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.
The speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, told Israeli reporters that the controversy over the mention of Jerusalem in the Democratic National Committee platform had “far-reaching significance” in harming the relationship between the Obama administration and Israel.
The deputy speaker of the Knesset disagrees.
In a conversation this morning in my office, Shlomo Molla, a member of the centrist Kadima party, argued that Israeli politicians should stay out of the American political fray.
“It is in the Israeli interest to be outside the American election, outside both sides’ propaganda. The president is the American people’s choice. It is not the Israeli people’s choice,” he told me.
Furthermore, he said it really doesn’t matter what American parties think about what is first and foremost a question for Israelis.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Molla said. “We decided that. I don’t mind if Democrats or Republicans say what they will. It is our decision.”
When I raised Rivlin’s remarks, Molla acknowledged their differences. “Rivlin is seventh-generation Jerusalemite,” he said of the speaker. “That’s his view. That’s okay.”
What a difference four years makes. In 2008, the Democratic Party’s platform vowed “an active role” in aiding the procurement of “a lasting settlement” in the region. That accord would provide closure for Palestinian refugees via “an international compensation mechanism” and the creation of a democratic and viable homeland. The platform made reference to “the armistice lines of 1949” and favoured Jerusalem remaining the capital of Israel.
Intransigence in Israel, unilateral manoeuvres by the Palestinian Authority, and the aftershocks of the Arab Spring meant the first four years of Barack Obama’s presidency was mostly a bust for Middle East peace. And most if not all of these fairly bold pronouncements have been erased in the Democrats’ freshly-published 2012 party platform. Even though the party still supports “a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples”, the United States’ active role has been substituted for “continuing to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace”.
The focus instead has shifted to the “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security”. The platform’s authors note that, despite budgetary constraints, “the President has worked with Congress to increase security assistance to Israel every single year since taking office, providing nearly $10 billion in the past three years” including for the Iron Dome missile defence shield. “The President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage” – including the push for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations – “are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”
When it comes to Israel, the Republican Party platform is noteworthy for being more of the same.
The key changes are in style and emphasis as the GOP (along with the Democrats) seek to woo pro-Israel voters. For example, the 2008 platform asserted Israel to be “a vigorous democracy, unique in the Middle East.” But this year’s edition goes much further, arguing that Israel and the United States “are part of the great fellowship of democracies who speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace.”
Just as the 2008 Democratic Party platform asserted that the United States’ “special relationship with Israel [is] grounded in shared interests and shared values,” the Republicans now say they believe that “our alliance is based not only on shared interests, but also shared values.”
This evolution in the perception of the relationship between Israel and the United States has not necessarily altered Republican policy stances. In 2012 as in 2008, the GOP supports “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders”, maintaining “a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries”.