Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Israeli elections

Thanks and a hat tip to the one and only Yaakov Kirschen at the Dry Bones Blog !

In a country where politics can be a matter of life or death, the biggest surprise so far in the coming Israeli elections is the huge amount of voter apathy.

According to the latest polls, one-third of the 120 parliamentary seats were still undecided, and a turnout of as low as 60-65% could be possible...unheard of for Israel.

My take on this is that many Israelis have a real dislike of the choices they've been offered and don't think either Kadima’s acting prime minister Ehud Olmert or opposition leaders Binyamin Netanyahu (a former Likud prime minister) and Amir Peretz of Labor are up to the job.

A low turnout will affect the three major parties the most and will guarantee a fairly unstable coalition government at a time when national unity is badly needed.

Olmert is still the frontrunner, but dropping like a stone. His rather drab personality, his uncertainty in dealing with Israel's security issues, his connection with the fiasco of the Gaza disengagement and his brutal (there can be no other word for it) suppression of the Jewish community at Amona have combined to make Olmert increasingly unpopular.

This election at least in part will be a referendum not only on the Gaza withdrawal, but of the future withdrawals Olmert admits he has planned. And that is Olmert's single strength in this contest.

War weary Israelis still hope beyond all reason that they will somehow be able to wall off the Palestinians and that the majority of the Palestinians will be satisfied by anything less than the elimination of Israel. This is a fallacy, and has never worked historically whenever it's been tried, but it's hard not to see the appeal to people who have been under attack for so long and have seen their government fail to take the steps necessary to end the terrorist assault.

`Disengagement' is a fable..a pleasant fable and an appealing one,but still a fable.
When you are dealing with reasonable people in the context of a cohesive peace settlement, territory can indeed be a bargaining chip...but the Palestinians proved that the majority of them were far from reasonable a long time ago, and further concessions without any pretense of reciprocation are seen by the Palestinians exactly like the Gaza retreat was - as a victory.

I think many Israelis, deep down, understand that, but dislike the candidates from the major parties so intensely that not voting in itself becomes a protest any government ineptitude. Unfortunately, this is a bad time for it.

Of major interest will be how the other parties on the Israeli Right who inherently understand that `disengagement' is a fairytale will do. Watch Avigdor Lieberman of
Israel Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home)and the National Religious Party. If they get a large enough chunk of the electorate, they will have a substantial clout in what happens if either Kadima or Likud wins.

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