Stengel’s complaint is the precise description of Israeli politics nowadays. To
a remarkable extent – and this has nothing to do with his views or policies –
Binyamin Netanyahu is the only functioning politician in Israel today. No wonder
he is prime minister, will finish his current term, and almost certainly be
reelected in 2013.
Consider the alternatives.
The number one such
option is Shaul Mofaz who is head of Kadima. Mofaz was a competent general but
is a dreadful politician. He may be the least charismatic man I’ve ever met.
Tzipi Livni, his predecessor, was a disaster as leader of the self-described
centrist party. Here is a list of her major failures:
• She did not take the
opportunity to oust the smarmy party leader Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when the
corruption charges against him piled up.
• She mishandled the coalition
negotiations when she did become acting prime minister, leading to the
• She barely beat Mofaz in the party primary.
Although her party had one seat more than Netanyahu’s in the 2009 election,
Livni bungled the chance for some kind of coalition or rotation agreement. True,
Netanyahu held the upper hand and had no incentive to give up much but that was
all the more reason for her to offer him a good enough deal so she wouldn’t be
totally thrown into fruitless opposition.
• As leader of the opposition,
Livni was a total failure, never providing a good counter to Netanyahu’s
positions and showing signs of personal panic that shocked people. Even the
anti-Netanyahu media couldn’t rally behind her.
So Livni was a
catastrophe; Kadima, itself a merger of ex-Likud and ex-Labor party people,
developed no personality of its own.
Mofaz’s record is quite bad, too. In
fact, as one Israeli joke puts it, in terms of damage, Mofaz accomplished in
three months what it took Livni 18 months to do. He said he would never leave
Likud for Kadima, and then did so a few hours later. He said he wouldn’t join
Netanyahu’s coalition, then he did, and then he announced he was leaving not too
over the issue of drafting yeshiva students.
that if an election is held, Kadima will collapse. Where will most of its voters
go? Almost certainly to Netanyahu. So Mofaz is bluffing and everybody knows it.
He cannot afford to have elections.
So there’s another joke in Israel
that the country will have “early elections” just about when Netanyahu’s term
comes to an end, after the end of 2013.
Then there’s the Left.
Labor Party has split, with the smaller, more national security-oriented faction
led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak sticking with Netanyahu’s coalition. That
group should also disappear in the next election.
The remaining party has
veered to the Left and put the priority on domestic social issues. That
might well revive the party – especially with the defection of lots of Kadima
voters – but it won’t win them an election. The party is now led by Shelly
Yechimovich, whose career experience consists of having been a radio journalist
and has never been a cabinet member.
Of course there were social protests
in Israel last year about high prices for some consumer goods and for
apartments. There are genuine problems. But these are the result of economic
policies that also brought Israel one of the best records of any developed
country in the world during the international recession.
And the fallout
from the Arab Spring puts national security issues front and center once
Along with this has been the collapse of the social protests. Last
year the movement could mobilize hundreds of thousands – though the media
exaggerated its size – and had broad public sympathy across the political
Now it is reduced to a few thousand at most. Why? Because the
loony leftists ousted the moderate leadership which had some realistic proposed
Yechimovich has no monopoly on picking up the support of the
discontented. Israelis are realists and know that, unfortunately, a lot of the
money intended to be used for social benefits now has to go to build a fence
along the border with Egypt and build up Israel’s defensive forces
Then there are various centrist good-government style parties that
are likely to take votes from Labor and from each other – notably the one began
Yair Lapid, whose father was also a journalist who started a failed centrist,
good-government and secularist party.
As I’ve often remarked, there is no
country in the world about which people think they know more and that they
actually know less.
We often focus on bias, but ignorance is equally
There are three key factors necessary to understand
contemporary Israeli politics.
First, Netanyahu is not seen by the
electorate generally as being right-wing and hawkish but as being centrist. He
has successfully been developing this posture now for about 15 years without
much of the Western media appearing to notice.
Second, Israelis don’t
really see the likelihood that different policies are going to make lots of
Arabs and Muslims love Israel, or bring peace with the Palestinians or end the
vilification of Israel in the Left. All of those things were attempted by means
of Israel taking high risks and making big concessions during the 1992-2000
period. Israelis remember – even if others don’t – that this strategy doesn’t
Third, there are no other politicians who are attractive as
potential prime ministers.
We now know that US President Barack Obama’s
administration thought that he was going to overturn Netanyahu and bring Livni
to power on a platform of giving up a lot more to the Palestinians on the hope
that this would bring peace. The editorial pages of American newspapers and
alleged experts still advocate this basic strategy.
possibly be less connected to reality.The writer is director of the
Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.