Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Casulty of Power

What happens when an out-going Prime Minister tries to influence crucial events?
He gets hammered. Ehud Olmert inserted himself into the “lull” negotiations between Israel and Hamas at the last minute, issuing a demand that any agreement include the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas for over 2 1/2 years.

Israel will not negotiate directly with Hamas, but uses Egypt as a broker. Today Israel’s president Shimon Peres reminded the EU that Hamas was a terrorist organization.

Egypt, the brokers of this “lull” agreement, was livid at the change in terms at the last minute. The chief Israeli negotiator Gen (res.) Amos Gilad made what he later claimed were off-the-record statements to a Maariv reporter castigating Olmert for putting a stick in the spokes of the negotiations. Gilad claimed that Egypt was “insulted.”

Cut to the background. Amos Gilad is reportedly a backer of Labor party leader, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. Amos Gilad, an analyst pointed out, was once Army spokesman, and knew that anything said in front of a reporter could reach the public. There is also political venom at play. One newspaper wrote that Barak and Olmert hate each other. Amos Gilad, some say ,was representing Barak’s views, and carried on with those views until the very end.. Olmert watched patiently as Barak’s man ran to the finish line, then stepped in at the last minute with his own demands, thwarting Barak.

Once Amos Gilad’s criticism of Olmert reached the public, Olmert went on the offensive. He fired Amos Gilad, and appointed a new three-man team to negotiate with the Egyptians, still representing Hamas. One analyst said Olmert had no choice but to fire Amos Gilad, since a Prime Minister can’t allow a diplomatic representative to insult him in public.

Many analysts say that Olmert believes he has been already set up; that someone destroyed his political career by sicing the police on him with flimsy charges that were then leaked constantly to the press until the Attorney General had no choice but to start an investigation with an eye toward an indictment.

Olmert, according to these sources, believes he will beat the charges against him, and then stage a political comeback. With that in mind he wants to leave a legacy in place that insures him of an easy road back to power. Freeing Gilad Shalit would be a huge bonus if he could pull it off.

However, one pundit cited Olmert’s miserable record in the wars as a millstone around his neck as he tried to swim from an island of political isolation back to the shores of power. Olmert disagrees that his record is paltry, rather, he is convinced that his leadership was so exemplary that the public will soon yearn for his return.

Meanwhile, Gilad Shalit sits in some cell, somewhere, held captive by Israel’s enemies. The latest round of negotiations with Hamas have ended with Hamas declaring Shalit is not and will not be part of the “lull” negotiations.

There are those, however, who believe Olmert was right in linking Shalit to the talks. That Israel was right to link the opening of the gates to Gaza from Egypt and Israel with the release of Gilad Shalit. That Hamas should give back Shalit before any agreement is signed.

Apparently Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defense, sees one soldier on the battlefield as a casualty of war to be sacrificed if necessary in order to achieve a military advantage. Olmert may have discovered this trend in Israeli thinking; this soft spot for the poor boy held by Hamas and exploited it.

Whatever the reason, it seems that it may be up to the next Prime Minister to close the deal with Hamas, not Ehud Olmert. What some are asking is if the next Prime Minister will be stuck with a deal drawn up by Barak and then manipulated by Olmert, a deal that still needs to be renegotiated. To undermine Egypt’s position, the Saudi’s are making noises that they, not the Egyptians, are now the leaders of the Arab world.

On the coalition negotiations front, voices are now heard that perhaps Tzipi Livni can be replaced as head of Kadima with men who are willing to make a deal with Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud who was asked to form a government by Israel’s president Shimon Peres. So far ‘Bibi’ has not succeeded in a broad coalition since he refuses to grant Livni an equal say in government and a rotation of the Prime Minister’s office. Livni has said she’ll take the Kadima party into the coalition.

Shaul Mofaz, one of the leaders of Kadima has said that Kadima didn’t win 28 seats in the election to sit in the opposition. What he didn’t say was that he’d rather be a cabinet minister in a Likud lead coalition, with all the perks of power, than an also-ran sitting on the backbench in the Knesset.

In the Middle East, things don’t get easier.

