracing Likud ideology who left the Likud because of disagreement over the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005. The Ultra-Orthodox religious parties such as Shas and Torah Judaism are also in the right wing camp. Today religious Zionism is also well entrenched in the right wing camp in the name of Bayit Hayehudi and the National Union Parties which are basic reincarnations of the racist Kach Party of the late Rabbi Meir Kahana. Yisrael Beitenu will also be part of this horrific coalition.

It is a disgrace that the so-called centre to right of centre parties, under the respective leadership of Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party and Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party, tried their best to woo Yisrael Beitenu Party of Avigdor Lieberman, whose ideology is racist and anti-Arab. Even the so-called left of centre Labour Party was lukewarm to sitting with Yisrael Beitenu in the same coalition. To date, Tzippi Livni and Ehud Barak have stated that they will join the opposition. It remains to be seen whether Labour and Kadima will remain in the opposition for long. The temptation of sitting in the cabinet is great and the attitude of Livni and Barak could change for a whim. According to newspaper reports, Netanyahu does not want to form an extreme right wing coalition as this would be disastrous for Israel and would result in a collision with the US Obama Administration. The right wing is very settler oriented in the occupied West Bank and would maintain the occupation as well as establish new settlements at the expense of the Palestinians. It would put an end to any negotiations towards a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There will be no compromises or return of territory for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

It is a sad day for Israel’s democracy, which is already under threat, when the racist Zionist party, Yisrael Beitenu, will be part of the government coalition. This is bad for Israel and it will further exacerbate the tensions between Israel and its Arab citizens as the threat of transfer and loyalty to the state of Israel is dangled in front of their eyes every time there is an anti-Israel government demonstration and words are said that are not to the liking of the ruling coalition with its strong Lieberman influence.

The defeat of the left wing Zionist camp in these elections is because this camp became soft on its ideology and was not clear in its attitude towards the Gaza war. The left wing camp, including Meretz, was hardly involved in any movement towards peace. They seem to be more involved in gay rights rather than in seeking solutions to serious socio-economic issues that affect the future of Israel’s underprivileged and relationships with its Palestinian neighbours.

Tzippi Livni has stated that she cannot be part of the Likud led coalition for two main reasons:

Netanyahu does not accept the two-state solution and the rotation of prime minister at mid term.

Livni, on the other hand, will be under increasing pressure from the more right wing members of her party such as Shaul Mofaz to join the coalition. This could result in a split in Kadima and its eventual demise. Ehud Barak faces a similar problem in the Labour Party. The idea of sitting in the same coalition with Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party playing a crucial role in policy formulation is less of a problem for both parties.

Avigdor Lieberman has the audacity to even demand that Prof. Daniel Friedman remain the Minister of Justice! What right does Lieberman have to make this demand? Something smells rotten here. Lieberman is under suspicion of money laundering and various corruption practices which are under police investigation. It is unacceptable that a person who is under investigation for criminal practices even though he has not been formally charged can even be considered for any cabinet post despite his electoral success. After all, Olmert was also not formally charged but his criminal investigations resulted in his resignation and brought on these elections. Where is the promise of clean government? Is this the direction of the new Zionism? Right wing, illegal settler oriented which means more land grabs from the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank? Has Zionism become a medium for ethnic cleansing of the Israeli Arab population of Israel? There is a hint of that in Liebermanism in the right wing Likud coalition.

Let Bibi Netanyahu form his right wing coalition bloc with the mix of religious bigots and Zionist racist, right wing extremists who are his natural allies. This is what the voters want – give it to them! Hopefully after a few months the Israeli electorate will come to their senses when the Obama Administration starts tightening the screws on the follies of the incoming right wing government. The Israeli electorate is responsible for creating a right wing political monster that will be detrimental to any movement towards compromises for peace. The electorate also seems to have forgotten what Netanyahu had done for the poorer classes when he was Minister of Finance in the Sharon Government. The increased tax burden and the raising of retirement age from 65 years to 67 years were steps that should never be forgiven. The new government will not be "peace" or "poor socio-economic" friendly.

Sunday, February 15

“Post Mortem” on the Israeli Elections

The Israeli Electorate spoke and the results are most disappointing. They did not give any party an absolute majority as predicted. However, a trend can be observed and this trend is a very dangerous one. It is a threat for any form of compromise towards peace.

The trend is towards the right wing and an increase of anti-Arab hate in the guise of the fascist Yisrael Beitenu Party which holds the balance of power in coalition wheeling and dealing. The handwriting is on the wall and the peace that we need so much has receded into the mists. No matter who forms the coalition whether Benjamin Netanyahu or Tzipi Livne whose party won the most votes will be unable to form a coalition without Yisrael Beitenu. The various wheeling and dealing for coalition formation is about to begin and no matter how one views it, it is a disaster for peace and future coexistence with our Palestinian neighbours and the neighbouring Arab World.

