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Inside Out: Promise and delivery
By JONATHAN ROSEN
12/05/2012
There will always be a disparity between the promises that political parties sell to the public and the parties’ ability and desire to deliver on those pledges.
 
There will always be a disparity between the promises that political parties sell to the public and the parties’ ability and desire to deliver on those pledges.

Newer parties and candidates will invariably promise hope, change and – an Israeli favorite – a “new politics.”

Tzipi Livni, though hardly a new politician and in fact a senior figure in the governing coalition at the time, made precisely that promise in the 2009 elections, portraying her unwillingness to meet haredi (ultra- Orthodox) demands in coalition negotiations after Olmert stepped down as proof of her novel and “clean” political approach.

Yair Lapid is now presenting his Yesh Atid party as the a purveyor of “new” and “different” politics in the current race. To Lapid’s credit, one should note the clear positions he has taken on key issues, that truly will require a new and different kind of conduct in political corridors to be implemented. The diversity of his list, which is comprised of accomplished men and women from different parts of Jewish Israeli society – secular, national religious and haredi – also bodes well and attests to the seriousness of his intentions.

Lapid has decided to tackle a number of issues that have become increasingly vexing for Israeli society in recent years. Perhaps the best example of this is his plan for extricating the haredi community from a life on welfare, a plan that would allow them to be integrated into the workforce and, eventually, to pull their weight in national service and in producing tax revenues.

YESH ATID has also addressed other difficult problems that have been sidestepped by successive Israeli governments, such as civil marriage and other issues that stem from Israel’s unique but as yet ill-defined status as a Jewish and democratic country.

Depending on how the chips fall, Lapid and his party should have an opportunity after the election to prove whether their approach truly is novel and the politics they are offering truly “different.”

SHELLY YACIMOVICH has worked hard since her election as Labor Party chairwoman to revamp the public’s perception of her party in the wake of mounting public disappointment with the results of the Oslo process, on the one hand, and the damage to the party’s credibility that was wrought by Ehud Barak’s cynicism on the other. Yacimovich has been overwhelmingly successful on both counts, on the assumption that public opinion polls are even remotely accurate.

Since her election as chairwoman, Yacimovich has worked unerringly to shift her party’s central focus away from prospective peace with the Palestinians, with which it has been closely identified since the Oslo process began nearly 20 years ago, to a social-economic agenda. She has limited her public references to the deadlocked peace process to a bare minimum, while backing up Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on a number of related issues, most recently the prosecution of Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip.

Conversely, Yacimovich has been unsparing in her scathing criticism of the Netanyahu government’s economic policies and priorities, which she has lambasted with alacrity at every opportunity. Moreover, Yacimovich was successful in recruiting new candidates associated with her social-economic agenda, such as Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli. This has allowed her to increase her appeal in the eyes of younger voters from the potential middle class, voters who feel they have been under-prioritized by the Netanyahu government’s economic policies. Like Lapid, Yacimovich’s test will come after the election, when the opportunity either to deliver or to renege on her promises arrives.

THE LIKUD and Yisrael Beytenu, as the leading members of the outgoing coalition, now face the daunting task of making credible campaign promises, particularly in light of their poor track record to date.

In sharp contrast to its 2006 slogan, “Netanyahu – strong against Hamas,” and its relentless criticism of the “weakness” shown by the Sharon and Olmert governments toward the Islamic Resistance Movement, the Likud has spent the past four years strengthening Hamas’s standing as a legitimate Palestinian political power. The Likud-led government first negotiated the lopsided Schalit deal, crossing its own red lines by capitulating to Hamas’s demands to release mass-murderers, red lines that the supposedly “lax” Olmert had refused to cross. More recently, the Netanyahu government negotiated a cease-fire with Hamas, boosting Hamas’s standing within Palestinian society and across the Muslim world.

The Likud-led government, which in four years undertook no meaningful military or political effort to oust Hamas from power – despite an explicit clause in its coalition agreement with Yisrael Beytenu requiring it to do so – is going to be hard put presenting itself as “strong” against Hamas, or any other adversary.

The Likud’s partner in the current elections, Yisrael Beytenu, has a slogan that celebrates the ability of its party chairman, Avigdor Liberman, to keep “his word” (“mila zot mila”). But even the most cursory review of Liberman’s track record shows that most of the major promises he made over the years have not been kept.

Liberman failed to topple Hamas from power; he failed to bring about civil marriages, an issue of the utmost importance to the many immigrants from the former Soviet Union who cannot marry in Israel; and he failed to bring either the haredim or Israel’s Arab citizens into the fold of equal duty and “loyalty” to the state.

Liberman, like Netanyahu, knows how to talk tough and to stoke the flames of public passion. However, his ability to deliver, also like Netanyahu, has fallen far short of any of his major promises.

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

The coming elections will prove whether the tough-talking duo, Netanyahu and Lieberman, will be able to fool enough of the people enough of the time to win themselves another term in office.

The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.
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