Analysis: As US decides on its direction, in Israel we still can't

There are fundamental differences in the way the US and Israel do business.

November 4, 2008 00:08
4 minute read.
Analysis: As US decides on its direction, in Israel we still can't

Knesset 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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The coincidental synchronization of the US and Israeli elections provides a real-time opportunity to take note of a couple of fundamental differences in the way the US and Israel do business. The first is that when the US wakes up Wednesday morning, barring a repeat of the Florida fiasco in 2000, the average American will know in which direction his or her country is headed. If Barack Obama pulls off an historic victory, he will lead the county down one path; if John McCain pulls off an epic upset, he will lead the country down another. The American people will have spoken, and one will not have to be a decipherer of codes to figure out what they said. Not so in Israel. What the polls of the last week have shown is that the country remains split in half - almost 50/50 - between the right and left blocs. Israelis, as they do every election, will go to the polls hoping this time that a clear answer is given to the country's critical issues. Does the country want to withdraw from the West Bank, or not? Does it want to cede the Golan Heights, or not? Does it want to give up certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem, or not? What price peace? How much should be risked to try and attain it? Is it even attainable? Were Kadima to win 70 mandates, or were Likud to win 65, we would have our answer. But everyone realizes that is simply not going to happen. Instead, once February 11 rolls around we will find ourselves - again - watching parties with very different visions of the future trying to squeeze into the same cabinet. The result - again - is likely to be logjam, and we will once more schlep along until the next election. Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit wrote last week that the upcoming elections will probably end with the establishment of a national unity government. If Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni wins, she probably will not be able to form a center-left government, and will need to cooperate with Labor and Likud. And if Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu wins, he probably won't want to have only a right-wing coalition, but will rather bring in Kadima and Labor, if only because he realizes he will have the world to deal with. Either way, the country will have its say, but the day after - unlike in the US - won't have a clear reading of what, exactly, it said. Rather, the country will again be pulled in various directions by coalition parties with different agendas. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has become fond of late of placing the blame for many of the ills of Israeli society on the fact that the country lacks a defined eastern border. "When there is no [physical] border, there are no [behavioral] boundaries," he said at Sunday's cabinet meeting, discussing the lawlessness of some on the extreme right-wing. While Olmert overstates the case, there is something to the argument that it is unhealthy for a country not to have set, recognized and established borders for over 40 years. But as to that small question of where those borders should run, Israel is no more likely to come to a decision in February than it has been able to come to a decision during any of the other elections over the past 40 years. "America Decides" will inevitably be the voice-over for a promo on some television station in the US for Tuesday's election coverage. "Israel Can't Decide" would be an apt promo for ours in three months. And a second difference that has come sharply into focus as both the US and Israel face elections is the degree to which our concerns differ from those of the Americans. Soon after the Republican convention in September in Minneapolis, and McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, he took a small lead in some of the polls. That lead evaporated as trillions of dollars disappeared in the financial meltdown a few weeks later. More than a few pundits argue that it isn't McCain's position on the war in Iraq, on Iran, or even his selection of running mate Sarah Palin but rather the economy that whittled away his support. The Americans will vote their pocketbooks, and are expected to punish McCain for the fact that a Republican president was on watch during the Great Financial Crisis of '08. That issue won't even register on the radar screens of most Israeli voters come February. Here the determining issues have always been, and will remain for the foreseeable future, diplomatic and security ones. Even though large swaths of the population are suffering economically and the global economic slowdown will undoubtedly take a toll on the Israeli economy, this will not be the issue to decide - or even make a dent - in our elections. Rather, our elections will hinge on the "big issues": the Palestinians, Iran, terrorism - the so-called existential issues, "ones that matter." We, unfortunately, don't yet have the luxury of letting the economy determine our election.

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