February 28, 2009

No surprise. We returned from a 10 day holiday on Cyprus (a pleasant 35 minute flight) to find that prime minister designate Benyamin Netanyahu is still at work putting together a coalition that can muster majority support of the Knesset.

Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party won more seats in the election, but the center of gravity was clearly to the right of center. She could not form a coalition, while Bibi has two principal options: a centrist coalition between Likud and Kadima, along with Labor or other moderate parties; or a rightest coalition without Kadima or Labor. At this writing, he is still exploring his options, i.e., what the party leaders in the various combinations are demanding with respect to ministerial appointments and public policies. Livni is holding out for what Netanyahu is not likely to give her (a rotation with her as prime minister for two years), so something to the right appears more likely. That seems easy, but it is not over until each potential partner defines its terms, the prime minister designate agrees, and each of the partners accepts what each other will receive.

A group of political scientists putting together a volume on the election asked me to write an article on corruption as it figured in the campaign and the voting. The same group published a volume on the 2003 election, and included a chapter that I wrote on corruption. I would be pleased to send anyone who asks a full copy of my 2003 article and/or my draft for 2009. Here I will touch on some of the highlights.

Most problematic is the concept of "corruption."

It depends on time and locality, and the political cultures of different groups. What is tolerated in one setting can be condemned as unacceptable at another time, elsewhere, or even by close neighbors. Concepts of legality and corruption are related, but not identical. If it is within popular norms, an action can be illegal, but not viewed widely as corrupt. Or an action that is formally legal can be shunned as corrupt. Dictionaries use the following terms in their numerous definitions: spoiled, unwholesome, loathsome, putrid, tainted, evil, perverted, incorrect, and deteriorated. Involved in corruption are issues of financial irregularity, bribery, theft, deception, improper sex, and other personal behaviors considered to be immoral.

Tzipi Livni made an issue of her own freedom from corruption, and emphasized the unreliability of her major opponent, Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. According to her ads, "Bibi? I don't believe him."

Corruption was prominent in the run up to the 2009 election, just as it had been in the run up to the 2006 election. In both cases, it did not determine the outcome.

Why not? is a tantalizing question, with several answers.

In 2006 and 2009, dramatic events affected the national agenda. In 2006, it was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's illness. Insofar as Sharon was associated with some of the major probes into corruption, his tragic departure helped to remove the whole subject from the campaign. Ehud Olmert benefited from a "honeymoon" with the voters, without having the suspicions about him become a major issue.

Investigations of increasing severity into Olmert's activities highlighted the issue of corruption in 2008. His resignation lessened his impact on the 2009 campaign, even though he remained in office, police investigations against him continued, and there were proceedings against other politicians. The military operation in Gaza may have been even more important in blunting corruption as an election issue. The major parties suspended campaigning during the fighting, and began again only three weeks before the voting. National security was central to the campaigns of all major parties.

Prominent in 2009 were charges that Netanyahu was a chronic deceiver, beyond the hyperbole usually associated with politics. Media commentators compared what he actually said in past years with what he claimed that he said, as well as documenting his earlier predictions and promises that never came to pass.

The whopper in Netanyahu's career--recalled by the Livni campaign as well as by media personalities--was the claim that he was offered the post of Finance Minister by the Italian government due to his success in reforming the Israeli economy. There were also reports that he authored a book, which was printed and bound, but would not be released until sometime after the election. Speculation was that it described his actions in cutting welfare payments, which clashed with what he was promising to potential coalition partners.

Corruption also figured in the campaigns aimed against Avigdor Lieberman and his Israel Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party. Shortly before the voting, the police renewed investigations into improper financial dealings that had been going on for close to a decade. They grilled Lieberman's daughter, his party's campaign manager, and other aides, and confined some of them to house arrest. Centrist and left-of-center parties also accused Lieberman of inciting racism, and being beyond the moral pale due to his campaigns against Israeli Arabs.
The best evidence for the failure of corruption to influence the election appears in the votes of Likud and Israel Beitenu. Some of Netanyahu's votes may have come from people who had trouble with his reliability, but who voted for him due to other reasons. Likud's poll increased from 12 seats after the 2006 election to 27 seats. Despite renewed investigations against Lieberman, his party increased its poll from 11 seats in 2006 to 15. An anti-establishment element in Lieberman's appeal may actually have worked to increase his poll when the police came knocking at his party's door. Livni's campaign emphasized her rejection of the improprieties in the record of Ehud Olmert. She stressed her concern with principles rather than personal gain, and ridiculed the Netanyahu's lack of candor. While standing four-square against corruption, she led the Kadima party to only 28 seats. It is slated to be the largest party in the Knesset, but will be one seat short of what it won in 2006 under Olmert.

