Netanyahu Calls New Elections: Meet New Boss, Same as Old Boss


There’s hardly a better, more cynical analysis of political power relationships than The Who lyric, Won’t Get Fooled Again, which closes with the words: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Earlier this month, Prime Minister Netanyahu called new elections to be held on January 22, 2013. Ostensibly, the reason was that none of his coalition partners could agree on a budget. The current government is composed of so many factions, each with its own set of patronage and budgetary fiefs, that they simply could not agree how much each would get.

Aside from Netanyahu himself, another big gainer in the upcoming election is likely to be the Labor Party of Shelly Yachimovitch (above), whose representation should rise dramatically.

Besides the budget, Netanyahu always has his reasons for doing things that aren’t apparent to the naked eye. An important consideration for him is that there is no real leader of the Opposition, thereby no politicalthreat. That makes this as good a time as any.
Given the weakness of the Opposition, Ehud Olmert is jockeying for a political comeback. However, he is beset by a ruling in one legal case that gave him a suspended sentence (which didn’t preclude his return to politics). He faces another trial in the Holyland real estate scandal. So any return to politics could be stymied by a conviction in that case.
In many other democracies, Olmert’s legal baggage would preclude him being a credible candidate. But Israel’s center-left political wing is so fragmented and dysfunctional that for many he is an appealing alternative. Not to mention that Israelis have become accustomed to their political leaders being caught up in corruption scandals. The fact that Olmert faces two doesn’t impress a jaded Israeli electorate as a disqualifying factor.
Israeli journalists speculate that Netanyahu chose to go to elections now precisely because he knew the Holyland case could not be concluded and would still hover over Olmert like a cloud. The former hoped that the short campaign would preclude the former Kadima prime minister from gaining any momentum with the electorate.
Aside from Netanyahu himself, another big gainer in the upcoming election is likely to be Shelly Yachimovitch’s Labor Party, whose representation should rise dramatically. She represents a fresh, uncorrupted face on the political scene. She has embraced the social justice agenda of the J14 movement which commandeered the streets of Tel Aviv two summers ago. Two of its three main leaders have announced that they will join the Labor list. The only problem is that even an exponential improvement for Labor won’t put a dent in the far right domination of Israeli electoral politics.
Even if Olmert returns to politics and Labor improves, the math does not bode well for a center-left coalition. Yes, it would poll better than the Likud. But altogether, Likud has more natural partners than the Opposition and could easily put together a new ruling coalition.
According to a Haaretz poll, a coalition featuring Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and newcomer television journalist, Yair Lapid would win 25 seats as opposed to Likud’s 24. But together the rightist parties would win 65 seats, while the center-left would only have 55.
The poll also finds that Ehud Barak’s Independence Party might not even meet the threshold for entering Knesset, causing an end to the political career of this former prime minister and current defense minister. Though one has to concede that Israeli politicians tend to recycle themselves regularly and a shameful exit from the political scene doesn’t sentence anyone to permanent oblivion. Barak, who was Netanyahu’s political partner for the past four years, has rapidly faded from political relevance. He will likely return to the lucrative career as a defense consultant, which turned him into a multi-millionaire during the period between his loss of the prime ministership in 2000, and his return to politics several years later.
A Globes poll conducted two weeks ago (and hence not quite as up to date as the Haaretz poll) says Kadima, Olmert’s former party, now led by Shaul Mofaz, will fall from 28 in today’s Knesset to 4. Its seats will move to Labor, rising from 9 to 18.
Ironically, Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) party has no long-term future, as all such celebrity-driven parties have evaporated after one election cycle. It should be said that Israeli election polls are notoriously fickle and changeable. Results on election night could look different. But the overall calculus will not change. A far-right firmly in control of Israel will become even more entrenched. This is a phenomenon I call the permanent far-right majority.
For those of us who grew up as liberal Zionists, hope sprang eternal whenever a new Israeli election beckoned. We scanned the horizon for a new liberal champion who might finally summon the Right Stuff to reach a peace agreement with the Arab enemy. We cycled through so many over the decades–including Amir Peretz, Amram Mitzna, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak. Each of them carried our hopes and dreams for a better future – only to find them dashed when they lost an election or refused to carry out a peace mandate.
It may finally be time to stop wringing our hands with every defeat and instead to concede that salvation will not come from electoral politics. Especially since the likelihood of any liberal, pro-peace candidate triumphing in the foreseeable future is nil.
It leaves Israel with a right-wing majority that refuses a Palestinian state (despite one quickly buried Netanyahu speech that endorsed a two-state solution), refuses a return to 1967 borders, refuses sharing Jerusalem. Until now, no Israeli leader has even been willing to negotiate with a willing Syria about returning the Golan in return for peace.
Israeli party politics are a sham. They offer corrupt parties based on sectarian allegiances and wheeling and dealing like Shas; conniving opportunists like Barak, who abandon party and principle more often than Donald Trump does wives; and flash in the pan celebrities like Lapid whose party will pass its Sell By date the day after the election. The Knesset is a showcase for the extremists of the ultra-nationalist camp, who outdo themselves to propose and pass ever more draconian, anti-democratic legislation: criminalizing African refugees, and weakening the press and free speech. They have little sympathy for the poor and offer no safety net to protect them from the rampages of Israel’s free market economy. This permanent rightist majority represents the ultimate triumph of the settler movement, its absorption into the mainstream, and dominance of the political agenda.
Those in the center or on the left are at best like Lear’s Fool whose asides comment knowingly and ironically on the action. The business of state is transacted behind closed and not so closed doors, and involve Bibi and a few senior ministers. They make the most critical economic, domestic and foreign policy decisions, which are then dutifully ratified by the Knesset automatons. The far-right has its hands on all the major levers of power. There is no party or person who can gainsay them.
Unlike in this country, there is no separation of powers, so the Supreme Court cannot apply a meaningful brake to the most extreme policies adopted by the legislature.
If you read the lyrics of that Who song again you’ll see that they apply remarkably well to Israel’s predicament. All of us had such high hopes for a democratic Israel, just as the narrator of the song celebrates his “revolution” and “new constitution.” But we’ve all been fooled one too many times by the Great Liberal Hope. Which leaves anyone who cares about Israel in the direst of straits facing another four years of Bibi at the helm.
Personally, as hopes fade for finding a solution within the current Israeli political system, it strengthens the hand of those who’ve abandoned the two-state solution. Surprisingly, this includes a number of prominent centrist Israelis like its most popular columnist, Nahum Barnea. They foresee that the only way to save Israel–the sort of tolerant, democratic, secular Israel that many of us have envisioned for decades–is to jettison the belief that an exclusively Jewish state, at least as presently constituted, can provide the answer.
It may be that a state that offers Jews, Muslims and Christians guarantees of freedom of worship and respect for their religions, is the only way to ensure a satisfactory solution. Such a state could also offer guarantees of political rights to majority and minority ethnic groups through a constitution.
I understand that there will be some, perhaps most who read this, who find such a solution disappointing or depressing. It is a lot to swallow. Losing one’s dreams is not easy. I’m certain that Avrum Burg, Nahum Barnea and others would far prefer a two state solution if it was practicable. But they are too realistic to believe that under current political conditions this is possible. That leaves only one likely alternative: a unitary state embracing Palestinians and Israeli Jews. As Churchill said about democracy: it’s the worst form of government…except for all the others.
Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, exploring Israel as national security state and promoting Israeli democracy.

