With less than three weeks until elections in Israel, the nation’s leading party still has no platform.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hybrid political faction formed from the recent merger between the ruling Likud party and right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, has yet to publish its platform, in which it lays out its stands on major issues.
It’s a standard practice of political parties in Israel, just as it is in America. But Likud Beiteinu officials in the Israeli press as saying the joint list may forgo one altogether, since the idea is “anachronistic.”
As it turns out, Likud Beiteinu may have good reasons for avoiding the publication of a party platform.
From a practical standpoint, party platforms do little to attract voters and it is hard to find swing voters who sit down and compare platforms before casting their ballot.
But the combined party also has a specific reason to avoid making any policy statement this year. The Likud party has taken a turn to the right in recent years, and with the addition of ex-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu to the joint list, the new party has moved from center-right closer to the far right wing of Israeli politics.
Nowhere is this more so than when dealing with the Israeli – Palestinian conflict—an issue to which the international community, including the United States — Israel’s prime supporter — is extremely sensitive.
Israeli President Shimon Peres has locked horns again with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two men have a troubled relationship, and in the summer had a very tense month after Peres went against Netanyahu’s position on Iran.
Speaking to a large gathering of Israeli diplomats, Peres heaped praise on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a man that Netanyahu and recently-resigned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have put great energy in to discrediting and portraying as an antagonizer in recent weeks.
“I’ve known him for 30 years,” said Peres. “No one will change my opinion about Abu Mazen, even if they say I cannot express it because I’m the president.”
Loverboy Bibi is at it again.
Last year we caught Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Now he’s locking lips with Israeli Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich.
Well, not exactly.
Back in November 2011 Benetton photoshopped the embrace between Bibi and Abu Mazen as part of its controversial UNHATE ad campaign. There were lots of other highly unlikely couples, like President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the leaders of North Korea and South Korea.
Now, the Israeli leftist party Meretz has produced altered parody images for another campaign — the one for the Israeli elections scheduled for January 23. There is the image of Bibi and Yachimovich. There is also one of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman kissing Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, to draw attention to Lapid’s refusal to pledge that he will not enter a coalition with Netanyahu’s Likud party following the elections and the likely event that Netanyahu will remain prime minister.
By all accounts, it was a nerve-wracking time for the 75,000 Israeli reservists called up in preparation for a ground offensive in Gaza last week.
“The next days were an emotional roller coaster ride,” wrote Marc Goldberg, who reported to duty on November 18, in a blog post for The Times of Israel. “I was prepped to go in and then stood down, only to be prepped to go back in again and stood down again and again…most of the time was spent hanging around waiting for something to happen, waiting for the final decision to get us moving.”
And when soldiers spend their time hanging around and waiting, things happen. Things like a bunch of reservists doing a khaki-clad rendition of the international smash hit “Gangnam Style.” Ariel Maoz, apparently one of the dancing soldiers, posted the video on his Facebook page and it went viral, attracting the attention of the news media.
On a more serious note, Goldberg wrote of arguments among members of his units as to whether the IDF should and would actually enter Gaza. “Then word came down about the ceasefire. Though there many who were angry that we wouldn’t be going in, the sense of relief that slowly swept through the company was palpable,” he wrote.
Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former Prime Minister and the center left’s “if only” man, is expected to confirm any moment that he won’t be running for Knesset.
Soon after the January 22 election was announced, speculation has abounded that if Olmert made a comeback and pulled together a broad center-left alliance he could actually win and once again become Prime Minister. From there, it was said, the Middle East would be his oyster — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently said that he was close to a deal with Olmert in 2008, intimating that the two could return to this point if Olmert returned.
There was some polling to back up this dream. In fact, it appeared that when Likud decided a month ago to run on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beytenu it was a case of Netanyahu trying to ensure that he would have the most Knesset mandates behind him even if Olmert entered the race.
But then came Operation Pillar of Defense, knocking the issues championed by the center-left — Israeli-Palestinian peace and socio-economic issues — off the public agenda and putting security at the forefront. Even if it was right a couple of weeks ago, the national mood in Israel isn’t right for Olmert now.