Corruption may have failed to influence Israeli voters in 2006 and 2009 because they are inured to a level of misbehavior that is arguably moderate. Charges in both 2006 and 2009 dealt with what might be called petty thievery (with quarrels possible over the label "petty"), violations of campaign finance regulations, and appointing political allies to government positions. Police and prosecutors were strained to raise serious charges of bribery, where large sums change hands and produced major government decisions in favor of those providing the money.

The Israeli public may accept that improprieties are chronic, but not so severe that they dominate national campaigns.

Transparency International ranks Israel 30th among 179 countries on its scale of perceived corruption. It scores more corrupt than most Western European countries, as well as Canada, the United States, Australia, and Japan, but less corrupt than the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Poland, and virtually all countries of the Third World. However, there is no indication in the organization's report that its informants are sufficiently informed about governance in enough countries in order to provide reliable scores.

The United States provides an appropriate comparison for Israel. It is the biggest, the richest, and most powerful democracy, and often is the standard that Israelis employ when judging their own activities.
While Israelis were getting ready to vote in the 2009 election, Americans had just finished with an administration whose president and vice president were said to have committed widespread violations of civil rights. The losing candidate for vice president in the election of 2008 was investigated for the improper use of a public office in order to pursue a personal vendetta. In the first month of the new administration, one nominee for a Cabinet position withdrew his candidacy due to charges of impropriety as governor of New Mexico, another Cabinet nominee and a candidate for another senior position withdrew due to problems of tax evasion. The nominee for Treasury Secretary received Senate confirmation, despite the fact that his case of tax evasion seemed no less severe than others which provoked withdrawals. Substantial populations in both Israel and the United States feel that their regimes are corrupt because they tolerate homosexuality and abortions. The sexual issues associated with President Moshe Katsav were not clearly more problematical than those associated with Presidents Bill Clinton or John Kennedy.

Commentators in both Israel and the United States link alienation and non-voting to animosity toward politics and politicians. "They are all the same," "You cannot believe any of them," and "My vote won't change anything" are among the reasons that people give for not voting.

Whatever the public's feelings about corruption, they are bound to compete with other issues in a national campaign. In Israel's election of 2009, national security and the impact of the spreading economic crisis appeared to be more prominent. Various notions of corruption may have been important to some voters, and may have led other citizens to avoid voting. Feelings about corruption may explain some of the vote given to Tzipi Livni. In light of the votes given to Benyamin Natanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, however, we cannot consider corruption to have been a decisive issue

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:43 AM
February 11, 2009
Once again, the same old lack of decisiveness

Why are Israeli elections so indecisive?

The condition has been apparent for some time, as shown by the difficulty of cobbled-together government coalitions to last for the maximum four years. Since 1996 there have been five national elections, in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2009. The results this time are close to a tie between the leading parties. There may be an actual tie, depending on absentee ballots.

Defined as a problem of democracy, Israel's lack of decisiveness is not all that unique. Other regimes appear simpler, with fewer parties and more stable governments. However, they may wrestle with their problems in political parties that are large, but not united, or with various interests that can keep the legislature tied up without the resolution of chronic problems.
There is no single, dominant cause of Israel's situation.

Explanations can begin with the parties that appeal to narrow and fixed constituencies, that pretty much stay out of disputes about the general problems that citizens voting for other parties want to solve. Largely Arab parties typically get 10 or so seats in the Knesset, and spend their time on the outside, criticizing whatever government is in power. Ultra-Orthodox parties count for another 15-18 seats, and limit themselves to the occasional fray about a religious matter, as well as money for their schools and (along with Arab parties) welfare payments for their large families. Another 6-10 seats go to Orthodox and nationalist parties (currently Jewish Home and National Unity) that are concerned mostly about settling the Land of Israel.

That leaves 80 to 90 seats open to parties with more general concerns, located at varying degrees to the right or left of center. When one of these parties leads a government, it is unlikely to have enough seats to dominate the government, without having to accommodate several others concerned about their own interests.

Another factor contributing to instability is the elephant in the living room, or the issue of Israel's unresolved relationships with its neighbors. We can define this as a tangle made up of Palestinians who will not compromise; Arab governments who continue to fan Palestinian aspirations in order to keep their own populations from focusing on their misery and their corrupt governments; and Americans and Europeans who also fan Palestinian aspirations. The fanning from American and Europe is milder than that from Arab countries. However, it contributes to Palestinian stubbornness, hoping that they do not have to compromise with Israel in order for someone else to provide them with a state along with the financial aid to operate it.

The Palestinian split between Hamas and Fatah makes the elephant in the living room all the more difficult. Europeans, Americans, moderate Arabs or Israelis have not figured out what to do.

