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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Israeli Election Update - a Primer

In today's JPost we see both of the incumbent 'major parties' - Labor and Likud - trying to differentiate themselves from Kadima Achora. Labor is going to the left and Likud is going to the right.

Alas, in Israeli politics, one never knows whom one can trust. Recall that in the 1992 campaign, Yitzchak Rabin swore up and down that he would never let Israel leave the Golan Heights. And upon his election, he proceeded to try - unsuccessfully - to do just that. More recently, in 2003, Ariel Sharon campaigned on a platform of no unilateral withdrawals, while his opponent, Amram Mitzna, proposed to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. Sharon won the election - and proceeded to immediately adopt Mitzna's platform. What I'm telling you is, in Israeli politics, things are never as they appear (including - especially - in poll numbers: recall the 1996 elections when every poll, including the polls that took place after the voting, indicated that Shimon Peres would defeat Binyamin Netanyahu. We all know what happened there). But I'll try to fill in the gaps for you anyway.

Peretz may back e. J'lem compromise

Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz is expected to propose a partial withdrawal from east Jerusalem under a final peace settlement with the Palestinians when he presents the party platform at a party meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, a Labor Party official said on Saturday.

While the platform will stress keeping Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem under Israeli control, it is likely to support handing over Arab neighborhoods, said the official.

Although Peretz hinted at the move during an interview with The Jerusalem Post last month, the official unveiling of the platform will be the first time a mainstream party openly states that it will give up parts of Jerusalem.

Labor MK Yuli Tamir told The Associated Press over the weekend that the platform would state that Labor backs a "united Jerusalem consisting of its Jewish neighborhoods. This is a statement that we are willing to give up the Muslim neighborhoods of Jerusalem in order to strengthen the Jewish majority."

Kadima and Likud officials attacked Labor for adopting a platform that they termed "leftist and dangerous." The head of the Likud campaign's strategic team, MK Yuval Steinitz, said that "those who divide Jerusalem will invite Hamas and Tanzim terrorists, who will fire on Jerusalem and endanger the people of Ramot and Pisgat Ze'ev."

Kadima officials said that "Labor is under pressure, with a leader looking for a path and an identity, so it is not surprising that the party talks at the same time about negotiations and unilateral separation. The question is whether they will listen to their candidates or their American adviser who wrote an ambiguous platform."

Here are some of the problems with Labor's platform:

1. Before he went to Camp David in 2000, Ehud Barak tried to unilaterally give the 'Arab neighborhoods' of Jerusalem to the 'Palestinians.' An analysis of Barak's final proposal can be found here. Barak's pre-Camp David giveaway fell apart when all of the Haredi parties refused to back it - and those who were still in the government withdrew - because they realized that it meant that Jews going to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives could be fired upon from Arab neighborhoods.

2. Barak proposed doing this in 2000 - before the most recent Arab violence. Since 2000, we all know what happened to Gilo - for those who need a reminder this link is one of dozens.

Had Barak succeeded in his plan, once the 'intifadeh' started, many more Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Zev, parts of Ramot and Ramat Shlomo - all of which border on Arab neighborhoods - would likely have come under fire.

3. The one thing Barak could not work out in 2000 was the logistics. His proposal - a system of bridges and tunnels to separate 'Jewish Jerusalem' from 'Arab Jerusalem' - was sheer madness.

4. Of course, this all assumes the 'Palestinians' would accept such an offer. Given their response to Camp David, this seems unlikely.

5. When all is said and done, Peretz's economic program is basically a return to socialism. Much of the 'peace camp' is people who have prospered economically from the abandonment of socialism in this country over the last fifteen years. Although the polls indicate that 60% of Israelis are allegedly ready to compromise on Jerusalem, even that is only as part of a 'final solution.' Therefore, when all is said and done, it appears to me that these people are more likely to vote Kadima than to return to Labor.

The Likud, on the other hand, is trying to turn back to the right. Netanyahu will speak to the glitzy Herzliya Conference this evening and call for moving the 'security fence.' You can bet he is calling to push it eastward.

Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu will call for shifting the security fence eastward and initiating economic projects to help the Palestinians in his speech on Sunday night at the Herzliya Conference, sources close to Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu will stress the need to ensure that Israel will have secure and defensible borders. To accomplish this, he will recommend restoring the fence to borders recommended by security officials before Supreme Court decisions changed its course.

The borders Netanyahu will outline will include the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights, the Judean desert, an undivided Jerusalem, settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, and the hilltops overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, the Gush Dan region and Road 443.

Netanyahu gave a preview of his Herzliya speech when he addressed a delegation from the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday. In the AIPAC speech, Netanyahu said that negotiations could be conducted with the Palestinians based on reciprocity if there were a Palestinian partner that recognized Israel and would fight terror.

To help the Palestinians, Netanyahu told AIPAC officials that he supported economic projects that could encourage their economic development. Netanyahu is expected to elaborate on such projects in the Herzliya speech.

