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?
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to call early elections in September followed a “discreet” meeting with leaders of AIPAC, who told him that polls show President Obama heading for reelection in November—so writes Maariv chief diplomatic correspondent Ben Caspit, as reported by Noam Sheizaf on the left-wing, English-language Israeli site 972mag.com blog.
Here’s Caspit, as translated by Sheizaf:
Netanyahu’s surprising announcement on the early primaries in the Likud, which fell on his party’s senior member like thunder on a cloudless day, came three days after a discrete meeting he held with the chiefs of AIPAC, that estimated, based on polls, that Barack Obama would also be the next president.
Bibi knew he can’t campaign when Obama is in his second term. This [would be] a dangerous gamble. Sheizaf goes on to note that the September 4 Knesset elections will come during the Democratic National Convention, which means that “Instead of the U.S. president possibly playing a role—deliberately or not – in the Israeli elections, Netanyahu will get a chance to play a part in the American one.” No, Noam, it’s not a coincidence.
Speaking of Israeli elections, two new political parties are forming on the right:
The Jerusalem Post reports today that Sunday’s torching of a Galilee mosque, believed by authorities to be the work of right-wing Jewish extremists, appears to be the latest sign that Jewish terrorism is “gaining steam” in Israel. The Post’s military correspondent, Yaakov Katz (bio) says the Shin Bet security service is worried that the phenomenon will only grow in the coming months as Palestinian statehood efforts intensify, and that they have “no clear way to stop this violence.”
In recent months, the Shin Bet has recorded a growing number of so-called “price tag” attacks, amounting to several dozen over the past year. These include attacks like the one on Sunday against mosques, the uprooting of olive trees, the puncturing of tires on military vehicles, the harassment of left-wing activists, IDF officers and Shin Bet officials and others.
On the other hand, Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar was quoted after a sympathy visit Monday saying that the attack could be a “blood libel” perpetrated by non-Jews and blamed on Jews (here’s the Arutz Sheva settler radio report on Amar’s comments, in case you don’t trust Ynet), and “in any case, it means nothing.” (Postscript: Look after the jump for some additional Amar quotes I have now learned about that put him in a different light.)
Arutz Sheva also talked to two right-wing Knesset members, Michael Ben-Ari of National Union and Yisrael Eichler of United Torah Judaism, who complain about the “hypocritical” expectation that they condemn the arson (which they promptly proceed to condemn) when “nobody” says anything after Jews are attacked:
The JPost’s Katz raises some curious questions about the arson attack that could be taken to reinforce Amar’s doubts: