What the elections mean - an array of views

Abe Foxman, Jack Straw, Isi Leibler, Efraim Inbar,Shlomo Avineri and more.

olmert looks out window  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert looks out window
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Abe Foxman: The majority of public is saying that they agree with the idea that Israel has no peace partner and must act unilaterally to determine Israel's future. They are saying that the social agenda is important to them, something fairly new in Israeli elections. And, they are saying that they want the center to be the prevailing view but aren't sure about the individual leadership, which is understandable since Sharon was seen as the leader and Olmert has never stood before the public in this role. Finally, by the strong vote for smaller and special-issue parties, they are expressing less confidence in the system as a whole. Israel faces major strategic challenges - Iran, Hamas, US-Israel relations, another disengagement, social and economic questions. I hope the parties that are for Israel determining its own destiny will come together under Olmert to form a government, one that is strong enough to act. This may require concessions to Labor on social issues and horse-trading with other parties. This is democratic politics in order to assure that Israel can be strong in the face of enemies who mean business. The writer is national director of the ADL (New York). Jack Straw: I warmly congratulate Ehud Olmert and the Kadima party on their election victory. We will have new governments in place in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority within the coming weeks. I hope that both sides will do all they can to find a permanent solution to the conflict. I look forward to meeting Mr. Olmert soon to discuss how we can take the peace process forward. The writer is UK secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs (London). Jonathan Rosenblum: The two major results of Tuesday's election were the marginalization of the political Right (32 seats even including Israel Beiteinu) and the repudiation of free-market economics and its avatar Binyamin Netanyahu. In forming a coalition, Ehud Olmert can expect expensive demands from Labor, Shas and the Pensioners. Where the money can be found to meet those demands - and for further withdrawals as well - is anybody's guess. If Amir Peretz - who understands nothing of economics and what he does understand is wrong - becomes finance minister, look for the stock market to plummet and the Israeli economy to resemble the stagnant economies of Western Europe. The writer, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and Maariv, is director of Am Echad, an Orthodox media resource organization (Jerusalem). Yehuda Avner: Though dull, this election was exceptional in that our political leaders for once did not mean the opposite of what they said, but said what they actually meant. Hence, it was, indeed, a referendum on Ehud Olmert's plan to separate from the Palestinians by circling the wagons and slamming shut the gates of the security fence. This election did not empower him to go that far, nor will his coalition. It will be a coalition with a strong social agenda, but little coherence concerning Olmert's radical unilateral pull-out plan. If he, nevertheless, seeks to implement it, as Sharon did his, we shall have new elections in two years time. The writer is a veteran diplomat who has served on the staff of five prime ministers (Jerusalem). Itzhak Oren: The message of the election is: "We are sick and tired of all this. Even tired of protesting. Let us rest (Kadima) and/ or retire." I was surprised, but I always am. Next? Free kalnoit (electric vehicle used by the elderly) to every worker? The writer is a retired diplomat and senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies (Ramat Gan). Seymour D. Reich: Israel Policy Forum congratulates Israel's Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Kadima Party on their victory in today's election, one of the most important in Israel's history. The election amounted to a referendum on Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank. The Israeli voters have spoken. A clear majority endorses the platforms of those parties advocating withdrawal from most of the West Bank, either through negotiations or unilaterally. I'd like to see American Jews and Americans who care about Israel's future to heed the declared wishes of the Israeli people. IPF has explicitly and consistently supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the preferred solution of most Israelis. The writer is president of the Israel Policy Forum (Washington). David Bedein: The Likud and National Union/ National Religious Party lost because they gave the impression to the Israeli public that they cared only about themselves. The outreach campaign of the "national union/national religious camp" articulately addressed the suffering of Israelis who were evicted from their homes in Gush Katif and Samaria, yet without a word as to the suffering endured by economically depressed Israeli development towns that border on Gaza in the Negev, who now live under daily artillery bombardment as a direct result of Israel's hasty retreat from Gaza six months ago. Likud sealed its fate in the spring of 2003 when Binyamin Netanyahu, as the minister of finance, slashed allocations for pensioners, for handicapped people and for children without providing a viable alternative. So there you have it. The Likud and the National Union/National Religious Party presented a clear, strong security program, yet both neglected to address the vital health, economic and social disaster of the indigent sector of Israeli society The writer heads the Israel Resource News Agency (Jerusalem). Aryeh Green: This is no vindication of Sharon. Israel voted against the corruption and economic callousness of Likud, against the economic socialism (and corruption) of Labor, against the ideological anti-religious stance of the hard Left and against the impractical inflexibility of the hard Right. And of course the majority of the electorate voted against Kadima and Olmert by voting for other parties. Perhaps a rejection of the Greater Israel ideology, this vote does not reflect any consensus on how, when and where this rejection should be