Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr popularized the quote, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” Nevertheless, under the headline “The crystal ball,” The Jerusalem Post boldly printed 12 predictions for 2012 last December. Looking back a year later, it seems Israeli politics is not as unpredictable as it is reputed to be, but that when it comes to the fate of the Middle East, optimism is unwise.
Among the 12 predictions, seven related to Israeli politics and one to politics in the United States; one was economic and three were about the region.
Arguably, all the forecasts ended up correct, except for the three on Iran, Syria and the Palestinians, which were the first three on the list.
Before beginning another year, it is important to look back and examine why each prediction turned out right or wrong, consider the consequences of each headline that did or did not happen, and ponder what might happen in the year that lies ahead.
Iran temporarily freezes nuclear program
The hope was that the parliamentary election that took place March 2 could be used by reformists to begin new protests that could build on momentum from successful uprisings in the region and obtain support from the international community, which realized it had made a mistake by failing to aid demonstrators in Iran in 2009.
“If the demonstrations will be bolstered by intensified sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and its oil exports, the combination could be enough to persuade Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by the end of the year that the way to stay in power and avoid a revolution would be to freeze his nuclear program – at least temporarily – in order to stop the sanctions and allow foreign investment,” the 2011 article said.
That thesis still holds true, but it is now applied to the next presidential election, set for June 14, 2013.
The hope among Israeli leaders is that sanctions will gradually intensify over the next six months and come to a head in June. That was why Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defined his deadline for the world to prevent Iran’s nuclearization in his September United Nations speech as “by next spring, at most by next summer.”
Israeli leaders believe that after the Iranian election proves as undemocratic as the last presidential vote there four years ago, the protesters will return to the streets, this time backed by the international community, and Khamenei will realize that freezing the nuclear program is the only way for him to keep his regime in power.
Assad falls, replaced by moderate Sunnis
There are still three days left this year for Assad to leave, and there are reports about possible destinations in Russia or Venezuela. But this prediction, which was backed up by prognostications from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, proved overly optimistic.
The death toll in Syria is now estimated at 45,000, but the leadership of the international community is not stopping it or forcing Assad to go.
The second half of the prediction has also become less likely, due to an influx of decidedly unmoderate fighters from Iran, Lebanon and Turkey.
Palestinians hold election, but not on time In 2011, the Palestinians set their next elections for May 2012. But Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon said that if the race would be held on time, he would grow hair on the palms of his hands.
Now there are no Palestinian elections set and the world leadership, which assumes Hamas would win, is in no hurry. European ambassadors told Israeli officials that their reason for supporting the Palestinian bid for observer status at the UN was that they wanted to strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
With world leaders not buying former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s message that Abbas’s ouster is long overdue, chances are that the Palestinians, who have not had a presidential election since 2005, probably will not have one in 2013 either.
Obama wins reelection due to Republican mistakes
This prediction could not have been more accurate.
“If the Republicans blow a winnable election, they have only themselves to blame for not finding a fitting candidate,” last year's article read.
The results of the race indicate that Republican candidate Mitt Romney failed to galvanize voters who were not white males, and his running-mate,Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, did not make a difference. The Republicans lost Hispanic voters, who they could have won over, and foolishly alienated women. Romney- Ryan was the first ticket to not win either candidate’s home state in 40 years.
What issue was not a factor in the results? Israel. We like to think that we are the center of the planet, and if you look at most maps, it’s actually true. But in Obama’s victory's victory speech in Chicago, he talked about the middle class, not the Middle East.
Lindenstrauss serves as opposition head
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss indeed released harsh reports on the handling of the Carmel fire and the Gaza flotilla incident. He did not finish his report on Netanyahu’s controversial travels, which were funded by millionaires, by the time his term ended.
After having a state comptroller who was more effective in pointing out the government’s faults than opposition leaders Tzipi Livni, Shelly Yacimovich and Shaul Mofaz, the Knesset elected the more amenable Yosef Shapira as Lindenstrauss’s replacement.
Israeli election initiated on budget
The Post predicted correctly that there would be no election in 2012 but that a race for the Knesset would be initiated.
The prediction of a March 2013 election was only six weeks off. The article said that the inability to pass a new state budget would be the reason for advancing the race, and indeed it was.
However, no one remembers that the election was initially about the economy except Yacimovich, who has seen her party’s support fall consistently as the agenda shifted to other issues that are not her strong-suit. A race that was not supposed to be about war and peace has been about war, then settlements, political corruption and refusing IDF orders, but not about peace and certainly not about the socioeconomic gap.
There is still time for attention to go back to the issues that were the reason for the summer 2011 protests. But prime ministers have a lot of power in setting the national agenda, and Netanyahu is determined to keep the economy out of the limelight.
Liberman is indicted on corruption charges
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein was supposed to make the decision about whether to indict Liberman in April. Instead, he waited until December 27 to announce that he would file the indictment on December 30. Meanwhile, Liberman made a deal to bring his Yisrael Beytenu party into Likud, which was brilliant in hindsight.
