Apr 20th 2012

Welcome to Israel seasonal political charade

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

With the victory of Shaul Mofaz in the leadership contest of the Kadima party, the fractious nature of Israeli politics once again haunts what remains of Israel’s peace camp. Mofaz is by no means a perfect candidate but he at least came up with a peace plan with the Palestinians and regardless of its merits, presents a basic political platform to achieve peace. At a time, however, when the Palestinian conflict places Israel in real danger of losing its national Jewish identity and its democratic nature, its centrist and left-of-center political parties should unite and form a partnership that could provide a serious alternative to the Likud-led ultra-nationalist coalition of Prime Minister Netanyahu. 

Unfortunately, all Israeli politicians are driven by blind personal ambitions. I do not believe that there is a single issue in connection with the Palestinian conflict that Labor, Kadima and even Barak’s Independence party could not agree on to move along a unified political agenda to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What prevents them from doing so are personal struggles over who should occupy this or that post and what prerogatives they may or may not be able to exercise. Jealousy over the titles of “party leader” and “Prime Minister” has manifested itself in the decisions by the outgoing Kadima chairwoman, Tzipi Livni, who is considering the establishment of a new party, and the television TV anchorman-turned-politician, Yair Lapid, who is also forming a new party, Atid (Future), in which, Lapid insists, no serving politician will be allowed – only “new people with new ideas.” Shelly Yachimovich, the Labor party leader, commented that Mofaz’s victory makes her a “significant alternative” to Netanyahu. 

Moreover, not only do these so called “leaders” have huge egos, they are also suspicious and distrustful of each other. Lapid does not talk to Livni or to Yachimovich, who has accused him of having Ehud Olmert, the corruption-charged former Prime Minister, as his political consultant. Moreover, they have also been outright dishonest with people as each one of them is trying to hijack last summer’s social protest by the Israeli youth over the high cost of living. In newspaper headlines, one can read that Mofaz would lead Israel’s protest this summer, Lapid is leading an anti-government campaign entitled, “Where is the money?” and Yachimovich initiated serious socioeconomic legislation only after the Israelis took to the streets. The real test for these leaders, who are capitalizing on the demands of the Israeli middle class, is to publicly condemn the expansion of the Israeli settlements and the added expenditures of hundreds of millions of dollars by themilitary to protect the settlers. 

To overcome Israel’s debilitating political party structure, there is an urgent need to support the creation of a single party consisting of the left and left-of-center parties. The leaders of Kadima, Labor, Atid, and others should group their blocks of supporters to create a singular party – something that is not unprecedented in Israel’s political history. The creation of the Labor party itself in 1968 was only made possible by the merger of similarly-minded Mapai, Ahdut Ha-Avoda and Rafi parties – based on the commitment to a two-state solution. Mofaz, Yachimovich and Lapid are intelligent enough to recognize the reality that it is security and the continued occupation of Palestinian territories (rather than socioeconomic issues) that distinguishes the political Left from the Right. 

For these leaders to campaign on something else other than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to risk compromising the center’s internal logic by gathering points of disaffection from the left and right instead of presenting a cohesive, distinctive political alternative. This is the lesson that they learned from the late Yitzhak Rabin, who wished to fundamentally change Israel, and campaigned in 1992 on peace and managed, thanks to his willingness to rely on largely non-Jewish parties, to form a clear majority of at least 61 seats in the Knesset. National interest must prevail and override any personal ambitions or party gains and a singular party is the only chance to garner significant electoral support that can seriously challenge the Likud-led coalition that currently has a majority of 63 seats and could further increase its presence if the left and left-of-center parties remain in disarray. 

Surprisingly enough, the sole politician who recognized this reality cannot run for elections. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan had the courage and vision to acknowledge that Israel should accept the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which demanded Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for full peace and normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world, and for good reason. InDagan’s words, “We have no other way, and not because [the Palestinians] are my top priority, but because I am concerned about Israel’s wellbeing and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel’s existence.” Right now, the Sunni Arab world is far more eager to make peace not through their love of Israel but rather, through their hatred of Iran. True, the Iranian nuclear program is a serious threat to Israel, but the greater threat to Israel is the colonization of the West Bank. If Israel persists in its current path, it will neither remain democratic, nor maintain its Jewish identity, nor ensure its national security as the Palestinians might very well abandon the two-state solution and opt for one state while focusing instead on acquiring equal political rights. 

That said, regardless of what peace plans any of these parties come up with, they will not work unless the political leaders demonstrate a real understanding of the critical need of changing the Israeli and Palestinians public perceptions of each other. This has, and continues to be, the pre-requisite for any peace agreement. Part and parcel of any political agenda by any party is to have a plan on how to involve the Israelis and the Palestinians publicly in the peace process and realize the concessions needed to reach an agreement. Indeed, every conflicting issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians has a psychological and emotional dimension that must be mitigated by changing the public narratives on both sides. Even when Israel and the Palestinians have almost reached an agreement, as in the 2000 Barak-Arafat negotiations and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas negotiations, they still failed to deliver because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were publicly prepared to make the required concessions. What is absolutely critical at this stage is for these parties to prepare the public by encouraging think tanks, NGO’s, universities, and synagogues to engage in public debate to seek a solution to the conflict only through peaceful means while encouraging the Palestinians to do the same. 

The Netanyahu government is charting a clear path towards disaster and it must be stopped before it is too late. This can be done only through forming one party comprised of centrist and left-of-center parties. Mofaz, Yachimovich and Lapid do not have much time to lose. Secure in the knowledge that he would win another term because of the current charade of the left and left-of-center parties, Netanyahu might well call for early elections. This is particularly attractive as he currently enjoys a perplexing popularity and is preparing to pass a law in the Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living overseas to vote in the next election.

Unless the leaders of these parties act immediately by coalescing around one party and abandon, in the name of national interests, their personality-driven ambitions, they risk becoming politically marginalized while jeopardizing Israel’s very existence.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."