expressed. The writer is a business consultant and former adviser to Natan Sharansky (Jerusalem). Stewart Weiss: The embarrassingly low voter turnout, coupled with the lack of an unequivocal mandate for any one party, indicates that Israel is still searching for a movement and a leader who can challenge, inspire and invigorate an increasingly cynical and disillusioned populace. Until then, we seem fated to playing trading places with the same folks and faces. The writer is director of the Ohel Ari Jewish Outreach Center (Ra'anana). Roy Wagner: The Israeli public's low attendance at this election expresses a profound insight: that democracy has very little to do with elections. As no single vote ever decided the allocation of any seat in the parliament, voting is essentially a symbolic act (just like "democratic elections" held by dictators). Democracy, unlike elections, is about the participation of citizens in setting agendas and making decisions, about civic action and non-governmental organization. As long as citizens are denied the opportunity to make a genuine difference, democracy is nothing but a euphemism. The many people who chose not to vote this time (notably Arab citizens) demonstrate a deep understanding of this fact. The writer is a board member of Kav LaOved - The Worker's Hotline (Tel Aviv) Shmuel Katz: I'm glad Olmert didn't do as well as expected, but I'm afraid that what the people of Israel are saying is very disturbing. There is a definite listlessness - as seen from the low voter turnout. Nobody seemed to be very concerned which way the race would go. No one expressed strong opinions about anything. All the while, Olmert never really spoke about what he expected from the Arabs - only what the Jews would give up. The listlessness I referred to reminds me of 1933, the year Hitler was elected, and the Oxford Union passed a resolution that "this house will not fight for king and country." Has that become our attitude as well? I had no suspicion that the Pensioners' Party would do so well. Many young people (probably left-wing) seemed to have found a way out of not voting by supporting the pensioners. As for the Likud, it should hide its head in shame! I had advised Uzi Landau to leave the Likud. He's a man of principle and doesn't belong there. The national camp has no Churchill. But it must nevertheless take a line straight from Jabotinsky: Tell the people to prepare for war with the Arabs, because the enemy is thinking of war all the time. And we need to go back to the basics and explain - to the West and to ourselves - what this struggle is about. The writer was a member of the first Knesset from the Herut Party and is an essayist and historian (Tel Aviv). Michael Boyden: Few anticipated the extent of Likud's decline or that, by contrast, the Pensioners' Party would enter the next Knesset. At the same time, the swift and steep fall in support for Kadima harbingers a weak government dependent upon its coalition partners to remain in power. It is, nevertheless, heartening to note that the social agenda, so often overshadowed by security considerations, is beginning to receive public attention. Unfortunately, Shas and United Torah Judaism are likely to be back in power and we can say good-bye for the present to any hopes of breaking the Orthodox stranglehold on marriage and divorce in Israel, which leaves hundreds of thousands of Israelis unable to marry in their own land. The writer is director of the Rabbinic Court of the Israel Council of Progressive Rabbis (Hod Hasharon). Isi Leibler: Weary politically disillusioned Israelis used people power to mortgage their social and economic concerns as exemplified by the extraordinary success of the pensioners, the punishment of the Likud and the substantial reduction of anticipated support for Kadima. Ehud Olmert will become prime minister of a center-left government which will concentrate on societal issues. But his success as a statesman will be determined by the extent in which he succeeds in healing relations with the anguished groups who bitterly opposed him. His priority must be to reverse the dark internecine hatred that threatens to engulf the House of Israel and restore harmony and unity. Given greater tolerance and genuine dialogue the issues which divide us can be substantially narrowed, especially now with the Hamas barbarians at the gate. The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran Jewish international leader (Jerusalem). Ellen W. Horowitz: Based on the incredibly low voter turnout, I would say that a rather large, apathetic or frustrated portion of the nation is saying that they simply don't care. Security via a strong Israel, as well as preserving the sanctity of the Land of Israel no longer seems to be at the top the of nation's agenda (for now), but it will continue to be a major priority for a consistent, spirited and significant segment of the country. I'm surprised and disappointed that the Israeli electorate was so easily duped by a relentless and treacherous media blitz against one of the more competent and concerned political leaders of this nation, and that the national camp remains too politically immature and unsophisticated to effectively and strategically unite in a crisis. We will need to establish a solid, organized and fierce opposition until the ever-erratic and shifting Israeli political landscape is ready to change again. The writer is a columnist for Arutz-7 and author of The Oslo Years: A Mother's Journal (Golan Heights). Yisrael Medad: On the one hand, any further unilateral retreat most certainly did not earn voter approval in these elections as Kadima failed to break 30 and Likud, the party that actually fulfilled disengagement, was abandoned. As Avigdor Lieberman's home is in Nokdim, coalition talks will be difficult. And on the other hand, Israel's population displayed a bit of immaturity in the surprise Pensioners win, the recipient of the protest vote. Stability still eludes our political system. The writer is a settler activist/spokesperson (Shiloh). Efraim Inbar: The new Israeli political map is more fragmented than ever. Kadima, with about 28 Knesset seats, much less than expected, will have difficulty maintaining a stable coalition for the next four years. It remains to be seen whether it will stay a united party. The relatively low