Had Liberman not made the deal, Yisrael Beytenu could have vanished overnight.
Instead, at least 10 of its candidates can relax, knowing they will be in the next Knesset even if their leader is barred from holding a ministerial portfolio for the foreseeable future.
Liberman will apparently chair the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee while a top portfolio will be saved for him.
Although he says publicly that he wants to return to the Foreign Ministry if he is found innocent and permitted to return to the cabinet, sources close to him have leaked that he actually would prefer to be finance minister.
One scenario that has been discussed has been to keep Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz in his post until the election for president in June 2014. If Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin is elected president, Steinitz would take Rivlin’s job and by then, Liberman could be cleared and could take over from Steinitz.
The Post predicted correctly that Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon would temporarily run the Foreign Ministry in Liberman’s absence. That Liberman would leave him off his party’s list of candidates and that Ayalon would become the prosecution’s star witness could not have been foreseen.
Mofaz wins and Livni retires
Mofaz won by a landslide and Livni did indeed retire from politics. For a few months, she was a senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for Strategic Studies and spent a lot of time lecturing in the United States.
But Livni’s desire to influence Israel’s future – and perhaps also to take revenge against Kadima – led to her comeback after a very short retirement. She formed a new party, took backbenchers with her from Kadima and drafted former Labor leadership candidates Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz.
So far, polls indicate that Livni’s venture is a failure. The Tzipi Livni Party is hovering at around 10 seats and not attracting any votes at all from the Right-Center bloc.
Instead, Livni harmed Labor, which had the best chance of presenting an alternative to Likud-Beytenu. She did not succeed in changing the agenda to the conflict with the Palestinians and, in her frequent campaign speeches and interviews, she sounds increasingly frustrated.
Netanyahu ruled out appointing Livni as foreign minister or giving her another title that would allow her to negotiate with the Palestinians. Likud MKs predicted that Livni would end up retiring again shortly after the election, in which case the MKs she elects could scatter to other factions.
Yair Lapid enters politics
“The Center-Left will not allow Lapid’s charisma and star power to remain on the sidelines in the next election,” the 2011 article said. “The most credible rumors suggest that Lapid will form an educationthemed party in the next election and that he will contrast himself from his anti-haredi father, late justice minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, by putting a respected religious- Zionist rabbi like Shai Piron near the top of his list.”
Right on the money. Piron is number two in Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, for which education is a central issue. Lapid set lofty goals for his party, which were quashed when Livni came back and crowded the Center-Left.
Lapid made a mistake by putting Beit Shemesh rabbi Dov Lipman in the unrealistic 17th slot on the party’s list. Lipman, who is the symbol of the tension with haredi extremists in Beit Shemesh, could have helped Yesh Atid focus on the issue that is its strongest. But Lapid put two Ethiopian immigrants on his list ahead of the Maryland-born Lipman, despite the larger size of the Anglo immigrant community.
Yesh Atid means “there is a future,” but the long-term prospects of the party remain unguaranteed.
Deri completes comeback
Arye Deri did come back, but he did not have the chutzpah to defy Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef by forming a non-haredi party that would run alongside Shas. He did not get his place back at the head of Shas, which Yosef had promised him, but he is part of a triumvirate of leadership and he is certainly playing the most public role of any Shas candidate.
If Shas fails to rise beyond the 11 seats it won last time, Deri will be blamed and tensions within the party will rise. The prime minister’s desire for housing and electoral reforms and a quote from Deri insulting Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, could result in Shas being left out of the next coalition.
Deri’s comeback will only really be complete when he returns to being interior minister and the kingmaker in Israeli politics.
For that, Deri might have to keep waiting.
Stav and Shmueli run.
No one wants Daphni Bingo. The article said this about the three young leaders of the 2011 summer socioeconomic protests, Daphni Leef, Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmueli: “Shmueli, who is the most pro-establishment of the three and is a member of Labor, is almost a lock to be a Knesset candidate for the party in the next election. The bright and photogenic Shaffir will be sought after by several parties. Leef has denied political intentions repeatedly. It doesn’t matter if she is telling the truth. After turning off a lot of people in and out of politics with her behavior and personality, no one is going to want her." All exactly right.
Israel continues to thrive
Whether Israel’s economy is thriving depends on whether you believe the spin of Netanyahu or Yacimovich. They each present valid arguments and convincing numbers.
But they would undoubtedly both say that Israeli hi-tech makes Israel look good around the world, that Israel has overcome a lot of obstacles and that things here could be a lot worse.
Their models for how to make the economy better are extremely different, which could prevent them from joining in a government together. But if Netanyahu and Yacimovich can put aside their differences, it could go a long way toward making the next government more stable.
The 2011 article ended: “There will be many reasons to be proud to be Israeli in the coming year. Quality of life in the country will continue to improve despite the many challenges ahead. And looking back at 2012, everyone will say that the year’s biggest headlines could not possibly have been predicted.”
The crystal ball was right on that.