In U.S. presidential elections, an “October surprise” is a sneaky trick engineered by a candidate to ensure a big bump in the polls days before the election. It’s hard to tell if that’s what’s shaping up regarding the upcoming Israeli election scheduled for Tuesday. But signs are becoming clearer that Turkey and Egypt have been working hard to broker a comprehensive agreement between Israel and Hamas that would create a formal 18 month ceasefire, stop rocket fire into Israel and IDF operations in Gaza, lift the economic siege of Gaza, free up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, and free Gilad Shalit.
One thing that I’ve learned after many reports like this in the media is not to trust them till you see the whites of Shalit’s eyes inside Israel. But the reports now seem quite uniform and positive with little static indicating potential hiccups (other than the as yet unsecured crucial agreement of Hamas’ Syrian exile leadership). So I think it’s quite possible there might be a major development in the offing before Tuesday.
I can’t say whether Barak, Olmert and Livni orchestrated this deliberately to save their tucheses in the coming election or whether the timing is merely fortuitous in that regard. But if there is an agreement it would likely give Kadima the slight bump they would need to pull themselves from the jaws of defeat. It would quite a deft political achievement, a feat Israel hasn’t been known for lately–so I suppose we should automatically downgrade the chance of this happening before Tuesday.
Assaf Oron tells me that Bibi is a terrible “closer” and often loses support precipitously in the weeks before an election (as was Shimon Peres’ Achilles Heel). He’s optimistic. But I pointed out to him that Tzipi Livni seems a fairly dreary campaigner as well and has given the electorate absolutely no positive reason to choose her or Kadima. The entire election seems to be based around what perfidiousness the other guy will pull if you give him your vote.
What DOES seem to be happening is that as Likud is hemhorraging votes in the run-up to Tuesday the big gainer is neither Labor nor Kadima, but Yisrael Beitenu. I can’t decide whether the ascendancy of a flagrantly racist, proto-fascist political party on the far right is a good thing in the way that Akiva Eldar attempted to argue in a TV interview recently–that the mask of Israeli democracy will be ripped off to reveal the ugly face of fascism lurking underneath. Somehow, this will mobilize the U.S. and world community against the peril and thus pressure Israel to come to agreement with the Palestinians; OR whether it’s a tragedy of epic proportions for Israeli democracy and points to a downward spiral toward possible national self-destruction. I have to admit that either option is possible and neither is remotely reassuring.
Steve Clemons also makes the former argument in his Huffington Post piece, Give Us Netanyahu, Please. It’s entirely possible that those who make this argument are being too cute by half. What happens if Obama and the international community have a failure of will, do little or nothing to advance peace, and we’re left with a Bibi-Lieberman rightist government which does everything but ignite an Arab conflagration in the Middle East. This certainly will mean the end of a viable two-state solution and this certainly would be a disaster for prospects for Israeli democracy. I’m scare, I’m really scared. For Israel, for the Middle East.