Voting for the biggest liar

Posted: February 21, 2009 by Jonathan Boyko in Israel, Own Articles, Politics
Tags: , ,

Netanyahu vs Livni

Netanyahu vs Livni

“We’d all like t’vote for th’ best man, but he’s never a candidate” – Kin Hubbard.

February 10th, 2009. By 16:00, 42% of Israeli have participated in the electoral process, voting for their parties-of-choice. The real close race is between the Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and the Kadima party chairwoman Zipi Livni. Labor party chairman Ehud Barak trails last of the three; in recent interviews he no longer declares his aspirations on becoming the Prime Minister and fights for the chair of Minister of Defense instead.

The biggest unknown is Zipi Livni, although she is probably not as unknown as she would like to be. Livni has supported the unilateral disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 and is a vivid supporter of the two-state [Israeli and Palestinian] solution plan. Livni’s Kadima party’s website clearly states the party supports withdrawal from parts of the current territory of Israel.

Kadima, however, is trying to “soften the blow” on its potential voter and, also fishes for religious voters. The Hebrew-language website states: “The People of Israel [Jewish people] have full rights over the entire Land of Israel”. The non-religious voters usually have no sentiment towards the “entire Land of Israel” – that being Land of Israel promised by God to the Jewish people in the Bible – thus Kadima is trying to lure electorate from the large religious sector (by some estimates – up to 20% of Israeli citizens are religious Jews, including the religious Zionists, the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox) to vote for what considered to be the centrist party.

Those voters, however, should not be mistaken – just two lines down, Kadima explicitly declares that the way to make Israel stay the Jewish home is to give some of it up, which does not constitute giving up ideology, but on the contrary – implementing the ideology into life. They also mention it is in Israel’s interest to reach an agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and settle on permanent borders. Kadima then goes on to explain the government under their control would cooperate with peace initiatives, all the while fighting terror “with determination”.

Those of us with at least some long-term memory will remember the operation in Gaza, which clearly illustrated the ability of the Kadima government to fight terror (to those without the knowledge of the situation I will just mention that many highly-positioned IDF officials complained lately that government’s current actions are the best display of politicians unable to convert military victory into political gain). Some among the readers of these words might remember the “determination” Kadima officials ran out of during the Second Lebanon War, in summer of 2006. Two politicians with practically no military experience (PM Ehud Olmert served his time as an army journalist, while Defense Minister Amir Peretz has reached only a rank of Captain) fought a chaotic war, with military units on the ground receiving contradictory orders, with the apogee being the last-minute order, given just under two days before the signing of UN resolution 1701, to move deeper into Lebanese territory – an order that cost Israeli troops over 30 killed (about a third of all IDF casualties in that war), but did not bring any achievements to light. It is important to remember that in Israel, people do not elect a president – they elect a ruling party. Many of Kadima Knesset Members and ministers, active during the 2006 war, are still there. Can the Israeli voters trust them to make better decisions than the ones they’ve taken during the past two conflicts?

Benjamin Netanyahu is a different story. While Livni is fighting to improve her party’s image by presenting herself as a new, strong, non-corruptible leader, Netayahu’s Likud struggles to improve its leader’s image by presenting strong, somewhat Right-leaning, party members. Netanyahu has made several grave mistakes in the past and has presented himself as a “weaseling” leader – prone to outside pressure and not taking responsibility for his actions. In 2005, Netayahu supported Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip – fact he outrageously lied about during recent electoral campaign. He also was taking part in post-Oslo peace accords, signing Wye River Memorandum, which effectively gave Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement control over additional 9.1% of the “occupied territories”. The concessions to the Palestinians and his “weaseling” style cost Netanyahu 1999 elections, after which he left his gravely disrupted and unpopular party in ruins, moving instead to the US and giving speeches.

Netanyahu’s website demonstrates the Likud leader as a strong man, ready to fight Iran’s nuclear operation* and opposing any more unilateral withdrawals – a step widely unpopular with the Israelis since the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. The web page continues to explain to the potential voter that the Arab states should care for the Palestinian refugees located in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries, that the Jerusalem would not be separated, that the Likud party would keep on fighting terror and that Likud would support the peace process – by supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and helping the abovementioned to improve the every-day lives of Palestinian people. Only one red line clearly stated for Likud: Israel will have full control of its security – meaning: under any agreement, Israel will have the right to operate militarily in order to prevent terror attacks.

Unfortunately for the people of Israel, Netanyahu is still not able to choose a permanent path for himself. Since day one of the election campaign, the Likud leader declared he would be ready to establish a coalition together with Livni’s Kadima party and with Barak’s Labor party, openly inviting the two. That is definitely bad news for Likud voters, as in recent decades only one leader has been able to make coalition with the Labor party without totally succumbing to pressure from the Leftist front – he was neither from Likud, nor was his first name “Benjamin” (his name was Ariel Sharon, who amazed Israelis by both establishing coalition with the Labor party and not giving in to the pressure of then Labor chairman Benjamin Ben Eliezer – which could just as well speak for Ben Eliezer’s weakness). Netanyahu has also apparently made a pact with the religious SHAS party – which presents itself as a party caring for poor and downtrodden, all the while forcing Prime Ministers and Ministers of Finance into spending more money on ultra-religious education system, where kids learn a lot about Judaism but nothing about history, languages and literature – all due to their constant strength of 14 to 18 representatives in the Israeli parliament. Netanyahu has shown himself as a strong Minister of Finance, but never managed to do same during his term as a Prime Minister – and there are no reasons to believe he has changed.

Knowing the real face of Israeli politics, future can be predicted. Livni says if Israelis would elect her as a Prime Minister she would act strong even in face of SHAS or terrorists – but in fact she would probably cave in to many demands of both parties. Netanyahu’s slogans say he is “Strong in Defense”, “Strong against the Hamas” and “Strong in Economics”. Knowing the past, we might predict Netanyahu will give in to SHAS’ demands of additional funding and to Kadima’s demands to continue the peace process using the “land for peace” initiative.

Several years from now – anywhere between two and four – we are about to find out who was the biggest liar. My fear – they will outdo themselves.

* In a recent interview to Israeli Channel 2, Netanyahu said his government would use “any option” to make sure Iran would not control a nuclear weapon. When asked by the anchor if that would also mean using the military option, Netanyahu answered: “Any option [including the military one]”.

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