Especially, it seems, for Gilad Shalit.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Land of Refuge

Rockets continue to fall on Israel as outgoing Prime Minister Olmert says that the final talks on a negotiated “lull” are to be linked to the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas for nearly three years.

Israel continues to bomb the smuggling tunnels in the Philadelphi route in response to the missiles fired from Gaza into Israel. On Monday two rockets fell in the Negev causing no damage or injury. Israel responded by bombing tunnels in Gaza.

Egyptian negotiators, brokering the deal between Hamas and Israel, are reportedly miffed at Israel’s apparent backtracking on what Egypt thought was a finalized peace deal. Egypt has insisted that Shalit not linked to the “lull” agreement. But Olmert yesterday blew that deal out of the water. Late reports on Tuesday state that Hamas has agreed to link Shalit to the deal if the release of 1,000 Hamas prisoners is included.

Unfortunately, the life of the kidnapped soldier is a chip in these negotiations. Israel reportedly fears that Hamas will continue to dangle Shalit like a carrot in front of Israel, dragging out his release for years to come.

Confusion in the press as to who did or didn’t link Shalit to the peace deal. Haaretz had two conflicting reports in the morning newspaper. One said that Olmert had originally wanted Shalit left out of the negotiations, while Barak wanted him linked to the ‘lull’ but another report said that it was Barak who wanted Shalit out of the agreement and Olmert wanted him in. Olmert reminded the public yesterday that he was against politicians using Shalit as part of their election platform. This was a clear reference to Ehud Barak who mentioned the Shalit deal during the election campaign.

Pundits say that Olmert is positioning himself for a comeback with these statements, thinking of how he will return to political leadership once he puts his legal problems behind him. On Friday the police called Olmert in for questioning for the 14th time.

Press reports state that Labor party leader and Defense Minister Barak hasn’t appeared in public since the embarrassing defeat at the polls, when Labor barely reached 12 seats in the Knesset. Barak is reportedly packing his bags at the Ministry of Defense. Pundits say Labor didn’t get enough seats in the elections to insure Barak of the Defense post.

Coalition talks are still on going. According to the media Likud’s Netanyahu believes he will be the next Prime Minister. Analysts say that the possibility of Netanyahu and Kadima’s Tzipi Livni forming a Likud-Kadima coalition is the likely outcome. However together the two parties do not make up a majority in the Knesset’s 120 seats, since Likud received only 27 seats, and Kadima 28. They are still six votes short.

The likely third party to this coalition is Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, with 16 seats. But Leiberman is demanding one of the big three cabinet posts, Defense, Foreign Ministry, or Finance. The latter is a problem since Leiberman has been under investigation for over a decade for corruption and breach of public trust.

Leiberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties are bitter rivals. Leiberman demanded five things from both Livni and Netanyahu before he would join a coalition. Three major demands were met by Livni. He demanded that conversions other than ultra-Orthodox be recognized and allowed in Israel. He demanded that civil marriages be allowed. He demanded the destruction of Hamas.

Netanyahu has kept his options open, since the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party, Leiberman’s bitter rival, with 10 seats would be one likely partner in a Likud-Kadima partnership. However Shas has proven itself to be quite demanding both in cabinet posts and budget allocations, and Livni and Netanyahu would rather do without them.

The parties are expected to meet with President Shimon Peres on Wednesday to recommend who they think can form a coalition. It will be up to Peres then to determine who is best able to form a government.

A recent lecture by Pinchas Landau, a financial columnist who studied at the London School of Economics and writes for a variety of publications, including the Globes financial journal and the Jerusalem Post, was enough to drive a listener to drink.

Landau claims that the current economic crises is as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and is going to get worse. According to Landau the current stimulus package is not going to do the trick. He believes that all it does is “pour money into a black hole.”

He subscribes to the view of Nuriel Roubani, the Harvard economist, and others who believe that the financial wizards who caused the mess are the same ones trying to come up with solutions, and failing, mainly out of incompetence and “in the box” thinking. Landau believed to solve the problems ‘out of the box’ thinking was necessary, but that was not Washington’s current approach.

