Rough ride ahead

It happens in our midst during every electoral bout. Without exception, a new, hip, cool and trendy political star flickers brightly in our parliamentary firmament.

It began in 1977 with the Democratic Movement for Change, continued through a bewildering array of factions from Tzomet to Shinui and most bizarrely, Gil, the pensioners’ list of two campaigns ago, which was the outright craze among adolescent first-time voters.

Coming in as the second-largest Knesset component, this year’s fad – ex-broadcaster Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – positively dazzled and handily outdid all its predecessor overnight wonders. Analysts believe it bit into the support of both the rightist and leftist stalwarts. It remains to be seen how this unknown entity will behave in the actual arena.

Yesh Atid’s sensation wasn’t the sole shocker. More than than a quarter of a million Israelis voted on Tuesday for lists that didn’t manage to surmount the Knesset’s relatively low entry threshold of 2 percent.

That means that no fewer than nine Knesset seats went down the drain. The core preferences of these 270,000 voters would have received due expression, had they only opted for lists more clearly aligned with the bloc of their leaning, rather than for quasi-nonsensical or ephemeral ones.

But that didn’t happen. It’s time to own up that no change in the electoral system could fix the lackadaisical recklessness with which too many Israelis treat their ballots. Voting for the voguish unfamiliar or the lost cause as a lark is the root anomaly that complicates our coalition construction task, strengthens the bargaining/ extortion powers of marginal parties and leaves the mass of mainstream citizens with precisely what they didn’t want and voted against.

It’s a familiar pattern that this year looms worse than ever.

The Left cannot form a government despite the apparent near-parity between the blocs. The embarrassingly snookered Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can on paper concoct a coalition, but his challenge is unenviable in the extreme.

His apparently most viable alternative is to shield himself with Lapid on one side and the significantly more empowered (at his expense) Bayit Yehudi at the other. This would suffice for a majority and might suit him just fine.

In such a combination, where the Likud straddles the middle, Netanyahu can avoid kowtowing to the fringes, and conveniently proffer pretexts for assorted compromises. The trouble is that Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi would a priori pull in contradictory directions.

Their cross-purposes might leave Netanyahu in an untenable position.

Even if he succeeds in squaring the circle, Netanyahu could face the unsavory prospect, from his perspective, of breaking up traditional alliances between the Likud and the haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties. In the long run this would not be to the Likud’s advantage, but there appears little chance that Lapid’s demand to end draft exemptions for yeshiva students can coexist alongside the haredi demand that the exemptions be somehow maintained.

These election returns, a nightmare for Netanyahu, leave him damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Prima facie, he should not dare to disregard the clear disgust of the middle-of-the-road electorate with the exemptions and the associated economic manifestations of unfair burdens imposed on the long-suffering majority. In practical terms, however, the hopeless hodgepodge with which the results present Netanyahu makes bold moves all the riskier.

Herein lies the great irony of this electoral round.

The election was advanced by nine months because the previous Knesset’s composition made passing a 2013 state budget exceedingly difficult. But the election, geared to create a more rational legislative mix, did the precise opposite. We may all wax nostalgic about the 18th Knesset.

The desirable solution is as broad a coalition as possible, one in which no party can hold the government to ransom. In other words, we would like to see something approaching what is commonly dubbed a national unity government.

But that is easier said than done. For that, all potential partners need to lower expectations and demand less in portfolios, prestige and policies. Given proven past political proclivities, however, that is likely too optimistic. Regrettably, we are in for a rough-and-tumble ride till a new government is formed.

6 thoughts on “Rough ride ahead

  1. Sarah, I finally had to abandon Bibi and the Likud for what seemed to be a little closer to my political taste….Bayit Yehudi and Naftali Bennet. I just got tired (with Bibi & Likud) of voting right and getting left (Barak and his policies).

  2. This is a remarkable comment, in a pure Israeli perspective, on you previous or post (two are written the same day) observation of the Irish anti-israelism — “That unwitting indecency”. There you write at the end:
    “But for all that, Ireland isn’t unique. What’s bon ton there is very bon ton in other countries, with other sordid pasts and intrinsic predilections against our sort – predilections that our homegrown left-wing and post-Zionist politicos persuade naïve and complacent Israelis to forget, so we may persist in our self-flagellating ways.”
    I will not try to convince you that, say, in France, there is a great respect for the destiny of Jews and Israel, both on the governmental and citizen’s level. Myself, I’m not counting on that, even if I’m pleased sometimes by the sympathy, both personal and general, toward the Jews and their country.
    What your second, the present report (and that, recent, on the Labor party) shows is that the core of the problem is Israeli politics.
    Sure, the difficulties of Israeli population are most important, no comparison to Palestinian difficulties. Your present analysis shows in the most clear way how the government neglected these difficulties and how difficult it will be now — because of the personal arrogance and personal interests of the elected knesset.
    Still, one could imagine that the Palestinian problems are treated in even more irresponsable way: there is a part of their problems which is the responsibility of Israel who controls their “upper” levels of politics.
    For me, the Israeli citizen temporally living in Europe, it is clear that what “we may all wax nostalgic” it is not so much “about the 18th Knesset”, but about the peace with Egypt, more than thirty years ago, which was concluded under the American pressure, but with some patriotic illusions and in a full negligence, in a full contempt of the future of the Palestinians — more even than of the future of Israel and the Jewish people.

    • You try to imply, that the Jews are responsible for the rockets fired at them from Gaza ?
      Oh…YOU live in Europe…maybe you should come to Israel and talk to the people living under the gun ?
      Have you the guts to do this ???
      OF COURSE ***NOT*** !

  3. Thank you for reading my long comment. I’m coming often to Israel, and four adult and married kids of our big family live there permanently … Good for you ?
    Besides, the problem I’m trying to treat has nothing to do with your anger.

  4. I usually agree with almost all of what you write. But not this time.
    I was one of those who voted for a party that was 9000 votes short of entry to the knesset. I didn’t do this with “lackadaisical recklessness”. I didn’t believe I was voting “in vogue” or for a “lost cause”. Although I didn’t agree 100 pct with what they said, I agreed with most of it. And I felt it was important that their people were in the knesset in order to influence the Likud-Beiteinu and Bayit Yisrael. I trusted Otzma Yisrael to hold onto their program, and not give up and do a u-turn as other parties and party leaders have done. I think you’re wrong to denigrate people like me, who voted for what we believed.

    • I am sure that Sarah didn’t intend to denigrate a purely ideological vote such as yours. Prof. Aryeh Eldad is quite an admirable figure and a paragon of good sense and realism. I have read Sarah’s columns in past years in which she sided with him unflinchingly.
      However, elections demand a cold hard calculation. It pays not to risk losing votes for a small list with limited chances and opt for the big lesser-if-all-evils. Lost votes for the Tehiya in 1992 (just 400 votes short of the threshold) brought Rabin to power and gave us Oslo, though you may answer that voting for Sharon gave us betrayal on a mega-scale (which no one in his/her right mind could quite have foreseen).
      That said, I think that Sarah’s criticism was directed not at your choice but at frivolous choices like Green Leaf, the New Israelis, New Country and most of all Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – whose course might be an enigma even to its pretty-boy headliner.

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