support for Kadima affects also its ability to carry out a grand unilateral withdrawal. The writer is professor of political studies and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies (Ramat Gan). Berel Wein: The demise of the haters. No more Shinui, Hetz, and the weakening of Meretz. In the stalemate of the election results one thing is clear. The Jewish people living here want Israel to be a Jewish state and not merely a "democratic" one. The writer is a rabbi and popular historian (Jerusalem). Shlomo Avineri: Voters are saying that both Labor's outstretched hand and Likud's iron fist failed to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians, hence further disengagement ("convergence") is the only game in town. I was surprised by the Pensioners' List success: apparently, a lot of Labor old-timers, who became alienated from their own party, still didn't feel comfortable voting for Kadima, and chose the Pensioners as the default option. What next? Hopefully a quick setting up of a coalition based on Kadima-Labor-Shas, going ahead with disengagement as well as rectifying some of Netanyahu's harsh Thatcherite policies. The writer is professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Jerusalem). Avraham Feder: No, this is not Chelm. It is Israeli democracy reflecting bits of ideology, political opportunism, gut feelings, thirst for revenge and ethnic pride. Our current "father-dictator" - lying in a coma - has bulldozed his way through our political landscape creating a virtual party which will now try to muddle through the political center. Will it become a real center with a national-religious Right and a social-democratic Left in constructive opposition? Who knows? In the meantime, our neighbors have voted Hamas and the world including the US is still interested in its own interests. Therefore - like the old song - let us praise the Lord but continue to pass the ammunition. The writer is rabbi emeritus of Moreshet Israel (Jerusalem). Elwood McQuaid: The people of Israel have clearly turned a new page in the history of the nation. Old alliances have folded and a new political era is at center stage. To say that I was surprised at the outcome is indeed an understatement, but I tend to believe it a reflection of public confidence rather than concession. What's next? Hoping they are correct. The writer is Editor-in-Chief and Director of Publications and Media for the Friends of Israel, Bellmawr, New Jersey. Shira Leibowitz Schmidt: There is a loss of trust in the large, dominant parties ("a plague on both your houses") and preference for small, sectorial parties as the repositories of our hopes. There was indifference to the future of the State of Israel by Arabs and Jews, demonstrated by low turnout, collapse of the Shinui and Likud parties, and the rise of the ersatz Kadima party (which has no institutions, no past, no real substance, no future). In contrast, and paradoxically, the haredi sector showed keen interest in the future of the Zionist state, with the Ashkenazi and Sephardi haredi parties increasing (UTJ from five to six, Shas from 10 to 13). The worthlessness of polls was confirmed by the seven mandates for the Pensioners' Party, for which the surveys predicted zero, and by the underestimates for Shas. The vote for the innocuous Pensioners confirms the lack of interest by masses in the geo-political future of the Jewish state. In a "morning after" conversation with religious Arabs, they told me that more than half their village did not bother to vote - something that surprised me. "Someone who troubles to prepare for Shabbat will have something to eat on Shabbat." The Jewish religious parties for decades have not only preached but actually practiced their platform: education, family values, respect for their leaders, and more education. Therefore they will continue to increase their impact on the future, the three religious parties having garnered fully one quarter of the total Knesset seats. The writer, a translator, is affiliated with the Shas school network and the Haredi College in Jerusalem.
Hebrew press: The National Religious Party newspaper Hatzofeh says the election results "constitute a very serious blow to the Right," and warns that "these elections are liable to bring about additional expulsions." The editors believe "there should be no doubts; we are heading into a difficult period." The mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot says: "Today, regardless of the result of the Knesset elections, we should consider the significance of political involvement in the period in between elections. It is much more important and influential than the question of whether we bothered - on the public holiday that we received - to leave home and put an envelope in a box." Maariv's Avi Betelheim writes that "The real surprise is [Tuesday's] mighty achievement of the Pensioners' Party [and] was the dimensions of the protest vote of the Israeli voter who expressed his view about what is happening in our political arena in the most sane way possible. Not only pensioners, but people who are chronologically far removed from this definition, chose the option of the Pensioners' Party out of feelings of abhorrence at Israeli politics and disgust at the widening circle of corruption in recent years."
Saeb Erekat (chief Palestinian negotiator): Two months ago Palestinian voters managed to confuse and surprise Israelis. Now Israeli voters managed to confuse and surprise us. Mahmoud Abbas (PA chairman): The result was expected. But what is more important now is that Olmert changes his agenda and abandons his unilateral plans to fix the borders. Amr Moussa (Arab League secretary-general): It's not comprehensible, leaving the issue of Jerusalem or accepting unilateral withdrawals according to Israeli whims. This will only lead to worsening matters. It is impossible to accept Israeli proposals that we have seen so far. Is there anything new the Israeli government can come up with? Many Arabs don't think so, so the Arab world has to look at all the possibilities. Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas prime minister): We said from the beginning that any Israeli step that will impose facts on the ground or undermine Palestinian rights, such as creating so-called temporary borders, is rejected and unacceptable policy.