Landau thought that E. and W. Europe would be the hardest hit. He said that the level of unemployment would grow resulting in riots, and shaky governments. Those countries facing internal crises will look to place the blame on outside scapegoats. He predicted that anti-Semitism would rise, as it always did in a bad economy, and that some of the more radical states, like Iran and perhaps Syria, and others, would strike out at Israel to divert their citizen’s attention from their own internal problems.

According to Landau a slow recovery would begin in about 18 months than take up to a decade before the world is back on solid ground. “We are in a new age,” he said. “You can forget everything that happened up until 2008. That was a different time in history. Things have now changed forever.”

The surprise upside of this dire prediction, said Landau, was that Israel would come out the winner. He believes that the downturn in the economies of E. and W. Europe will result in an increase in Aliya. That immigration will be the engine to push the Israeli economy into overdrive, since it would require housing, food, clothing, and other basics.
As of now, according to Landau, the housing market is so limited that a mass immigration would be a repeat of the early 1990’s when nearly 1,000,000 Jews, or partial Jews, from the Former Soviet Union poured into Israel seeking shelter, and food, in greater supply than the FSU could provide.

He also said that Orthodox Jews from North America may also immigrate seeking cheaper “Jewish” education for their children. In Israel “Jewish” education is free, whereas in the USA it can sometimes cost up to $10,000 a year per child.

According to Landau, Israel will once again become a land of refuge for those seeking a better more secure life. He said that immigrants poured into Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, even as missiles rained down on Tel Aviv. He didn’t think that the Iranian threat would stop immigrants in search of a better life.

Landau says he is a follower of economists like Roubani the guy who predicted the collapse of 2008, and who now says that US banks are bankrupt.

How much of what Landau says might happen will only be clear as time goes by.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Knesset Elections Results

HOW THEY VOTED: (according to a Haaretz Newspaper poll)
Party Knesset Seats Percent of Voters

Kadima 28 23

Likud 27 21

Beitenu 15 12

Labor 13 10

Shas 11 9

Judaism 5 4

Union 4 3

Home 3 3

Meretz 3 3


Hadash 4 3

United Arab
List Ta'al 4 4

Balad 3 3

12 parties elected to the Knesset


Gil (Senior Citizens Party), Meimad (Rav Melchior)

The remainder were new parties running for the first time that didn't make the required minimum, and joined Gil and Meimad out of the Knesset.

Following the election results Likud and Kadima were both wooing Avigdor Leiberman's Yisrael Beitenu party. Most analysts think that the Likud will wind up forming a coalition of right-wing parties, making up about 65 seats in the Knesset, with Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu as the Prime Minister. Avigdor Leiberman is said to be requesting the Minister of Defense portfolio. Pundits say that should this happen Israel will again be left with a novice,in charge of the army. The reference was to then Labor party leader Amir Peretz, who was Minister of Defense during the War in Lebanon II.

Most analysts don't expect the government, no matter who forms it, to last more than two years.

Voter turn-out was at about 65 per cent which was on the low end of high. When Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister in 1999 the voter turn-out was 79 percent.

Tzipi Livni surprised most of the analysts by getting more votes than Netanyahu. Labor has said it will stay in the opposition rather than join a coalition government. The defeat for Labor was painful. Ehud Barak, the party leader, expected to get more votes than Leiberman, but didn't. Some say it was because the rockets kept falling on Israel even after the war, causing people to wonder exactly what was gained by operation Cast Lead.

Other analysts said Hamas fired the missiles in order to defeat a left-of-center election win. Hamas, the analysts said, prefer to have a right-wing party like Likud, and Yisrael Beitenu, because it is easier for them to stir up support in Gaza if Israel is attacking than if Israel is trying to make peace.

One pundit brought up the example of the Russian Revolution, where the anarchists purposefully set off bombs in order to bring down the wrath of the government and the army. This government repression created a polarization among the population which helped solidify the lefts position, ultimately creating the atmosphere for a successful revolution.

Whatever their motivation, Hamas succeeded in helping defeat Ehud Barak in the polls, and apparently bringing a right-wing coalition into power.

Some analysts call for a national unity government. Should the Likud, Kadima, and Labor band together, they would form a majority that would allow that coalition to rule, excluding Leiberman from the government.