The left wing Zionist Parties has been trounced. Labour can barely be called left wing these days as its ideology of social democracy has lost its way as it moves more towards the centre. They cannot bear the idea of being in the opposition and return to its original platform of socialism and workers’ rights not to mention equality of the various population groups living in Israel. It had even tried to dance tango with the right in adopting an expedient attitude towards the enlargement of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Meretz, the left of centre party had a very fuzzy message and their campaign was not convincing. It is not the party of Shulamit Aloni or Yossi Sarid. The party lost its direction.

What has happened in these elections is that the so-called Zionist left has lost its direction. Zionism is now the monopoly of the right wing camp. According to Gideon Levy of Haaretz, Zionism is an archaic and outdated concept born in a different reality, a vague and delusive concept marking the difference between the permitted and the proscribed. Does Zionism mean settlement in the territories? Occupation? The legitimization of every act of violence and injustice? The left stammered. Any statement critical of Zionism, even the Zionism of the occupation, was considered a taboo that the left did not dare break. The right grabbed a monopoly on Zionism, leaving the left with its self-righteousness.” This includes the settler movements in the occupied territories. We all remember the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution of November 1975 and the late Israeli ambassador to the UN Chaim Herzog’s reply. However, the results of these elections have given credence to the “Zionism is racism” resolution. It would not be surprising if a resolution stating that “Zionism is racism” will be reconsidered in the General Assembly of the UN for debate. If not, it will certainly come up for discussion in the Durban 2 anti-racism conference to be held later this year. Avigdor Lieberman-style Zionism with its racist approach is sufficient to redefine the Zionism of Israel today. Lieberman’s Beitenu Party holds the key to coalition building. It would not be surprising if the spineless Labour Party will be in the new coalition sitting next to Lieberman against their better judgment maybe.

Left wing Zionism is undergoing rigor mortis. Eventually there will hardly be any vestiges left of the tolerant, humane Zionism of the past. The moment a political party loses its ideology and its message is not clear, it will not attract votes. This is what occurred to both the Labour and Meretz parties. The people seek a clear message and this was provided by the right wing Likud and its allies as well as Kadima. The people voted for these two blocs and abandoned the left wing parties. The Likud and its occupation policies won the day and it seems that Benjamin Netanyahu has a better chance of becoming Israel’s prime minister.

The only left wing party that did gain was Hadash – the non-Zionist Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. It is the only party that stands by its ideals. Many disgruntled left wing voters decided to support it this time round. Today it holds four seats in the Knesset. They gained an extra seat.

Now, it is curtains down for left-of-centre Zionism. Maybe it will be the end of moderate Zionism only to be replaced with the occupation Zionism of the right and the racist overtones of Avigdor Lieberman and his ilk. Naturally the right wing religious parties will find a way to adapt themselves to accept Lieberman in a Likud led coalition which will arise under Benjamin Netanyahu. This is an ill omen for the future.

Saturday, February 7

The Israeli General Elections in the Aftermath of the Gaza Tragedy

The war against Hamas in Gaza has come and gone. The damage done to Gaza was horrendous, especially the loss of innocent lives and immense suffering of the Palestinian population. Hamas still appears to have its honour intact and there is still sporadic firing of Qassam rockets into Israel despite the declared cease-fire brokered by Egypt. This means that despite the outcome of the war, Hamas remains as adamant and determined as ever not to reach any agreement with Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist. This will influence the Israeli voting patterns very strongly.

The Israeli General Elections are in the offing and it is very difficult to show any enthusiasm for it. The atmosphere is far from that of the US Election where there was some hope for a new deal for the American people. A fleeting optimism was released when Obama was elected as president of the US. Here in Israel, there is none of that optimism. It will be more of the same and probably even worse for peace.

A very clear trend amongst the Israeli electorate has emerged since the end of this war. It is an almost foregone conclusion that the Likud and the right wing parties will win the elections and the next Prime Minister will be Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli public will swing to the right and racial overtones will be very much of the right wing campaign for votes. Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant from Moldavia, will become a very important factor. His ideology is similar to the defunct racist Kach Party. His Yisrael Beteinu Party, which is racist and anti-Arab, is embarking on a campaign of citizenship for Israeli Arabs based on their loyalty to the state. This is abominable! What criteria will be adopted to assess Israeli Arab loyalty to Israel? How will this be put into practice? Does he expect Arab citizens of Israel to be Zionists and if not, agree to transfer out of Israel? Lieberman was instrumental in trying to ban the Arab Parties Ra’am –Ta’al and Balad from taking part in the upcoming elections. He even managed to get Labour and Kadima to support preventing these parties from participating in the elections. Fortunately, the High Court overturned the Lieberman-run electoral committee’s decision and these parties will be participating.

