Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Israeli People Have Spoken

Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu celebrating after the close of polls
I am mildly amused at all the Netanyahu bashers attempt to cast him as a maniacal self centered politician that will say or do anything to get re-elected.

Well that may be partially true. He is a politician extraordinaire.  The reason d’être of such people is to get elected. And good politicians will do whatever it takes to get the job done. But that does not make them bad people necessarily. There have some pretty great people that were great politicians. They got elected and did great things after that. Was not Abraham Lincoln a politician? Was not Thomas Jefferson a politician? ...and Reagan? ...and Clinton? Not all politicians are lower than a used car salesman. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a used car salesman.)

The big thing everyone seems to be talking about in post election Israel is the surprise surge for Netanyahu giving his party, Likud, a whopping 30 seats in the Keneset!  24 seats go to Herzog’s Zionist Union. That’s quite a thrashing. Herzog has conceded. I guess my poll was not that far off. At least as far as Netanyahu being the preference of the voters. And the large voter turnout - that usually goes to the benefit of the challenger - went to the incumbent. That is truly remarkable.

Another thing that has disturbed some people is Netanyahu’s last minute turn to the right, saying that as long as he is the Prime Minister, there will never be a Palestinian State. I admit that this disturbed me a bit when I heard it, too. He has always said that he supports a 2 state solution, but only one that has the security of his people as a primary component. A security that could be enforced. His latest statement seemed to back away from that. But this is what he actually said. From the New York Times:
“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a video interview published on NRG, an Israeli news site that leans to the right. “There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders.”
That is exactly the right position to have. As long as radical Islam has any say in the matter, it would be irresponsible for Israel to give up an inch of land, let alone give the Palestinians their own state.  A state on the  West Bank under those conditions would make Gaza look like Disneyland. Gaza terror via rocket fire will be nothing compared to what the West Bank would be like under radical Islamist rule. Hamas would no doubt do to the West Bank what they did to Gaza after we gave the Palestinians that! Until such time Hamas and their fellow travelers are destroyed, A Palestinian State is simply not relevant.

I do not see a policy change at all here. Just a lot of spin by a media (both here and in Israel) that doesn’t like him.

Among the  interviews of voting Israelis I saw prior to the election, many people said they were going to vote their pocket books and vote for a new government. Netanyahu has failed to improve an economy that is making it increasingly difficult to buy a new home. It is an economy where its citizens are highly taxed. I completely understand this. When Bill Clinton ran for his first term political adviser James Carville told him that of all the issues the American people cared about…  the economy is number one. He coined the phrase: ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’  and put up that sign at Clinton campaign headquarters. 

While that is perhaps the important issue of the day to many Israelis, it should not be lost on anyone that Israelis are not worried about their security. They actually feel safe living in the land of Israel. Consider what’s going on right next door in Syria. Does anyone think that Syrians are worried about their economy right now?  Israelis that voted their pocket books fail to understand that the security Israel has did not come down like Manna from Heaven. It is the strong security measures taken by the Netanyahu government (and previous governments) that has given them the ability to think more about their money than about their safety. Security of his nation’s people is the first priority of any leader. That’s why Netanyahu talks about it so much… and that’s why he went to congress. For him, it’s not about the money. At least not as the primary concern. It’s about the security of his people. In the end, a great many Israeli voters realized that.

That said, the economy is definitely an issue that Netanyahu ought to tackle. Thankfully the socialist leaning party of Herzog will not be re-distributing the nation’s wealth. Hopefully Netanyahu will do more of what he did as Finance Minster under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He succeeded in passing many reforms that made Israel more of a market driven economy rather than a government controlled one.  This helped restore Israel’s economy from its low point during the 2nd Intifada.

Netanyahu will be forming the new government via a coalition with smaller parties that are politically to the right.  I’ll let others speculate about which parties will join Netanyahu in his governing coalition. But I do want to mention a few things about the possible role of the religious parties.

Shas lost out big time by Yishai’s split with them. Yishai’s party has not passed the threshold of minimum number of seats required for him to serve in the Kenseset.  And the Charedi parties are down a seat going from 7 to 6 seats. I don’t know if the religious parties will be part of the coalition. I suppose it’s possible that UTJ  and/or Shas will join the coalition – demanding that all the ‘evil decrees’ of the last government be rescinded. I am not, however, convinced that this will happen.

My only regret is that Dov Lipman will not be serving in this government. He was a bright shining star whose vision for Charedim was the right one.  He is a religious American Jew ordained as a Rav in a Charedi yeshiva (Ner Israel)… that brought his moderate American Charedi values with him to Israel. Lapid was wise to chose him as a member of his party,Yesh Atid.  He was not so wise in putting so far down on his list that it made his re-election to the Kenesset unlikely. I am not sure what kind of future Yesh Atid will have. I doubt that he will be in the new coalition… but you never know. In the meantime, I wish Rabbi Lipman the best and hope he finds another way to serve his country and his people. He is too valuable a resource to lose.

What all this means to the Charedim of Israel remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see how it all develops.

What about all the predictions that Netanyahu’s re-election would doom the relationship with the United States? Rubbish! That is not happening. We all know what the Republican majority thinks. And we all know what the Democratic minority thinks. But what about the White House?

From USA Today, here is the White House reaction so far: 
The White House indicated Wednesday it will wait until Israel forms a new government before commenting in detail on an apparent re-election win by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We're going to give space to the formation of that coalition government," said White House political director David Simas, speaking on CNN. "And we're not going to weigh in one way or another except to say that the United States and Israel have a historic and close relationship and that will continue going forward." (emphasis mine). 
The US would be foolish to hurt its most stable and dependable ally in the Middle East. Not to mention the immorality of doing so. America is the Medina Shel Chesed. And for the foreseeable future the relationship remains as strong as ever. As the President constantly says, the relationship between the 2 countries is unshakable. That says it all.

VIN today reported the following (which validates what I said about it):
In the closing days of his campaign, Netanyahu said there could be no Palestinian state while regional violence and chaos persist — conditions that could rule out progress on the issue for many years. The comments, aimed at appealing to his nationalistic voter base, angered the Obama administration, which views a two-state solution as a top foreign policy priority.
Netanyahu said in a TV interview Thursday that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood — if conditions in the region improve. He said he remained committed to the vision first spelled out in landmark 2009 speech at Israel’s Bar Ilan University. “I haven’t changed my policy,” he said. “I never retracted my speech.”