However, it is considered unlikely that Netanyahu would agree to share power with Tzipi Livni or Ehud Barak. Netanyahu was reported to have turned down Livni's offer of a rotation agreement.

The only positive thing that happened on election day, and for mystics a good omen, was that it finally rained in Israel. A thunderstorm began during the night prior to the elections and continued well into the evening. "Geshem zeh bracha" (Rain is a blessing,) said the mystics. It is still an open question if the results of this election were a blessing or something far worse.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Approaching Elections 3

Rockets continued to fall on Israel. Two more fell on Monday, destroying cars in a kibbutz parking lot at seven in the morning. Israel responded by bombing two Hamas outposts.

The elections are getting closer. 34 parties are registered for the election, set for Tuesday, to choose the 120 Knesset members. Whichever party gains the most votes will be asked to put together a coalition of at least 61 seats. Parties range from the large established movements to the small quirky ones, like those running on a legalization of Marijuana ticket, anti-Mafia, or even anti-banks.

Inclement weather is expected to cut down the numbers showing up to vote. This winter has been unseasonably dry, with only occasional heavy rains. One of the winter storms is expected election day.

The elections are not expected to get a large turn out, even ignoring the weather as a factor. Most people are indifferent to the choice of who wins since, as far as analysts can see, none of the choices is preferred. Two of the three front-runners, Barak and Netanyahu, have both been Prime Minister in the past. Their records were nothing that warranted having them back for another try. Livni is viewed as weak. Only Avigdor Leiberman of the Yisrael Beitenu party, is viewed as strong, but his views are too radical for the mainstream.

Political analysts say that the Likud is increasingly concerned that a low turnout will not be in their favor. Likud activists have been interviewed on radio and TV expressing their concern that Likud may barely come out ahead of the Kadima party, which was formed by Ariel Sharon as a break-away party when he left the Likud. Sharon appointed Olmert as his Deputy Prime Minister. Olmert took over after Sharon’s debilitating stroke, and then went on to win the last election. Sharon has been in a coma for nearly two years.

Most of the people in the street say they haven’t made up their minds who they are voting for. One man, interviewed on Army Radio, said he was going to vote for Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, but changed his mind. “I don’t think Leiberman is ready to handle the power that comes from a big victory.”

Leiberman’s party is expected to garner about 16 Knesset seats, while Likud, lead by former Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu is expected to get about 25 seats, with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party running just behind Likud, if not even with that party.

Those who are undecided have trouble, they say, voting for Netanyahu. “He’s a crook,” said one. “He’s slimy,” said another. Many have trouble voting for Labor, headed by present Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Surveys estimate that Labor will get a maximum of fourteen seats. However, all parties expect that Ehud Barak will be asked to step into the next government as the Minister of Defense, even if Labor doesn’t enter into a coalition.

Ehud Barak said today that he would not take the Defense Ministry position if the Labor Party doesn’t win at least 20 Knesset seats. This announcement was meant to encourage people to vote for Labor, not assume that Barak would take the Defense portfolio no matter what. Some have said that Barak won’t go into the government unless the Labor Party is a coalition partner.

The problem with that scenario, say pundits, is that Labor has sworn not to sit in a government with Avigdor Leiberman. Tzipi Livni has not ruled out a coaltion between Kadima and Leiberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party. The Likud is counting on Leiberman and other right-wing parties to form a coalition. The last time Livni had a chance to form a coalition was when Ehud Olmert announced he was stepping down as Prime Minister and called for new elections. Livni as second on the Kadima list was allowed to form a new coalition but failed, leading to the call for new elections.

The larger parties, like the Likud, and Labor, are concerned that voters will chose the smaller parties that suit their fancy knowing that in the long run the larger parties will call them into the coalition. The Likud worries that this dilution of their votes may result in Livni’s Kadima party gathering more votes and thus forming the coalition.

The ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party is also worried that they’ll lose votes, but to Leiberman. Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has said that a vote for Avigdor Leiberman is a vote for the ‘devil.’