And so, for the second time in his career, Olmert leaves us all wondering what could’ve been. What could’ve been on the Israeli-Palestinian front had scandal not forced him out of office when it did? Was he planning on running in the coming elections? If so, what could’ve been during and after the election has it not been for Pillar of Defense?
For a cartoonist, how to say “Jews are controlling international affairs” without actually having to say it?
Well, the creation of Israel has made it very easy in this regard. Just replace ‘Jews’ with ‘the Israel lobby’ (or ‘Israel’ itself) and substitute ‘the United States’ or maybe ‘the United Nations’ for the usual ‘international government’ or ‘global finance’, and you’re good to go. And, if you can throw in an image of a prominent Israeli looming large over the scene, perhaps controlling world events as a puppeteer might work his instruments, even better.
The Guardian’s Steve Bell in today’s paper has done just that. His creation portrays an oversized, slightly hunched image of Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by a phalanx of rockets decked in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, standing at a lectern with his hands mastering two small dolls. On the left is William Hague, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary who has said that Hamas bears the “principle responsibility” for ending the violence in the region, and Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet, on the right.
Bell’s canard has been swiftly condemned. The Community Security Trust – the organisation responsible for the protection of the UK’s Jewish community – stated, “What is striking about Bell’s cartoon is that he seems to have reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.” The Jewish Chronicle is reporting that the barrister Jeremy Brier has already lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, labelling the drawing “plainly anti-Semitic.”
Center-right commentator Shalom Yerushalmi at Maariv argues that the rockets from Gaza seem likely to turn the upcoming Israeli elections once again into a referendum on who has bigger guns, meaning a Likud reelection. Sadly, he says, that would again bury the election that seemed to be shaping up, the one that Israel deserves, the one that’s typical in normal democracies, over the country’s intolerable social and economic inequities.
This assumes, at least in part, that Israel launches a serious attack into Gaza to stop the rockets, in some sort of reprise of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Military correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff at Haaretz think that’s unlikely and will have to settle for less aggressive action, like resuming aerial targeted assassinations of Hamas leadership. They say Bibi’s freedom of action is limited because
…the diplomatic reality now is far different than it was when that offensive was launched in 2008: Israel fears a direct confrontation with the new regime in Egypt and it knows that neither the United States nor Europe will be as tolerant of a large-scale military operation this time around.
Here’s my question: Is it possible that Hamas has heated up the border, after close to three years of relative quiet (broken mainly by jihadi groups) because it wants the Likud to win – that it fears a possible victory by an Olmert- or Livni-led center-left leading to renewed negotiations with Abu Mazen? Is this Hamas’s bid to ward off a two-state solution and keep Palestine indivisible? I’m just saying …
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reeling from not one but two disappointments on Tuesday. It is widely believed that he was desperate for Mitt Romney to win the American presidential election. But he also had an eye on another election at home.
The main religious-Zionist party Jewish Home was holding its primaries to choose a new leader, and the winner was none other than his former right-hand man who he wanted to lose.
High tech millionaire Naftali Bennett became Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006, and was responsible for the campaign that got him elected as Likud leader. But the two didn’t see eye to eye, and in 2008 Bennett left. Bibi was so keen for him not to be elected that his wife Sara Netanyahu was reportedly canvassing against him.
So what is it that made Netanyahu want one of Bennett’s rival primary candidates to lead Jewish Home? It’s not a subject he’s discussed but one can suppose that it’s in large part the very same things he liked about Bennett back in 2006.
Israelis professed great interest in the U.S. election — but evidently not enough to lose sleep over it.
The US-Israel time difference meant that by getting up just a few minutes early, Israelis could watch the moment of truth. The Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, with the support of the Jerusalem Post, offered people the chance to take advantage of this, with a breakfast election results party at its central Jerusalem offices. There was a light breakfast, a television stream, analysis from pundits, and so that the religiously observant didn¹t need to choose between polls and praying, space was set aside for the morning service.