He has made a point in recent speeches of encouraging Kadima to reveal its red lines. In a speech at Tel Aviv University on Thursday, he accused the press of "hiding from the public that Kadima intends to withdraw from 90 percent of Judea and Samaria." The bulk of Netanyahu's Herzliya speech will be devoted to the issue of security.

Netanyahu would need to get laws through the Knesset in order to overturn those Supreme Court decisions. He would have to do that quickly. It seems doubtful that he will be able to form a coalition without Kadima Achora, which makes it questionable whether those laws could ever be passed.

Even if those laws could be passed - Netanyahu has a credibility issue. Note the following from the excerpt above:

In the AIPAC speech, Netanyahu said that negotiations could be conducted with the Palestinians based on reciprocity if there were a Palestinian partner that recognized Israel and would fight terror.

In other words, as Netanyahu used to say when he was Prime Minister, יתנו יקבלו, לא יתנו... (if they give, they will receive, if they don't give...). Yet, many Israelis on the right remember all too well that it was Netanyahu who signed the Why Why Wye Agreement, and who gave the Palestinians the hills surrounding Hebron. Do we trust Netanyahu again? We may not have much choice.

On the other hand, I have to say that moving the fence is a sensible idea to most Israelis - watch for Kadima Achora to adopt it.

The Post article goes on to make a big deal about how Netanyahu has no generals high up on his Knesset list:

Even though he only reached the rank of captain in the IDF, Netanyahu is the highest ranking soldier on the Likud's Knesset list. Likud officials said it was unlikely that Netanyahu would try to add a general to the party's list ahead of the election, but Yediot Aharonot Internet portal YNET reported that he met last week with former IDF chief of General Staff Dan Shomron and asked him to join. Shomron, however, rejected the offer.

Another general who could be asked is Maj.-Gen. (res) Ya'acov Amidror, who headed the IDF's military colleges and the research and assessment branch of military intelligence. Amidror was a vocal critic of disengagement but was against refusing orders. He helped write the plan for defensible borders that is being adopted as the Likud's platform.

Amidror said that Netanyahu had not contacted him about joining the Likud and that he did not intend to enter politics. Netanyahu has said in closed forums recently that "generals have to be in the army, not politics." The closest thing the Likud had to a general, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) department head Ehud Yatom, won the unrealistic 33rd slot on the list. He revealed on Saturday night that he had discussed the possibility of joining the National Union list with MK Aryeh Eldad.

My personal view is that Israelis have long since stopped lionizing the army and are too smart to care about the army ranks of candidates for the Knesset. Need I remind you all that Shimon Peres never served in the IDF?


At 6:51 PM, Blogger Lois Koenig said...


Thank you so much for this. It clarifies a number of points, as for us, in the Diaspora, Israeli politics can sometimes be rather difficult to grasp.

So Peres *spit* never served. Interesting....and telling.

Yasher koach!

At 11:25 PM, Blogger bind said...

Peres was conscripted to the haganah (the pre state predecessor of the IDF)

At 12:10 AM, Blogger Judah HaKohain said...

Awesome summation. it will be interesting to see what happens next. This year is even more screwed up than past years. I was in Israel for the 1988-9 elections and THAT was crazy!

At 12:35 AM, Blogger Judah HaKohain said...

Shimon Peres NEVER SERVED? Is this true?

What's your take on the religious parties? It saddens and angers me that there can be no unity or consensus between them. It seems it's all about the $$$ for yeshivot.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Israel and the Bomb http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/c/cohen-israel.html

... "Although Peres never served in uniform , he was the wunderkind of Israel's defense establishment. In 1947, at only twenty-three years of age, he was recruited by Levi Eshkol to join the Haganah headquarters staff in Tel Aviv, located in the Red House. Within months Peres took charge of arms procurement deals, something he continued to pursue in higher positions for years to come. After a brief period as the administrator of the Israeli navy, Peres was sent in 1949 to the Ministry of Defense's mission in New York, first as deputy and later as head of mission."

... For the young and politically ambitious Peres, there were political and bureaucratic reasons that attracted him to the nuclear project, beyond his belief in the project's contribution to Israel's security. Peres's rise in the Ministry of Defense was meteoric, and he enjoyed Ben Gurion's support; but he also faced resentment and criticism, even scorn, from experienced senior IDF officers, especially PALMACH veterans. In the eyes of these senior officers, Peres's lack of military experience undermined his credibility on national security issues. These officers also had reservations about investing the nation's limited defense resources in the nuclear project, which many regarded as a fantasy....

Peres was right about Israel's nuclear capability - he must be given credit for that. But he never served in uniform. Unlike every other Prime Minister Israel has had (certainly at least in the last thirty years).

At 5:36 AM, Blogger Politicsgirl101 said...

Who cares, remember Pollard, Peres betrayed him!


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