One of the stickier points is the ceasefire negotiations with Hamas. Egypt has been busy trying to broker a deal, sending emissaries around the world to work out the details. Reportedly a deal can be made within days, assuming Israel releases a large number of Hamas prisoners, some say up to 1,000, held by Israel, including four with ‘blood on their hands.’ Egyptian President Husnei Mubarak said today that the official ceasefire agreement could be signed by next week.

Hamas is also demanding an opening of all borders into and out of Gaza. These borders have been closed for two years since Hamas took over from the PA. This was a joint Israel, USA, EU strategy to get Hamas to temper it’s call for the destruction of Israel. So far Hamas has yet to alter its belligerent tone and actions. Israel claims the border crossings were used to smuggle in weapons and ammunition.

Israel is holding out for an exchange that includes the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas over two years ago. Shalit has not been allowed a visit by the Red Cross, or any other outside party. This is in contravention of all international laws.

One interesting sidelight is that should the Egyptians reach some agreement that both Hamas and Israel agree upon, and the agreement needs to be signed speedily, it will be Ehud Olmert, the outgoing Prime Minister, who will negotiate the final agreement and sign in Israel’s name. Pundits say that it may take as many as six weeks for the party that receives the most votes to set up a coalition.
The big blocs are expected to split to a left-center group lead by Kadima and a right-wing group lead by the Likud. The procedure is that after the official election results are in, the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, will call in whoever it appears has the necessary 61 seats to form a coalition. At the earliest this isn’t expected until at least Thursday of next week. That party will then have to get involved in the give and take, which party gets which cabinet seats, and the concomitant budgets, and patronage jobs.

When no one else can form a government, the President must take over and run the country for four years. Pundits say this is not something the 83-year old Peres would want to do.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Elections Approaching 2

A piece in Haaretz.com claimed that Avigdor Leiberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, was an ex-Kach member. Kach was the ultra-nationalist party run by the late Meir Kahane. Pundits didn't think this revelation was going to help Leiberman in the polls. Leiberman's office denied the allegation, saying that Leiberman may have visited the Kach offices on occasion but was never a member of the Kach party, which was outlawed in Israel in 1988.

As for who votes for Leiberman, The Erev Chadash TV show broadcast a Globes poll Tuesday night: Likud 25, Kadima 21, Labor 17, Yisrael Beitenu (Leiberman) 17.

Analysts believe that the backbone of Leiberman's support comes from the West Bank settlers. But according to political commentators, another strong sector are those people angry at the Israeli Arabs for holding pro-Hamas rallies during Operation Cast Lead.

Analyst believe that Leiberman will certainly get the non-religious settler vote. The modern orthodox former National Religious Party, now called Beit Yisraeli (Israel house) or the New National Religious Party, will get an estimated 8 seats. Pundits think Leiberman could count on them as well in the event he is asked to form a coalition.

Israel TV commentators say that Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu is worried about this metoric rise in Leiberman's popularity. Netanyahu advisors fear that the votes for Leiberman, and other smaller parties that voters assume will join a Likud coalition, drain off votes to the Likud. This could place Likud in a position where Kadima would come even or perhaps surpass the Likud in Knesset seats; a worse case scenario for Likud is Leiberman's party getting more votes than either Likud or Labor and forming a government with Leiberman as the PM.

Every Israeli election seems to witness another maverick party that comes from nowhere and captures the public's imagination. In the last elections the Senior Citizen's party won nearly ten seats simply because voters were fed up with the other choices and sought a safe, fresh alternative. Prior to that Tommy Lapid lead a party that won fifteen seats. Going back to the 1980's the late Yigal Yadin headed a party called The Third Way, that won about 16 seats. None of these parties existed at that level for more than one election. Most disapeared.

On the street, nearly everyone interviewed said they still don't know who to vote for. Commentators say that 50 per cent of the Israelis want Ehud Barak as Defense Minister. A report in the press Wednesday morning said a back-door coalition deal already exists between Likud and Labor

Smaller parties have sprung up, as they always do. Some are quirky, promising the legalization of marijuana, other splinter parties from politicians who didn't get a 'safe' place on their former parties election list. For example, former Labor minister Ephraim Sneh is running on a 'shut down the Mafia' ticket. To underline his point someone blew up his car. Another is Rabbi Melchior, another former Labor miinister now running as head of the "Green" party.

