Saturday, January 26

Mixed Messages after the Israeli Elections 2013

יאיר לפיד Yair Lapid
יאיר לפיד Yair Lapid (Photo credit: Ronen E)
Shas party logo
Shas party logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu wins...
The Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu wins a narrow victory in the Israeli general election (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Israeli Elections have come and gone. The voter wanted change but could not quite get there. Most of the people here do not like Netanyahu. Many people told me  that there is nobody else for whom to vote. Many of us feared that Israel would move to the extreme right with the Otzma Yisrael Party  and its racist views  having some representation in the Knesset. This did not occur and that is a positive sign.

Most of the electorate were confused and did not give much thought to their voting decision. Ideology of political parties was not the main factor here. The freshness of two rookies in politics - Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid Party, with his right of center views,  and Naftali Bennett, of the  right wing Bayit Hayehudi Party had received a lot of support. The Yesh Atid Party became the second largest party, receiving more votes than Labor. Undoubtedly,the Labor Party under Shelly Yechimovitz, had failed and will be involved in soul searching. The "night of the long knives"  looking for a scapegoat for the severe electoral failure to make inroads of importance, is  beginning.

The election was fought over domestic issues, housing for young married couples and conscripting the ultra Orthodox into the army.The economy was also part of the campaign. One very important matter, which influences economic issues is the moribund peace process and how to revive it, was not in any party campaign platform. It was conspicuous by its absence. The national sport in this very.important sphere was the competition of all the center to center right parties to bury their heads in the sand and avoid this very important issue. It is as if ignorance is bliss. Placing peace with the Palestinians in the cupboard as not a vote catcher is dangerous for Israel. People do not realize that failure to address this important issue could boomerang resulting in renewed unrest.

Many people have said that there is no point raising the negotiations issue with the Palestinians is pointless and that "there is no partner on the Palestinian side for peace". My answer to that is a question " Is there any partner on the Israeli side?" Everything on the Israeli side is so settler oriented that breaking the ice does not seem possible.

It seems as if people voted for personality cults rather than on ideology. Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett are charismatic, photogenic leaders and this captured much electoral support. Despite the fact that Israeli voters vote for party lists, in the latter two cases they voted for the personality at the head of the party list, which is composed of many unknown persons.

The positive aspect of these elections is the weakening of Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu Party and he will have to negotiate with Yair Lapid and other parties to form a viable coalition. He will have his hands tied. It looks as if Lapid is not prepared to sit with the Shas Party in the Netanyahu Government over the army conscription issue which is sharing the burden equally with the ultra-Orthodox. It is going to take a while to form a coalition with very difficult and demanding partners  sticking to their positions.

The result of the vote is a move to a centrist government. This is a positive sign but much.depends on Bibi's future partners. I am not so sure whether the electorate realize that without peace our economy will not improve, especially now with the world recession.

Another positive aspect of the elections is the weakening of the ultra-Orthodox parties who stand a good chance of not being in the Netanyahu coalition. They are partisan parties looking after their own sectoral interests such as money for their "yeshivot" and lots of it, creating another generation of yeshiva graduates who will not serve in the army and will get stipends for being perpetual students at the tax payers' expense. They refuse to serve in the army. When one thinks of it, it does not make sense that they are exempt from the army burden. They see themselves as being in the service of God studying Torah all day and this is an important contribution to Jewish survival in their view.

The results of these elections leave many of us with mixed feelings. There are some positive developments such as the left wing Meretz Party doubling its strength from 3 seats to 6. Those who voted for Meretz did not vote for a personality cult but rather for an ideology that they represent. This cannot be said for many of the other contesting parties.

Much remains in Yair Lapid's hands to demand the coalition in which  he is prepared to serve. Will he be flexible and back down from serving in a Netanyahu led coalition if Shas joins? That remains to be seen. He really has one chance in the Knesset and if he joins up with Shas, his stakes will drop and he knows it.

Nothing is clear yet about the coalition and there is much speculation in the media. We must take a deep breath and hope that there will be no sell outs to the right and the ultra-Orthodox. That is Yesh Atid's big challenge.
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