But despite the thousands of American voters in and around Jerusalem, there were only 20 to 50 people there at any given time. There wasn¹t a minyan or quorum of ten men for the morning service.
Those who did go along got on well, without differences in party affiliation causing any tensions. The pundits provided some worthwhile insights.
Pollster Mitchell Barak, CEO of Keevoon Research spoke of the inevitable impact on the January 22 Israeli election, saying that ³part of the campaign here now will be who will be able to get along better with the American President.
Everyone said that here in Israel we’d see an election that is all a about Iran, and today the largest opposition party started to set that agenda.
“Netanyahu is entangling us,” Kadima’s newly-revealed election slogan claims. The Hebrew word “entangling” has the strong connotation of endangerment.
Kadima’s claim is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, lacks restraint and is prone to obsession on the issue of Iran. “Netanyahu is busy with only one thing — bombing Iran,” declared party leader Shaul Mofaz when presenting the slogan today. “Nothing else interests him. Not the middle class, not young couples, not society — only his uncontrollable urge to bomb Iran.”
Kadima is arguing in its campaign that Netanyahu’s lack of restraint on Iran is more problematic since Likud joined forces with the avowedly rightist Yisrael Beytenu party led by Avigdor Liberman last week. Mofaz claimed that “there is no responsibility and no logic, only one obsession.”
Israel’s political map is about to upended when Netanyahu and Liberman go on television at 2 p.m. Eastern time to announce a joint Knesset run. They’re apparently not merging their parties but forming a joint list. The aim is to ensure that Bibi ends up with the largest Knesset bloc after the January 22 elections, guaranteeing that he can form the next government. A Haaretz poll last week showed that if Ehud Olmert enters the race atop a new list that includes Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, he would outscore the Likud by one seat, 25-to-24, and win the first shot at forming a coalition. An earlier Jerusalem Post poll showed the Olmert superlist doing even better, beating the Likud 31-27. News 1 reports today that Bibi and Liberman could jointly grab 40 seats, guaranteeing that they bury even an Olmert superlist.
The kink in the plan is the religious vote. Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party puts a very high priority on a secularist agenda. Haaretz reports today that the joint Bibi-Liberman list is expected to give high priority to Liberman’s secularist agenda, and might even reach out to bring Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party into a governing coalition. But the Likud relies heavily on religious voters who won’t like that. There’s a good chance that some of them will flee to the settler-based national-religious bloc, which appears to be running under a new banner that will join the Bayit Yehudi-NRP party with the National Union, reducing the Knesset strength of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list. It’s possible, though, that some will break toward Shas, particularly now that Arye Deri is returning (sharing power with Eli Yishai, who remains no. 1 on the Knesset list but hands over the party chairmanship to Deri).
So the 60,000 shekel question becomes: Can Haim Ramon engineer a center-left coalition that brings back Olmert atop a new list uniting him and Livni with Lapid and Mofaz’s Kadima, and work out a platform that allows them to join after the election with Ramon’s old friend and fellow dove Arye Deri? Can the various personalities bury their egos and feuds and join together to restore the peace process and two-state solution before it dies forever?
With brazen defiance, just a day before he is due to meet with the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went over the Green Line and defended building there.
“United Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, we have a full right to build in it,” he declared today in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood build on land that Israel conquered in 1967.
Netanyahu has been under strong international criticism, including from Ashton, for a plan which became public last week to build 797 new homes in GIlo.
Standing not far from the site of the new homes he said: “We have built Jerusalem, we are building Jerusalem and we will continue to build Jerusalem. This is our policy and I will continue to back building in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu was doing what the Israeli right loves the most, namely showing that he’s a strong leader who won’t be bullied from his Zionistic credentials (which are seen as synonymous with pro-settlement credentials) by even the most powerful of world leaders. And yes, if you think it has the whiff of election posturing to it you would be right. But which elections?
Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu once again avoided speaking to each other yesterday, as they have done for the past three years. Despite both claiming that they want to restart conflict-ending talks, there was little evidence of that in either leader’s speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly.