The TV ads are lame. Green party. Russian Parties, etc. Will there be another 'gimliem' Senior Citizens party that surprises everyone? No one knows, but all signs point to Leiberman as the big surprise so far.

However, according to the commentators, whoever wins won't last long. The choices are too limited, the issues too severe, the coalition too fragile.

More rockets on Tuesday. Ashkelon got hit, again. Israel bombed more tunnels. So far 31 attacks have been launched on Israel from Gaza since the cessation of Operation Cast Lead., 19 rockets, and 12 mortars.

Likud leader Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyhu has made a campaign promise that he would destroy Hamas if elected. But analysts say the only way to do that is occupy Gaza, which would make Israel the landlords of a million and a half Palestinians, many hostile, who would need food, clothing, and municipal services, all paid for by the occupiers, according to International Law. Campaign promises, the commentators say, are just that. Few people expect anyone to fulfill them.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Elections Approaching

Fourteen rockets fired by Hamas or its affiliates were fired from Gaza on Sunday, injuring three people. Another four were fired on Monday. Israel responded Sunday night by bombing tunnels in the infamous Philadelphi route, and taking out a group that fired missiles on Monday. These in spite of the fact that talks to set up an official ‘lull’ are still ongoing with Hamas in Egypt. Hamas has said that Feb 15 is not a final date to initiate the lull. The negotiations are still underway in Egypt.

Hamas is insisting on the opening of all border crossings and the release of 1,000 Hamas prisoners in exchange for the ‘lull.’ Hamas leader Mashal, speaking in Iran, thanked the Iranians for helping with the Hamas victory in Gaza, and called on Iranian students to help liberate Jerusalem.

Hamas might consider the destruction of Gaza a victory. If so it was a PR victory. Many European countries and voices in the USA, consider the Israeli action disproportionate to the Hamas rocket attacks. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff wrote that Israel should open up the Gaza borders, and lift the international embargo on Hamas. One observer said Kristoff failed to mention the years of rocket fire Israel absorbed by Hamas, or the inability of anyone, including the USA, to stop Hamas. He also ignored the psychological trauma suffered by the residents of the South, men, women, and children, who were constantly on the outlook for incoming rockets, day after day, year after year.

One military analyst asked that if Hamas won the conflict why is it that Israel being pressured to make concessions?

Shimon Peres said today at the Herzliya conference that the world misconstrued the Gaza conflict. They saw the destruction but ignored that Hamas had invited it by attacking Israel. One resident of the south of Israel said that after eight years of rocket fire something was finally done, but not enough. Israel, said the Sderot resident, should have invested another week and finished off Hamas.

Shimon Peres said that Israel didn’t want to destroy Hamas because then Israel would be responsible for the million plus residents of Gaza. Other analysts say that Hamas knew that the results of the IDF attacks on Gaza would be a PR disaster for Israel and encouraged Israel to attack just for that reason.

Israel’s election is fast approaching. Polls point to a significant lead by Likud, lead by Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyhu with an estimated 30 Knesset seats, 25 for the Kadima party, lead now by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. With Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Labor party estimated to reach only 15 seats. At least 61 seats, a majority of the 120 Knesset members, is required to form a government

Coalition politics is the norm in Israel, with deals being made between parties; promises of financial support for institutions, ministerial cabinet posts, and prime seats on various committees are part of the package.

The surprise this year is Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitanu party. Leiberman was a Likud activitst since his days at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that he attended shortly after arriving in Israel from the Former Soviet Union. At one point Leiberman was the director-general of then Prime Mininster Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu’s office, during “Bibi’s term as PM.

Leiberman’s party is expected to gain at least 16 Knesset seats, up from two when he split off from the Likud several years ago. Leiberman’s party is right wing, calling for ‘transfer’ of West Bank Arabs and even Israeli Arabs. One of his campaign platforms is to separate Israel’s Arabs from the rest of Israel.