0 thoughts on “Netanyahu Calls New Elections: Meet New Boss, Same as Old Boss

  1. Silverstein repeats the mantra that the two-state possibility is dead. What that means (and what he means) is that no Israeli government anyone can realistically imagine will, without being coerced, make a “just and lasting” two-state peace. But although international coercion is not very likely, it is probably a good deal more likely than any do-it-yourself Israeli action.
    If enough countries decide that they are tired of the settlements and the land-grab occupation, they can begin to apply pressure against Israel (just as the USA exerts pressure against Iran today) in an effort to force Israel to remove all the (now) 720,000 settlers, the wall, the settlement buildings, the siege of Gaza, and to further require equitable sharing of naturally occurring water resources of the common land.
    Likely? No. Possible? Yes. More likely than an Israel-engineered peace? Apparently far more likely. It worked with South Africa’s official apartheid. It could work here, too.
    It would help to have the USA as a leader (rather than as a spoiler) of such an effort. Some Protestant Church groups have lately shown a little ethical spine. It would help if Jews in far larger numbers than now do so would join in.

  2. 2 important questions
    1. Have the Palestinian leaders recognized Israel as a Jewish state?
    2. Has withdrawn its threat to destroy Israel?
    It really is not just about the settlers. There’s tis regional dynamic to consider as well

  3. pabelmont and Silversein are fans of Phil ( hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss. Silverstein himself thought that Smair Kuntar who smashed in the head of a 4 yr old Jewish girl was misjudged and deserved to go free.