Abbas was on the attack from the outset. Speaking as the representative of an “angry people,” he leveled a familiar list of charges against Israel. Ethnic cleansing, settler violence, unlawful detention and the closure of the borders with Gaza all got a mention. Most were met with applause. So too, the call for Israel to be “condemned, punished and boycotted.” He noted that the Palestinian population is young and frustrated, hinting that violence could once again return. Yet, he claimed, Israeli policy and an aggressive brand of Israeli political discourse means that the Palestinian Authority, the guardian of Palestinian political and security relations with Israel, is under threat of collapse. There is only one way to understand this and only one conclusion to be drawn, he said. The Israeli government rejects a two-state solution.
Not so the Palestinians. Although time is running out, there is a chance — “maybe the last” — to return to talks. And he reassured the General Assembly that there is no need for marathon negotiations or to solve an “intractable riddle.” The solution already exists. All it needs is a return to the UN’s own terms of reference and the Arab Peace Initiative.
But even whilst calling for a “new approach,” Abbas actually drove peace efforts further up last year’s cul-de-sac. His announcement that he would be seeking a General Assembly resolution to grant non-member status to the Palestinians is anathema to Israel. It is also a pale echo of last year’s thwarted application for full UN membership. Abbas wants the support of the UN to draw the 1967 green line on the maps ahead of any negotiations, and for talks to then discuss changes to that line. Israel’s precondition for talks is that there are no preconditions, and thus rejects this approach. So, we can assume, will the next U.S. president.
In Take 2 of its push for unilateral statehood the Palestinian Authority has announced it will ask the United Nations to upgrade its status from “observer entity” to “observer state.”
“After the U.N. vote … Palestine will become a country under occupation. Israel will not be able to say that this is a disputed area,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reasoned. “The terms of reference for any negotiations will be about withdrawal, not over what the Israelis say is legal or not legal.”
Israel has long been opposed to unilateral moves by the Palestinians, and soon after details of the latest plan became public condemned it. “The Palestinians committed themselves to resolving all outstanding issues in negotiations, and such a unilateral action would be viewed as a violation,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But is this the final word on the subject?
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied interfering in U.S. elections today, he chose an odd platform to air his position.
He gave the interview to an Israeli newspaper owned by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a top Republican donor who has vowed to give tens of millions of dollars to defeat President Barack Obama.
Netanyahu’s denial came days after he chastised the Obama administration for its failure to take a harder line against Iran. The attack, made in English at a press conference, was condemned by Democrats as an effort to bolster Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.
Netanyahu told an Israeli paper in an interview previewed today that the charge was “[N]onsense because the issue that is guiding me is not the U.S. elections, but the centrifuges in Iran, and what can I do if the centrifuges in Iran are inconsiderate of the U.S. political timetable?”
The Israeli paper was Israel Hayom, a free daily owned by the American Jewish casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson and his wife have given $10 million to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, making them some of this election cycle’s most prominent political donors.
Israel Hayom, for its part, is considered to have a heavy pro-Netanyahu slant.
It’s surely an irony of the current public spat between Israel and the White House: An Israeli government that tut-tuts every time important public figures speak their mind on Iran has no qualms about leaking sensitive information when it suits its own perceived interests.
Whatever the truth of the current spat between Jerusalem and Washington over whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to arrange a meeting with President Barack Obama, it grew out of Israeli leaks to the press. The White House denied that any meeting request was received, much less that Netanyahu was snubbed.
The dust-up highlights the contrast between the zipped lips Netanyahu expects of his critics in Israel on what he regards the ultra-sensitive Iran issue, and his own lack of resolve to be discrete to another vital element of the Iran issue, namely relations with the U.S. The leaks from his loyalists are only magnified by the fact that they are coming at the height of the American election campaign, in apparent violation of the unspoken rule against Israeli interference in domestic politics.
But many Israelis don’t scrutinize Netanyahu’s conduct in this way. What’s important to them isn’t why his office runs to the media with its grievances against the U.S., but why the Obama supposedly snubbed Netanyahu in the first place (people here are pretty certain that he did).
Today was supposed to be the start of what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his “historic change” for Israel. But in reality, everything stayed the same.