The elections this year are very lack luster with a plethora of has-beens such as Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu attempting re-election as Prime Minister. There is also Tzippi Livni also having a go for that position. All in all the choice is not great. A vote for the Likud-Labour-Kadima triumvirate is not going to bring peace any closer to this region. After all, there is not much difference between these three parties. In any case, Yisrael Beiteinu will also be a part of this new government which will give its citizens pretty much of the same.

The voter who happens to be left has a real problem in deciding for whom to vote. Meretz is not the Meretz of the stalwarts such as Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid. It is a rather watered-down version of what it once was. The fact that Meretz supported the war effort in the beginning, despite the terrible loss of innocent lives, has driven many potential voters on the left away. The Arab Parties are no less one-issue than the extremist right wing Zionist parties are.

It is as if both the extreme right wing of Israel and Hamas has a common language in assuring that peace will never occur. Both sides are against a two state solution and both sides survive on unrest and hatred. It seems as if Hamas would like to see an extreme right wing government in Israel. This is obvious from the cease-fire violations that they have committed. Every missile fired into Israel will garner more votes for Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party. This will give Hamas legitimacy by proving that Israel does not want peace. This tactic will work in Lieberman’s favour.

The choice available to the Israeli voter is large because of the number of small parties participating, but the issues that are so important have not been addressed. Issues such as peace with the Palestinians, economic issues, education and so on have not been addressed by the main parties. Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party behave as if they have won the election. Netanyahu who always seems to have plenty to say at election time has remained silent. When he does open his mouth he utters some banality.

The religious parties such as Shas and Torah Judaism will wait for the juicy pickings from the winning party in order to feather their own religious nests. They will do almost anything to become part of the coalition after the elections. They need the tax payers’ money to maintain their religious institutions of bigotry. The easiest way they can achieve this is to extort whichever government comes into power after the elections. This scenario takes place every time once the elections are over and the results are finalized.

The voter’s choice in this lack-luster election is poor. The left wing has been shattered by Hamas violence that resulted in the Gaza War. Even on the left, there are those who supported the war and only after the injuries and deaths of innocent Palestinians became known, they did an about turn and ceased to support the war.

Israel maintains that Hamas used the Palestinians as human shields and this caused the loss of lives of many innocent Palestinians. Weapons had been hidden in the homes of many Palestinians who had been coerced under the pain of death to shelter Hamas militants and their armaments. Whether this is true has to be verified. Israel is also not truthful in its assessments of the situation and the total secrecy that it had declared on any information coming out of Gaza. Under these conditions it is very difficult to assess the entire truth of the Gaza operation.

The “disproportionate reaction” of Israel against the Palestinians and not only against Hamas is there for all to see. One cannot help not being outraged by the total destruction of many homes and towns in Gaza. The aimless wonderings of victims of IDF retaliation looking for their possessions and families buried in the rubble is heart rending.

Israel’s reaction to the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas militants over the last 8 years is understandable. The heavy loss of innocent Palestinian lives is not justifiable.

While Hamas does not show any signs of wishing to negotiate with Israel or recognizing Israel’s rights to exist makes it very difficult if not impossible to reach an agreement with them. Despite this, one must also remember that Israel is an expert at double talk. On the one hand Israel claims that it has no desire to rule over another people while in practice, settlements on the West Bank are being expanded and new settlements are even being built. This surely results in the displacement of Palestinians and the encroachment of Jewish settlers into their agricultural lands. This also results in another nail being hammered into the coffin of the two-state solution. Even the Labour Party under Ehud Barak has been instrumental in establishing new settlements by stealth in the occupied territories.

The dilemma of the Israeli left for whom to vote has never been greater than in these elections. Labour is not left anymore but a slightly watered down version of the Likud and even Kadima. All three parties would even be prepared to sit with Lieberman despite his repulsive and racist ideology. Meretz has not tackled the important issues of peace in these elections. Perhaps they felt that discussing peace would lose it votes and it is not popular these days.

For the Jewish, secular non-Zionist left, the choice is even poorer. All that remains is to vote for a party that makes Jewish and Palestinian coexistence and equality a central part of its platform as well as remaining democratic in its ideology. This could send a strong message to the right wing racist Zionists of Avigdor Lieberman ideology that his message as well as the message of the right wing religious parties is unacceptable.