December 26, 2012
Do unto others

For those who enjoy the cut and thrust of electoral politics, this is the season to unlimber your Hebrew dictionaries and connect with the web page of Israeli media (www.iba.org.il)

There are no less than three simultaneous performances of the cardinal principle, "Do unto others," along with the lucious taste of revenge for all to witness.

In Cinema #1, we see Avigdor Lieberman and Dan Ayalon. Their backgrounds--for those who have not followed this saga--Aylon was #2 in Lieberman's party, and a former Foreign Ministry professional, who became Lieberman's Deputy in the Foreign Ministry, but often was the more prominent diplomat in a situation where Lieberman was not to be warmly welcome in important places.

Earlier this month, to the surprise of one and all, Czar Lieberman did not include Ayalon in his list of candidates for the coming election. Moreover, the notice may have gone out to Aylon, if at all, shortly before the official closing of all lists. Ayalon could not, if he wanted to, go shopping for a place on another party's list.

According to one report, Lieberman punished Ayalon for leaking Ministry information to the media. By another report, Lieberman was miffed at Ayalon's enjoyment of a better press than himself.

Whatever the reason, Ayalon appeared to be screwed.

Until it appeared that Ayalon held the keys to Lieberman's future, and maybe his prison cell.



The State Prosecutor indicated his intention to indict Lieberman for improprieties dealing with the appointment of the Ambassador to Latvia. The candidate for the position had earlier broken the rules when he was Ambassador to Belarus by providing information to Lieberman concerned with police investigations of Lieberman's activities. According to the Prosecutor's charge, Lieberman paid him back with another ambassadorial appointment.

According to Lieberman, he made no effort to influence the appointment.

Guess who was the chair of the appointments committee, and who the police have been asking if, indeed, Lieberman sought to influence the appointment?

You guessed it, Dan Ayalon.

We do not know what Ayalon said to the police, but signs are that it was not an endorsement of Lieberman's story, and that Lieberman is now unlikely to see his judicial problem solved before the election and the creation of the new government.

In Cinema #2, we see Avigdor Lieberman again, also without great personal success. Here is paired with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

Last month they surprised us by announcing that their two parties (Likud and Israel our Home) would run a united campaign under the heading of Likud our Home. At the time--in the Knesset ending its term--the two parties had 42 seats together. By combing forces, they hoped to at least preserve that number, and hopefully add to it.

Likud our Home was down to 35 seats last week, when its leader spotted a ripe target in the ascendant Jewish Home, led by Naftali Benet. Benet had said in an interview that, if called to the IDF, he would not obey orders to remove Jewish settlers from their homes. That violated widely honored norms that put the IDF at the center of Israel's civil religion, and led the Prime Minister to a sanctimonious declaration that anyone sticking to the posture of not honoring military orders would not be minister in his government.

Since then, Likud our Home has dropped from 35 to 34 seats, and Jewish Home has gone from 11 to 15 seats.

In Cinema #3 we see Amir Peretz, a firebrand socialist, former head of the Labor Federation, misplaced as Defense Minister in Ehud Olmert's government who had the bad luck of having a war on his watch (Lebanon II). The iconic photo from that experience was Peretz intent on watching action through a large pair of binoculars while the lens caps were still on the lenses.

Peretz's latest prominence came when he was number #2 on the Labor Party list for the coming election, and declared--without clearing things with party leader Shelli Yehimovich--that the party must not join any government with Benyamin Netanyahu.

There was also a history behind this saga. Yehimovichhad defeated Peretz in a contest for party leadersip, but Peretz didn;t seem to realize who won.

After his "never with Bibi" pronouncement did not go over well with Shelli, Amir left Labor in a huff and joined at the last moment possible the list of Tsipi Livni. After the 2009 election, Livni had refused to join with Netanyahu, so Peretz may have thought himself with a partner he could rely on.

The latest news is that representatives of Livni and Netanyahu are discussing the prospect of Livni accepting the position of Foreign MInister in Netanyahu's government.

Note that this means both Peretz and Lieberman are being screwed, the first by the head of his new party, and the second by the State Prosecutor, with Netanyahu preparing to replace the Foreign Minister who may not be able to serve while indicted and waiting trial.

Events in Cinema #4 are showing that Netanyahu still is on the top of the pile, but not sitting so pretty. The center-left cluster of three (Lapid-Yehimovich-Livni) haven't taken off. They persist in avoiding a joint effort, apparently because none can subordinate him/herself to another, and are stuck in the range of 39 seats all together. Currently that is more than Likud our Home is polling, but the largest of the ununited triumverate (Labor) in polling only about about half the number of seats as Likud our Home.

While these three are on Bibi's left, Jewish Home is on his right. It appears certain that the President will give Netanyahu the first chance of forming a government, but he'll have to work in order to get it done. A month ago, the betting was that it would be a quick and easy task of going to his traditional partners the ultra-Orthodox along with Lieberman, perhaps with the addition of what was then a minor party Jewish Home (3 seats in the outgoing Knesset).

Complicating that scenario was Benet's caputure of Jewish Home's leadership, and problems between Sara Netanyahu and Benet.

Another complication comes from what apperas to be Netanyahu's present desire to gain votes by promising to limit the ultra-Orthodox. They are as unpopular as ever due to their appetities for resources along with exemptions from the military and employment.

So who should Netanyahu pick as partners with Lieberman in trouble with the State Prosecutor, the Haredim no longer ideal, and Benet in trouble with Sara and likely to be too settler friendly for those North Americans and Europeans looking over Netanyahu's shoulder and wanting peace with the Palestinians?

One prospect is Livni's party. Despite Peretz's proclamation against Netanyahu, Livni may be tired of her indecision and be willing to have another go at power as Netanyahu's Foreign Minister. Yair Lapid is also a prospect. He's a great purveyor of platitudes with no political experience, and may come cheaply. However, Bibi plus Lapid plus Livni are still a half dozen or so short of a Knesset majority.

Shelli also wants in, but she speaks too often for increased social benefits, while Bibi prefers a different kind of economic wisdom, and the tea leaves are showing that Israel must cut its budget drastically after the election.

The voting is January 22nd. We should have the results by the next morning, but it will be some time before the dithering and bargaining produces a government.

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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at December 26, 2012 08:59 PM