I do view myself as a centrist in politics. Or perhaps more accurately, as an apolitical political scientist.
I've never had a strong party identification, either during that half of my life when I voted in the US, or the latter half voting in Israel.
I view politics as the essence of civilization, the best way of dealing with disputes, and fascinating. I ponder what happens, and have done systematic research like a scientist examines microbes, or a physician examining patients in a hospital ward. I've paid most attention to the interesting cases.
Yet I am also a citizen, committed to voting if not committed to voting in any particular direction.
Responses to these notes have claimed that I am a over the edge of good sense in both rightist and leftist directions. I take those comments as reinforcing my view of myself as apolitical, or as a centrist. Sometimes thinking here and sometimes there.
Currently I have a problem. While I am not yet clear about what I'll do on March 17th, I'll use the rest of this note to organize my pondering. I may even reach a decision. But it will not be something so certain as to warrant campaigning in behalf of one party or another.
I won't claim that what comes reflects anything wider than my own thoughts, but the problem is widespread. Lots of voters are having trouble deciding.
The issue is not new. Since the late 1970s, Israeli voters have looked for alternatives to the major parties. Options have risen and fallen, each claiming to represent a center, and to offer something new and exciting. Among them have been organizations led by Yosef (Tommy) Lapid (Shinui, i.e., Change), and more recently his son Yair. Yair's There is a Future rocketed upward in the last election, and now is in trouble. Among its problems is a competitor for the new and exciting, led by Moshe Kahlon with the name Kulanu (All of Us).
The primary issue at the present time, as I see it, is Israel's position in the world. All the parties are also talking about one or another domestic abomination which they promise to solve. Israel's economy is firmly structured, heavily dependent on imports and exports. Moreover, the Bank of Israel is a powerful player, concerned to maintain fiscal responsibility. It gets in the way of demagogues wanting to spend what is necessary to make everyone happy. Thus, domestic things are not likely to change dramatically. Doubters should consider the career of Yair Lapid. He came to the Finance Ministry supported by his new party that won 19 Knesset seats, promised a lot and delivered very little, and is now polling in the range of 7-9 seats.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Israel's international standing is in crisis. The Palestinians and their friends, including Jews supporting boycotts et al, are not doing well. However, the perceived trend of growing support for Palestine is worrying. Israel would benefit from a government that does a better job of convincing others that the problem is Palestinian appetites, bombast, corruption and violence, and not Israel's willingness to make a decent deal.
As I consider the prime ministerial career of Benyamin Netanyahu, I see a moderate who talks in hyperbole to maintain the support of the right wing, but is cautious in operating. The best recent example is his leadership along with Defense Minister Ya'alon and heads of the IDF in Gaza. They punished Hamas and its friends enough to expect some time of quiet, without the folly of trying to conquer Gaza and then do something with its million people.
However, Bibi is also part of our problem. Justly or not, his reputation is as someone who can't make a deal with Palestinians; who is like them in rejecting all proposals.
If you are interested in the various sides of Bibi, David Brooks' op-ed is as good as I've seen.
Non-binding parliamentary resolutions should not bother us, but efforts of the EU to discriminate against products coming from Israeli settlements over the 1967 border are a cause for worry. They are also unjust, given Israeli efforts in 2000 and 2008 to reach an accord, as well as the jobs that Israeli entities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank provide to Palestinians.
So with all the problems in deciding about truth or justice in the various claims, it may be time to give someone else a chance.
The Herzog-Livni option, now calling the Labor Party the Zionist Camp, appears to me as the only alternative. Jewish Home led by Naftali Bennett is substantially further than Natanyahu into the nether land of wanting to possess all of the Land of Israel, however that is defined geographically, and whatever they'll do with a million and more Arabs.
Parties headed by Moshe Kahlon and Yair Lapid attract Israelis disaffected with the major parties and dreaming of governmental miracles, but their lack of governmental experience and their small-to-middle size of projected MK delegations will limit them.
Livni would be the point person on a peace process if Zionist Camp does well enough in the election and post-election maneuverings to form a government.
That's not an especially attractive possibility. She did poorly in negotiating Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2006, and could not move the Palestinians from their tired old posture during the recent process promoted by John Kerry and Barack Obama. To be sure, she had Netanyahu on her back, but she did not prove capable of dealing with him any better than she could deal with Mahmoud Abbas.
It may not be appropriate to rule out Likud, especially if the Palestinians remain on their high road of demanding everything imaginable and going to the UN, the International Court of Justice, and arousing the campuses against us. Bibi is a good man to counter-attack. Results of the Likud primary are more encouraging than frightening. The relative centrists who have worked with him have done well, and have scored high enough to be worthy of ministries or the leadership of Knesset committees. The most mad of Likud rightists, Moshe Feiglin, concerned about establishing a major Judaic presence on the Temple Mount, was targeted for liquidation by more responsible Likudniks, and came in too low to be assured of a Knesset seat.
I have not mentioned Meretz or the ultra-Orthodox parties, which are outside my range. Likewise the Arab parties. There are some figures in the Arab cluster who I enjoy watching. Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi put on a good show. As I've written several times, however, they rule themselves out of effectiveness and punish their constituents by persistent and shrill opposition to just about everything. If they could learn the political skill of going along in order to get something, they may yet make a contribution to our corner of civilization.
Dov Khenin is the Jew in the present Knesset delegation of Hadash (The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), the largely Arab party that evolved from the Israeli Communist Party. He is worthy of support for his skill and commitment in the field of environmental protection. I have not ruled out voting for his party if I can't get myself into the mood for Likud or Zionist Camp, and feel that protest is the most satisfying option. This option assumes that Hadash remains an independent party. Arab politicians have been discussion without deciding the formation of a united list that may or may not include Hadash.
If this election is like others, there'll also been a number of odd balls out there in the weeds, none of them likely to get enough votes to enter the Knesset. Some years ago a retirees' party succeeded in putting several of its people in the Knesset, then got into trouble when one of its older than me male MKs made some unacceptable overtures to one of its older than me female MKs. There has been a party committed to legalizing marijuana; a party of taxi drivers wanting higher fares and fewer taxis; a party demanding more rights for men in cases of divorce and child custody; and a few whose campaigns were so confused as to make it difficult to describe them on less than a full page.
I'm likely to be pondering and muttering for some time to come. However, it won't make a helluva lot of difference how I or anyone else decides to vote, or not to vote. It appears very likely from the polls that the largest parties (i.e.,Likud and Zionist Camp) will have 20-26 Knesset seats. One of them will be given the go ahead by the President to begin looking for coalition partners that can achieve a majority vote in the Knesset. We can expect that whatever government emerges will be weakened by internal unrest. Posturing, and highly diluted legislation are more likely than significant changes in policy. A change in tone at the top may help Israel's international standing, but the Palestinians will continue to be Palestinians, Europeans will continue to be Europeans, and Americans may be tied up for the next two years with party squabbles.
If one of the parties begins to show a clear advantage in the polls, it may be wise to vote for it, with the intention of adding one's tiny weight to strengthening the future prime minister, and thereby hoping for a more decisive government.
Lots to ponder, with another two and one half months to deal with party rhetoric, polls, commentary, national and international developments.