  4. Would the Palestinians agree to be absorbed into Israel? Would Israel agree to absorb Gaza and the refugees as well as the West Bank? Would the neighboring Arab states accept it? The unitary one-state solution is a non-starter. There has to be an Israel, with a primarily Jewish identity, and there has to be a Palestine, with a primarily Arab identity. And we must remember that the State of Palestine already exists. It was created in exactly the same way as the State of Israel, by declaration and recognition by other states.
    It is also clear that the two states will need to work closely together in the areas of economics, resource management, transport and other infrastructure. Above all, there would need to be defense and security co-operation and a non-aggression pact. All this suggests some sort of federal structure. In my view, the best structure would actually be a union of Israel and Palestine, as two autonomous nations, into a single nation-state, with a single seat in the United Nations and a common foreign and defense policy: rather like the way in which Scotland, England and Wales fit into the United Kingdom. But this is getting ahead of ourselves. Any co-operative arrangement can only come about as a voluntary association of the two existing states, and this cannot take place until Palestine is free of occupation.
    I am an outsider, and know little of Israeli politics. I wonder why the left is so weak, and the ultra-Zionist right so dominant. Does this really reflect the thinking of the Israeli people, or is it an artifact of Israel’s political system? There have been surveys that show a majority of Jewish Israelis supporting the two-state solution. In a parliamentary election people vote on a wide range of issues, and it cannot be assumed that any governing coalition necessarily has majority support on any particular single issue.
    Suppose instead there was a single-question referendum, along the lines of “If there were a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, in which each nation recognized the right of the other to live in peace and security, agreeing to live side-by-side as good neighbors; with a mutual border to be agreed between them, based on the pre-1967 lines; and with Jerusalem as the capital of both: would you support it?”
    If such a referendum could command a majority, then there is possibility of a do-it-yourself Israeli action. If not, I agree with pabelmont that international pressure is required. But more gently please, pabelmont. My suggestion is to move
    UNSC Resolution, which calls for a halt to the settlement activity, to Chapter 7 so that it would become enforceable. If that could be achieved, I am hopeful that the Israeli people would wake up and realize that they have to make a decision: to give up Judea and Samaria for the sake of peace, or face an uncertain future as an outlaw state with few friends (outside the US Congress).

  5. Silverstein is not a credible essayist as he has expectations of Israelis to be liberal and just that he does not have for the Palestinians. the situation is a mess, the occupation cancerous, and Hamas is dedicated to blocking any negotiated peace deal.
    Hamas is a fascistic, terrorist organization with a stated agenda of having every inch of the land controlled by followers of Islam.
    The hopes for a two state solution are blocked and dimming, but will brighten when Iran’s regime changes or is changed. The fall of the house of Assad presages what awaits the theocratic dictatorship in Iran.
    Silverstein excludes any vision of what Israel faces and it leaves his carping, pettiness of little value.

    • The right of return is a non starter. It is just another ploy to eliminate Israel as Jewish state. Anyone promoting it, is suggesting that one side’s rights trump another side.
      millions of HIndus and Muslims fled east and west after petition of India, e do not hear about refugees or the right to return today

      • the right of return can be handled in a symbolic way, rather than be catering to the nonsense claim that anybody born of people who fled or were driven off has a right to live in Israel.
        Israel can offer return to any person who left or fled iin or right after 1948 and who is willing to pledge to live in peace in israel and to abide by Israeli law.

        • Um.. No. Palestinians fled after a failed invasion of the new state of ISrael by every independent Arab state. Symbolism goes a long way in the Middle East. Israel is not some sort of prop for you to play with.

          • sammy, can you pull your head up for a minute and explain how your assertion that Palestinians fled after the civil war and war waged by the Arab League states differs in any way from what I had said???
            and can you explain your deeply silly claim that I view Israel as a “prop to play with” ?
            are you in good health or is there some imbalance in your humours?

          • “the right of return can be handled in a symbolic way”
            That is your feel good line. It makes no sense and only makes a case for later attempts to eliminate Israel.
            BTW the 1948 war was not a “civil war” it was an all out invasion

          • the war started out as a civil war prior to outside invasion…. and your insistence that ANY flexibility is tantamount to inviting destruction of Israel is beyond stupid and borders on pathological.

  6. Hello, Neat post. There’s an issue together with your website in internet explorer, could test this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace chief and a large part of other people will leave out your great writing because of this problem.

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