More Flawed than Normal?

The Israeli electoral and party systems have long been broken. Political parties were always breaking apart and merging—indeed, both Labor and Likud are themselves amalgamations of several factions, some of which have over time left the party and then returned to it. Up until the late 1990s it still functioned relatively well.

But this year’s election process seems more flawed than usual. Or maybe it’s because the process is more exposed than usual. Tzipi Livni, for instance, has been making political announcements on her Facebook page since she left Kadima. And there are a number of really good Israeli journalists tweeting from virtually every public meeting the parties have been holding.

First, the center/center-left is far more fragmented than ever before. It makes no electoral sense for there to be a Labor, a Tzipi Livni Party, a Yesh Atid, and a Kadima. It’s true that in the past there have been several parties clumped on a particular spot on the political spectrum. What’s different this time is that none of these parties show any sign of willingness to work closely with each other. Worse, they’ve all given indications that they’ll jump into a government with Bibi and Likud at the first opportunity.

Second, the sheer ego that’s been driving the electoral process is more staggering than normal. Individuals have been forming and leaving parties seemingly on a whim. Tzipi Livni didn’t want to play second fiddle to anybody else, so she formed a brand new party named after her. Yair Lapid didn’t want to be in second place either, so he, too, formed his own party.

Ehud Barak abandoned the party he specifically formed to enter government because he couldn’t handle the embarrassment of staying with it to the bitter end. Amir Peretz sulked because he was at number three in Labor and couldn’t get Shelly Yachimovich to give in to his demands, so he left the party he had once led and went to Livni.

Haim Amsalem was kicked out of Shas for dissenting from the party’s rabbinical line, and formed Am Shalem. Michael Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad didn’t like the new leadership in National Union, so they left to form Strong Israel.

If the stakes for Israelis and Palestinians weren’t so high, this would make for a good drama—or comedy. (Michael Koplow appropriately compared Israeli politics to an HBO series.)

But weighty issues remain to be adequately dealt with. Hamas and Hezbollah are clearly much stronger than ever before; relations with Turkey and Egypt are persistently stagnant, with no sign of potential improvement any time soon; the Iranian nuclear question is coming to a head within the next six to 12 months; the Syrian endgame looks to be here; and the recognition of Palestine as a non-member state at the UN is raising new questions about political and legal maneuvers and putting renewed emphasis on Israeli policies toward the West Bank.

Israel is distracted from dealing with these issues because parties and politicians are busy fighting for what they see as their rightful share of the political pie. The saddest part of it all is that the outcome of the elections is unlikely to change things all that much. The right is likely to still get between 65 and 68 seats, or more (the most recent poll gives it 73 Knesset seats—though I should repeat that I’m not convinced “left” and “right” are necessarily helpful categories). Bibi will probably still be prime minister. And, as I said, most parties would join Bibi’s coalition if they could—except the Arab parties (which won’t be asked) and Meretz (which seems most likely to stand more on principle than any other party).

The silver lining is that the electoral lists are now set, by law. We’ll see less overt and public plotting and scheming…at least until January 23.

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2 thoughts on “More Flawed than Normal?

  1. Actually, I think the situation with Am Shalem is different from all the others. He didn’t quit his party – he was ejected from it, and over a fairly substantive issue. I think there is both room and a need for a party like his that holds his stand on deferments and is of that group. I hope to see it get four or so mandates and join the government.
    As for all the others, yeah, they can’t get it together. But isn’t it worth mentioning that Likud and YB were able to form a workable merger as opposed to all the left wing parties? That says something for Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman, doesn’t it?

  2. First of all, your linking knessetjeremy shows you have good taste. I may be the only one in Israel who thinks so, but I think the current system is better than almost any alternative, given the diversity of the population. (I do think it’s unfair that people who vote for parties that don’t make it lose their votes; the party ought to be allowed to have a “backup”.)

    Regarding the danger, I don’t see it, given that Abbas will never come to the table, and if he did, it would just make things worse. (The only way that Abbas will come to the table would be if the US encouraged Israel to form new settlements, but that’s even less likely.)

    I do not think it makes sense to label Labor or Lapid “center-left” and Likud “right”. That seems skewed to me. If Meretz is the only left-wing party, then Ichud is the only right-wing one.

    At the end of the day, most people will vote security.

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