American media outlets have been filled with speculation that the budding alliance between Tzipi Livni’s Ha’Tenuah and Isaac Herzog’s Labor into an odd amalgam called the equally odd, “Zionist Camp,” can win the upcoming March election. Liberal Zionists like Bernard Avishai writing in the New Yorker, offered hopelessly optimistic reports portraying the possibility of a center-left victory. Avishai and other liberal Zionist ‘usual suspects’ like Tom Friedman reveal, in these reports, far more about their own illusions than they reveal about the actual political situation in Israel.
And what is that situation? Look at it this way: it fundamentally doesn’t matter how well Likud does. They may have the same, more or less, mandates than the center-left party. Whatever the outcome for Likud, they will have more than enough like-minded parties to join with them in a ruling far-right coalition. In other words, if you thought this government was the most extreme in Israeli history, the future promises the same or worse.
Look at the latest numbers from a Channel 2 poll published on December 29th:
Bayit Yehudi: 16
Kulanu (Kahlon): 10
Yesh Atid: 9
Yisrael Beitenu: 8
Yahadut Hatorah: 7
Shas (Deri): 6
Arab parties: 11
Ha’Am Itanu (Yishai): 0
If you look at the left-right possibilities here it’s virtually impossible to come up with 60 seats for a center-left coalition. If you combine Labor/Ha’Tenuah, Kulanu, Yesh Atid, Meretz and the Arab parties you still only get 59 votes. Adding Shas (which seems an unlikely prospect), you’d reach 65. But the problem with including the 11 Palestinian party votes is that historically Jewish parties have refused to allow them to participate formally in coalition governments. So a center-left government is exceedingly unlikely, barring a major electoral shift leftward (which itself is exceedingly unlikely).
A rightist government, on the other hand, can easily reach a majority in a variety of ways: Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, Bayit Yehudi, Kulanu, Yahadut Torah, and Shas provide 71 seats. Even if one or more of the smaller of these parties doesn’t join the coalition, Bibi still will hold a majority. Even if electoral sentiment shifts between now and March, it will mean a shift among the right-wing parties. Very few voters will switch from the right-wing camp to the center-left. So the numbers will remain roughly the same, even if they’re distributed differently among the rightist parties.
So let’s hear no more of Sugar-Plum fairies and liberal ruling coalitions. Even suggesting the possibility is offering comfort to disconsolate American Jews who fret about Israel’s permanent right-wing majority without being willing to do much to stop it.
As I’ve argued for years, the Labor Party is irrelevant to Israeli political life. Tzipi Livni too is a dinosaur who somehow survived the Jurassic Era. They have nothing to offer the Israeli electorate. No program, no agenda except going along with get along. They claim to support a deal with the Palestinians, but when they or their antecedents (Barak, Olmert) had power they never realized such deals. So there’s no reason to trust them now, even if they were to win (which they won’t). As I’ve written here before, there’s not only no Left in Israeli politics, there’s no center.
I’ve also written here that electoral politics in Israel have lost any meaning. The far-right holds power and will only consolidate it for many elections to come. There is no conceivable way for a center-left coalition to win in the present system, which essentially disenfranchises Israeli Palestinians. This fact makes even more inevitable the one-state solution Israeli Jews have sought to avoid at all costs for decades. If Israel refuses full, equal rights to its Palestinian citizens, then the only recourse is a single state including all the Jews and Palestinians together.
Let this also be a warning to American presidents hoping for Israel to pull a liberal Zionist rabbit out of its hat. It ain’t gonna happen. Obama, you will have the same asshole you had to deal with for the past six years. Or, in the words of the inimitable Who song: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That’s why U.S. policy is doomed to failure. We will not or cannot intervene in a constructive way.
The only constructive initiative is the PA going to the UN asking for statehood and membership in international bodies like the ICC. These developments will, incrementally change the political environment and eventually permit U.S. presidents and the EU to do the unthinkable and be true honest brokers between the two sides.
The latest results of the Likud primaries (with 40% of the vote counted) show the top 13 spots as:
1) Yuli Edelstein
2) Gil Ardan
3) Israel Katz
4) Miri Regev
5) Silvan Shalom
6) Moshe Yaalon
7) Yariv Levin
8) Tzachi Hanegbi
9) Zeev Elkin
10) Gila Gamliel
11) Yuval Steinitz
12) Dani Danon
13) Tzippi Hotoveli
One of the most extreme of all Likud candidates is Moshe Feiglin, who is running in 17th place and assured of a seat in the coming Knesset barring any meltdowns in Likud popularity. These results confirm the hard-right ascendancy in Likud.
UPDATE/Correction: Further updates of the results show that Feiglin has not won enough primary votes for a seat and will not be in the next Knesset. However, there are plenty of other Likud ideologues vying to replace him by being as extreme as he is or worse. So those of you hoping for building the Third Temple or expelling Palestinians from Israel or Palestine: not to worry. There will be plenty of others outdoing each other for the moniker of “most rabid Likudnik.
For a similar Palestinian perspective, read this.
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