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Pre-election politics as moving fractals
By SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF
11/04/2012
Think About It: The approaching Israeli general election, and what sort of political alignments will be created, reminds me of a moving fractal, where the image before one’s eyes keeps changing, but the basic pattern simply repeats itself in various scales and variations.
 
The current last-minute political commotion that will finally establish who will be running in the approaching Israeli general election, and what sort of political alignments will be created, reminds me of a moving fractal, where the image before one’s eyes keeps changing, but the basic pattern simply repeats itself in various scales and variations.

As the election draws closer, and especially after the registration of lists is closed 47 days before election day, the spectacle of the moving fractal will slow down, until it comes to a complete standstill on January 22, after which we shall receive a clear image of the make-up of the 19th Knesset. There is no guarantee that this image will remain static for long. Before long a new fractal will start to form.

Anyone interested in the dynamics of Israeli politics cannot but be fascinated by the constant fractal-like spectacle, that keeps us on our tiptoes, trying to remain abreast of developments.

Take the example of Minister of Communications and Welfare and Social Services (only in Israel is such a combination possible!) Moshe Kahlon. On October 14 we were informed that Kahlon had decided to take time off from politics. He assured everyone that he was not leaving the Likud, and would play an active part in its approaching election campaign. On October 29 Kahlon actually ran the Likud Conference that approved the common Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list.

Then, two days later, we were informed that he was seriously considering running in the elections at the head of his own “social” list, after an opinion poll had suggested that such a list would receive as many as 20 Knesset seats. Several days later another opinion poll gave the more realistic figure of 10.

On Friday, November 2, most of the commentators seemed to agree that Kahlon would decide to run, but were not certain whether he would do so because he was angry with the Likud’s socioeconomic policy, or because the initiative was actually the brainchild of Binyamin Netanyahu, eager to ensure that the Likud bloc would not lose Mizrachi votes due to the Netanyahu-Liberman deal.

On the night of Saturday, November 3, we were back to the October 14 scenario. Did Kahlon get cold feet? Was he made an offer he could not refuse? The immediate result is that the Likud, Shas and Labor do not have to start preparing anti-Kahlon list campaigns.

MK Haim Amsalem (formerly of Shas) has lost his only chance to get reelected to the 19th Knesset, by letting Kahlon hitch a ride on his registered party “Am Shalem” (Kahlon would not have been able to register a new party at this late date), and the Harvard will apparently soon be receiving a new student.

What have we learnt from the Kahlon twirl of our fractal? That Netanyahu has a real problem with the Likud’s Mizrachi voters over his socioeconomic policy; that unlike all previous election campaigns, this time socioeconomic issues have a good chance of playing a central role, side by side with the political issues; and that Kahlon might be a very nice guy with an engaging smile, but as playwright Bernard Shaw is reported to have said to a certain lady: “we have established what you are, now it’s just a matter of price.”

Another issue that is causing twists and twirls in our fractal is the American presidential election tomorrow. No previous American presidential election has had as great a potential effect on an Israeli election as the current contest is likely to have.

This is because Netanyahu has not bothered to hide his preference for his friend Mitt Romney, and because his most outspoken supporter within American Jewry – Sheldon Adelson – has poured many millions of dollars into the Republican campaign. If President Obama is granted a second term, it cannot be ruled out that Netanyahu’s and Adelson’s positions will have an effect on his general attitude towards Israel, though my feeling is that as a reputed “cold fish” when it comes to expressing personal feelings in public, Obama will not externalize his feelings, and the damage will be minimal.

Nevertheless, in the event of an Obama victory, Netanyahu will be attacked in the course of the Israeli election campaign on the issue of his crude meddling in the American election, though this is not likely to have much of an effect on the final outcome of our election.

However, at the time of writing it cannot be ruled out that the next president of the US will be Mitt Romney, in which case Netanyahu will not only be “King of Israel,” but also “King of the White House.”

It is said that the result of the American election will also have a decisive effect on Ehud Olmert’s decision to run in the Israeli election. It is said that an Obama victory will encourage him to run, though it is not at all clear what sort of list he will head, and who will be by his side. Tzipi Livni? Shaul Mofaz? Such a move will undoubtedly introduce quite a bit of commotion into our fractal, but once again I suspect that it will not affect, in any significant way, the final balance between the right-religious camp and the center-left-Arab camp.

On the other hand Olmert’s return will have a very negative effect on what remains in Israeli politics of integrity and moral norms, but this is already outside the sphere of our moving fractal.

The author is a former knesset employee.
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