Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Signs & Wonders

As opposed to the US and other countries, rain in Israel is considered a blessing. Up until the elections Israel had dry weather and the forecasters on TV were making much of a drought. No sooner had the election results come in then it started to rain. As the coalition talks went on the rain drifted in and out of the region. Today, while Bibi Netanayhu exercises his two-week extension to form a coalition the rains came back again in force, even with hail. Rain is predicted off and on for he rest of the week. Israel has now gone from a drought to having reached the normal average rainfall. Still after several years of lighter than normal rain the underground aquifers are quite low and the weather guys say Israel'd need more years like this to get even. Some analysts’ say even that is impossible since the population has now grown beyond seven million and water in this region is scarce. Pundits even say that future conflicts in this region will be fought over water.

If one believes in signs and wonders the rain coinciding with Bibi's election is a good omen. How to tally that with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitanu's right-wing nationalist party, and other right wingers lining up to serve in Bibi's government, against the world’s negative opinion of Lieberman, is hard.

Coalition talks are still dragging on. The stalwart Labor party that began with the first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, and went right up through Ehud Barak in the late 90's is now splintering and bickering. Having gained only 13 seats in the last Knesset election, the underlings in the party are looking to unseat Ehud Barak as party leader. Barak for his part is anxious to stay in the government as Defense Minister, even though he didn't do a great job in the last war. He is so anxious that he'd even split what remains of the Labor party, taking willing Labor Knesset members with him into the coalition, securing them all cabinet portfolios, leaving the others behind. In effect this would be forming a new party without forming a new party. Moshe Dayan did something similar when he was brought into Menachem Begin's Likud party as Defense Minister, leaving his Labor party colleagues to serve in the opposition.

Bibi Netanyahu wants Labor in order to expand his narrow right-wing coalition, give him some leverage against the Liebermans and others who may want to do things Bibi doesn't want, threatening to bolt the coalition if they don't get their way. Ehud Barak's few votes would offset those right-wing moves, and Bibi knows it. Today, for example, some of the right-wingers are marching on the Israeli Arab town of Um Al Fahm. Knesset Michael Ben Dvir,of the Beit Yehudi party said on Israel Radio that he would march to protest the town’s refusal to fly an Israeli flag. More than 2,500 Israeli police are going to protect the marchers. Ben Dvir's party is expected to serve in Bibi's coalition.

The Likud is angry at Tzipi Livni for not taking her Kadima party into a coalition with the Likud. This would have given Bibi the type of government he wants without having to bend to the will of the ultra-right wingers. But Livni, whose Kadima party gained 28 Knesset seats to Bibi's 27, was unable to form a coalition of her own when given the chance. She now insists on a "rotation" agreement with Likud. At first she wanted to split the four-year term down the middle. Then she compromised on 18-months, but Bibi rejected any rotation. Kadmia thus stays out of the coalition and Bibi is stuck with the right-wingers, and Barak if he's lucky.

Most analysts give any Bibi lead government no more than two-years before new elections are called. There is a possibility that Kadima will ultimately join the coalition, thus bolstering Bibi’s government and lengthening its life.

So how does this all augur well for Israel? Avigdor Lierberman's Israel Beitanu party received 17 Knesset seats. While he has strong support in the Russian-speaking community, he tapped an underlying anger at the Israeli Arab population, and Arabs in general. He benefited greatly from the War in Lebanon II, and the Operation Cast Lead engagement in Gaza. The Israeli Arabs in both instances came out in support of their Arab brethren first in Lebanon and then in Gaza. This infuriated many Israelis. One of the Israeli Arab Knesset Members (Bashara) even went to Lebanon to talk with Hezbollah, an act that was against the law. He was indicted for treason and has yet to return to Israel. His pension was frozen and a warrant is out for his arrest.

Lieberman's party has thrown a bolt of fear into the Israeli Arabs, and this encourages some Israelis who feel that a more aggressive policy must be adopted in dealing with the Arab population, both in Israel and abroad. This group believes talking has achieved nothing. They also resist the old Clinton Road Map plan for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Most Israelis agree with Lieberman that no partner exists on the other side. Thus no two-state solution is possible. Hamas is not a viable partner. The PA under Abbas is barely hanging onto the West Bank, and would be long gone if the IDF wasn't rounding up Hamas activists as soon as they show their heads there.

A large number of Israelis are infuriated by the U.S. State Department's harangue over a two-state solution. Israelis, except perhaps the ultra-right, would love a two-state solution, and be done with the Palestinians. But it's like trying to sell a piece of property when the only people who show up to buy it are homeless bums looking for a place to squat. You give them the house and the first gangster that passes by will steal it from them.

And, given the violence exhibited by Hezbollah and Hamas, tacitly supported by Israeli Arabs, it is no wonder that Lieberman has gained support, and that Bibi is comfortable having him at his side. There's also the Iranian Prime Minister who threatens Israel with annihilation seemingly once a week. This is the same Iran that even before Achminijad sent squads of assassins to blow up buildings in Buenos Aires, killing scores of Jews. The Iranian nuclear threat is very real, and Israel is considering a unilateral attack in opposition to the Obama plan to talk Iran down from the tree. Israelis don't believe Iran wants to come down from the tree, but rather take over the entire forest.

What emerges from the coalition talks is not really as important as the threats Israel faces. No matter who is in power those threats will be there, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. The only question is, do the Israeli wait for the opponent to swing, or like some old high school street fighters, swing first. Avigdor Leiberman was a nightclub bouncer and thug. No wild imagination is needed to conjure up the advice he'd give to Bibi when the time comes. One only hopes that Bibi will be more successful than his predecessor Ehud Olmert. And only time will tell if the heavy rains were good for Israel, or just another example of how relying on signs and wonders only works in the movies.