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.