Politics: Myths and facts about a dizzying week

Likud goes to Right? Center-Left goes to pieces?

Tzipi Livni 370 (R) (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Tzipi Livni 370 (R)
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
After a week in which the Likud elected its candidates, Ehud Barak left politics and Tzipi Livni came back, veteran Jerusalem Post pollster Rafi Smith found that Israelis are more confused than ever.
In a poll he took Tuesday and Wednesday, he found a dramatic rise in the number of undecided voters. As many as 20 percent of the 500 people questioned for the poll had not made up their minds about what party to vote for in the January 22 election.
Part of the reason Israelis are so perplexed is that many questions remain unanswered. It is still unclear how many centrist parties will run, whether former prime minister Ehud Olmert will decide to enter the fray, or whether Livni, Yair Lapid or Avigdor Liberman will bring in a surprising celebrity candidate at the last minute who can turn the election upside-down.
All these questions will be answered by next Thursday when all parties must submit their lists of candidates to the central elections committee. But there are also key questions about the events of the past week that can already be answered now, and the truth is not as clear as it may seem.
Newsweek Magazine, which is set to publish its last print edition next month, had a regular feature on “Conventional Wisdom,” which it defined as “an informal distillation of the ever-changing thinking of Beltway pundits and the chattering classes.”
The following is conventional wisdom and whether or not you should believe it:
CW: The Likud moved to the Right
False. It cannot be denied that a Likud list that has Danny Danon sixth and Moshe Feiglin 14th is clearly right-wing. Tzipi Hotovely becoming the party’s top woman also solidifies the party’s right-wing credentials.
But the Likud was also right-wing the day before the election. Everyone elected Monday to the party’s top 20 slots was elected last time too, except for Feiglin and Tzahi Hanegbi, who replace Bennie Begin, Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan, and Moshe Kahlon.
Begin, a fierce opponent of creating a Palestinian state, was undeniably right-wing when it comes to the Land of Israel, despite the reputation he earned otherwise because he favored carrying out Supreme Court decisions on unauthorized outposts.
The dovish Meridor is gone, but his replacement, Tzachi Hanegbi, comes from Kadima and is pragmatic.
Eitan, who was a strange bird in Likud, was not re-elected, but neither was Kahlon, a former aide to Uzi Landau who was one of the so-called “Likud rebels” who protested the Gaza Strip disengagement.
The headlines the day after Likud primaries are always “the Likud moved to the Right.” But the truth is that since former prime minister Ariel Sharon took Likud doves with him to Kadima, the Likud has been right-wing, and unless they change how they select the party’s MKs, it will stay that way.
CW: Moving to the Right is bad for Netanyahu politically
False. Normally, winning elections in Israel requires ruling parties to move to the Center of the political map, where most of the undecided voters are. Not this time.
There is already too much competition in the Center- Left for the ideologically unaffiliated and chronically confused. Netanyahu doesn’t need those people.
He needs to follow the lead of Livni in the last election, who cannibalized her base on the Center-Left, That enabled Livni to claim a right to the premiership, because she had formed the largest party.
Netanyahu formed a partnership with Yisrael Beytenu because he wanted to build the largest possible party – and that, for many reasons, remains his goal. The main reservoir of votes available to him now is voters to the Right of Likud who would have voted for Yisrael Beytenu had it run alone and are now considering voting for Habayit Hayehudi or for former National Union MK Arye Eldad’s Strong Israel party.
That’s why Feiglin is a huge political asset for Likud.
Netanyahu would be wise to take advantage of what he brings to the party.
CW: Netanyahu lost the Likud primary
True. Had Netanyahu been able to build his list of candidates by himself, Begin and Meridor would have been in realistic slots. They are not.
Yuval Steinitz and Limor Livnat would have been in the party’s top 10. They are not.
Economist Shlomo Maoz, rather than Petah Tikva political activist Uri Farej, would have won a slot reserved for a candidate from the Dan Region,.
Netanyahu is lucky that his former aide, Ophir Akunis, is still in the Knesset, chosen by Likud members over candidates who have far more to offer.
When it comes to the diplomatic issue, the prime minister would undoubtedly have preferred a more dovish list that could have helped him make concessions if the Palestinians changed their tune.
Now, evacuating any outpost, no matter how illegal, will give him a huge headache.
CW: Adding an extra day to the Likud primary backfired
Neither true nor false. The Likud lost a massive amount of money by adding an extra day of voting following computer glitches, but it also saved money by avoiding lawsuits from disgruntled candidates.
Only 7% of the electorate voted on the second day, but the turnout on the first day ended up being higher than in the last Likud primary, so this was no surprise.
Channel 2’s Amit Segal revealed Wednesday night the results of the first day’s voting, which were saved in case of more computer problems.
The results indicated that Begin still would not have made it into the Knesset.
CW: The Center-Left parties should unite
True. Top political analysts in Israel wrote this week that Labor, Yesh Atid and the new Tzipi Livni party should run separately to maximize their votes. Polls showing Likud and Yisrael Beytenu winning fewer seats together than they did apart support that conventional wisdom.
But if they do that, no party will come close to the amount of seats Likud-Beytenu will win.
The only way for the Center- Left to compete was to form a mega-party with Olmert, Shelly Yacimovich, Livni, and Lapid, who each have their strengths, and with the outside support of former IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gaby Ashkenazi.
That way voters would think they are potentially choosing an alternative candidate to Netanyahu for prime minister. The end result would be a whole larger than the sum of its parts and a party that could ask President Shimon Peres to enable its leader to negotiate with the haredim and form a new government.
Now, instead of uniting against Netanyahu, Livni, Yacimovich, and Lapid will be attacking each other.
Netanyahu’s associates said he loves watching the Center- Left spar with itself.
CW: Livni’s return is good for advancing peace
False. Since the Center-Left parties will not run together, Netanyahu will undoubtedly be re-elected. Therefore, advancing peace requires making Netanyahu’s next government as moderate as possible.
The only party on the Center- Left that can definitely join Netanyahu’s next coalition is Yesh Atid, which has been weakened the most by Livni’s return. Labor, which may or may not join, has also been hit.
Any party led by Livni has no chance of joining a Netanyahu-led coalition, so any vote for her party is a vote that makes the next government more right-wing.
By that logic, the worst thing that happened this week for the cause of peace was the departure of Ehud Barak, whose party’s mandates went to Labor and Livni.
Barak had a moderating presence on Netanyahu’s current government, and he would have done the same with his next one.