Leiberman has been both vocal and physical in his opposition to Arab-Israeli Knesset members, frequently calling them traitors. Achmed Tibi, and other Israeli Arab Knesset Members have often marched in sympathy with anti-Israeli Palestinian marchers, and attended pro-Hamas rallies. One Arab-Israeli parliamentarian, Basharah, was suspected of passing security information to Hezbollah during the War in Lebanon II and has not returned to Israel since a visit two years ago to Syria.

Other Arab-Israeli politicians called for a cease-fire during Operation Lead, accusing the IDF of war crimes. This while 88 per cent of the Israeli population supported the action. “Where were they when the rockets were firing on Sderot?” asked Lieberman. Operation Cast Lead was reportedly a big boost to Lieberman, as the voters swung to the right.

Current election commercials are usually in Hebrew, however the Arab parties usually put on commercials exclusively in Arabic. This upsets Israelis, and helps Lieberman in the polls, even though some Israeli Russian new-immigrant parties run their ads in Russian.
Chaim Yavin, the long-time Israeli broadcaster known as “Mr. Television,” told Israel Army Radio that Lieberman was the successor to Meir Kahane and his Kach Party. Kach was declared an illegal organization in 1988 for racist statements. Yideot Achranot prize-winning reporter Nachmum Barnea also said that Leiberman was dangerous to Israel’s democratic principles.

As of now a troika between Likud, the Ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shaas party (about 14 seats) and Yisrael Beitanu would bring Netanyahu’s Likud over the 61 Knesset seat minimum. Analysts say you could add to this the other smaller right-wing parties and reach nearly 70 seats. It is also possible that Kadima’s 25 seats might join the coalition if the deal is sweet enough.

The problem is Labor. Bibi reportedly wants Ehud Barak as the Minister of Defense, but the Labor Party stalwarts would refuse to join a coalition with Yisrael Beitenu. Labor’s Ofer Pines, and others have said they would not participate in such a government, and experts say it is doubtful Barak would join the Likud government without the Labor party, even though the legendary Moshe Dayan did just that when he broke with Labor and became Minister of Defense under Menachem Begin’s Likud Party.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sensitive Turks

The Turks were proud of their role as mediators between the Israeli and the Syrians. The Turks thought that because of this role Israel would turn to them to help mediate between Hamas and the Israelis, but Israel relied on Egypt. In certain ways, this was a Turkish opportunity to enter the world’s diplomatic stage, and perhaps gain some ground acting as a leader in the Middle East.

The Turks were snubbed. This ‘insult’ may have had a hand in what the Turkish PM did in Davos, and earlier in statements about Israel’s bombing in Gaza, and present statements about Palestinians being in an ‘Israeli open air prison.’ The PM is running for re-election, and would have been better served at the polls had Israel provided him with the ‘honor’ of a middle east mediator. The Turks hold grudges. What we saw at Davos, and earlier, since Israel ignored Turkish entreaties to mediate with Hams, may just be Turkish hubris.

Turkey, meanwhile, is still purchasing Israeli pilot-less drones and other weapons.

Year ago reporters working at Israel radio were warned never to say anything about Turkey because invariably the Turkish Embassy would call up to complain, no matter what was said.

A grad missile struck the coastal town of Ashkelon today, causing no injuries. Four mortars were also fired from Gaza, one falling near a kindergarten. Israeli leaders, Barak, Olmert and Livni all promised to respond. Olmert said Israel’s response would be ‘disproportionate.’

The troika all said that Israel would never negotiate with Hamas.

Israel is still taking serious flak over the operation in Gaza, even though Hamas continues firing missiles into Israel.

Hamas reportedly agreed to a “lull” to last one year, starting this Thursday. The deal was worked out with the Egyptians as mediators.

A synagogue in Caracas, Venezuela was vandalized on Friday when a group of armed men scaled a wall to the synagogue neutralized the guards, then proceeded to pull out the Torah scrolls from the ark, and scrawl anti-Semitic graffiti, including “Death to the Jews.” Boliva has joined Venezuela in anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements.

Israeli commentators say that the Communist outlook of these countries has set their anti-Semitic tone. One Latin American expert said these countries would have been better served making friends with Israel not Iran.