At midnight, the law that exempted Haredi men from national service expired. Which means that over the coming weeks, legally speaking at least, Haredi 18-year-olds are liable to be drafted just like all other Jewish 18-year-olds.
Not only that, but all Haredi men who deferred service in previous years and who are still reliant on the Tal Law for their exemption — some 54,000 — are also liable for the draft.
This situation has arisen because government attempts to institute a new law have failed due to disagreements on its details inside the government. The process seemed to be going well a few weeks ago, after Kadima, the largest Knesset party, joined the coalition promising to find a creative solution with the ruling Likud party. But it then objected to Likud’s plans and walked out of the ruling coalition on July 17, just 70 days after agreeing to join, and with another coalition party, Yisrael Beiteinu, also sparring with Likud on the subject, the legislative process hit a dead end.
The government’s hope was that a new law in place by today would outline a plan for a gradual Haredi draft, with certain concessions to make it palatable to Haredim like an older draft age and exemptions for some talented yeshiva students. When it comes to the Haredi draft “we must enact it gradually and in a way that does not lead to a rift in the nation,” Netanyahu said.
Ynet’s Atilla Shomfalvi quotes unnamed government insiders who say Prime Minister Netanyahu can’t order a military strike against Iran, even though it’s his decision to make, because the security establishment is unanimously opposed and the cabinet won’t approve an action over the defense chiefs’ opposition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared last night [Tuesday] that he is responsible for deciding on military action in Iran, but senior political figures involved in the discussions reckon that in light of the determined opposition at this point of the heads of the security establishment—the chief of staff, the director of the Mossad, the chief of military intelligence, the IDF chief of operations and the heads of Mossad directorates—it is unlikely that ministers asked to vote for an attack will do so.
Shomfalvi writes that although Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly favor an attack, Netanyahu has permitted his ministers to debate the issue freely behind closed doors. The eight-minister security cabinet reportedly is evenly split between advocates and opponents of a strike, as it has been for months.
Mitt Romney has out Bibi-ed Bibi.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famous for saying that history is repeating itself. The way he tells it, we’re in the late 1930s, and today’s Nazis are the leaders of the Iranian regime, who threaten Israel’s future and perpetrate attacks like the recent one in Bulgaria through its proxies.
This morning, the Republican presidential candidate took Netanyahu’s penchant for linking history and present challenges, but outdid him by almost two millennia. Instead of being the Nazis who foreshadowed threats to Israel today, he managed to connect them to the events being mourned today, the Fast of Av, beginning with the destruction of the two ancient Jerusalem temples and the suffering that went along with it.
Planning Romney’s Israel trip for the Fast of Av was a gaffe by his campaign, but he was determined to turn it to his advantage, even going a little overboard and effusing that he was “honored” to be in Israel on the fast, as if it were a long-planned act of solidarity with Ancient Israel.
“I’m honored to be here on the day of Tisha B’Av, to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia, and come with recognition of the sacrifices of so many,” he told Netanyahu. “Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times.”
In my most recent weekly column I quoted at some length from Uzi Arad, professor of strategic affairs at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center, who served until a year ago as chairman of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council. Arad is one of Israel’s most influential strategic thinkers, a former Mossad director of research, founder of the Herzliya Conference and Netanyahu’s closest national security adviser in and out of office from the mid-1990s until March 2011, when Arad resigned amid a messy disagreement over Iran strategy.
The quotes from Arad in my column were extracted from a much longer July 17-18 phone conversation about the connections between Iran strategy, U.S.-Israel relations and Palestinian peace talks. Despite his uber-hawk reputation, which leads some detractors (mostly on the left) to call him “Israel’s Dr. Strangelove,” he’s a subtle and surprising thinker, and what he has to say right now is important. Accordingly, I’m presenting my notes from our full conversation.
An attack on Iran is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The overall strategic objective, the one that the American administration and the Israeli government presumably share, is an expression of determination that Iran will be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The president has also amplified his position by saying that America is not in the mode of discussing containment or deterrence. What he means is that all eyes are fixed on prevention.
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