There are Israelis, and lots of others, who blame Israel for the continued impasse. However, one can view the rightward tilt in this year's elections to indicate that many Israelis feel they have offered enough by way of reasonable accommodations.

The day after the election results that disappointed many, politicians and commentators proclaimed that the problem was the nature of the government. By this they mean a cluster of items that include the parliamentary system, proportional representation, many parties, and governments that cannot decide on the crucial issues and remain in power for four years. Several pledged themselves to work for reform. However, it has been tried before, without great success. This week's advocates agree on reform, but not its details.

Given its problems, the country is more or less successful. It has maintained its security, along with its self-critical and competitive democracy, despite intense enemies. Its social services do not fall below the levels of other countries who have similar levels of economic resources. It cannot afford everything that activists demand, partly because of the wide agreement to spend so much of its resources on defense.

On account of the structural problems of the Middle East, and its own fragmented society, Israel is likely to putter along more or less like it has. It is not neat, or satisfying, but it is.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:46 PM
Election. Now what?

The election results are not final. There are still the absentee ballots to be counted. In Israel these are almost entirely ballots of soldiers who voted on their bases. Except for them, and Israelis overseas on official business, there are virtually no provisions for absentee ballots. (Those away from home, but in Israel, get free round trip bus tickets to their polling place.)

The soldiers may move the results one or two seats, but the basic picture is likely to be very similar to the following:

Kadima 28
Likud 27
Israel Beitenu 15
Labor 13
Meretz 3
Torah Judaism 5
JewishHome 3
National Unity 4
Ram-Tal 4
Hadash 4
Balad 3

Party leaders are feeling one another out as to potential coalition partners. The first step--once the results are final--is for the party heads to meet with President Peres and advise him as to their inclinations, and to say party has the best chance to form a coalition that will win approval of the Knesset majority. The president has discretion to invite the leader of the most likely party to try his or her luck. In the past, that has been the leader of the party with the most seats. This time, the arithmetic, and the president's calculations of who can do what may produce a different leader.

The left has been weakened, as shown by the dismal peformance of Labor and Meretz. The right has done well, as shown by Likud, Israel Beitenu, SHAS, Torah Judaism, Jewish Home, and National Unity. Together, these parties have 65 seats, and that looks like a Likud-led coalition.

However, Israel Beitenu and SHAS may not fit well together. The spiritual leader of SHAS said that voting for Israel Beitenu was like voting for the devil. Israel Beitenu, in the eyes of SHAS, stands for the sale of pork and the legalization of civil marriage.

The most obvious coalition partners of Kadima are Labor and Meretz. Sad for them, that amounts to only 44 seats.

There is a coalition that secular moderates are dreaming about: Kadima, Likud, and Labor, amounting to 68 seat. That can happen, if the egos and the party colleagues of Tzipi Livni and Benyamin Netanyahu can agree on who would be the prime minister. Or, if they agree on rotating the leadership, who would get the job for the first two years.

At the same time that party leaders discuss the outline of a coalition, they also negotiate which party gets which ministries. These are jobs for the boys and girls, and are likely to be just as testy as what the coalition will stand for in terms of peace, economic programs, and social welfare.

Among the things that commentators are talking about is the mild or harder slap in the face that the voters have given to Americans, Israelis, and Europeans who have been promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A common Israeli view is that Israel has tried everything reasonable. Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas is too weak, too skitish, and without nearly enough support at home to make any kind of agreement. The folks of Hamas in control of Gaza are busy declaring victory in the recent war, and continuing their proclamations that Israel must disappear.

The only advocates of continuing a peace process similar to what is desired by Americans, Europeans, and some Israelis are Knesset members of Kadima, Labor, and Meretz, and not all those are enthusiastic about the prospect.

The hard work as just begun. It will still be going in two weeks when we return from overseas, and may continue for a month or more after that.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:48 PM
February 10, 2009
Another way of describing the Israeli electorate

It is time to revise the conventional description of divisions in Israeli politics.

Observers have defined divisions between the major parties as left and right. The left is concerned with social welfare domestically, and inclined to seek a compromise with Palestinians and other Arabs. The right is assertive in behalf of Israel's defense, with borders beyond those of 1967. The right has been less unified than the left on domestic policy. Some of its leaders support free enterprise and a minimum of government involvement in the economy. However, many Israelis who vote for right wing parties are poor, and welcome the social benefits that some right wing politicians offer. Politicians of the major parties to the left and right are mostly secular, although numerous voters, especially on the right, who are religious to some degree.

About 20 percent of Israelis support Jewish religious parties. Each of the three parties in this sector--National Religious/Religious Zionists, Ashkenazi and Sephardi ultra-Orthodox--differ somewhat in their security and domestic agendas. Religious Zionists are clearest in their concern for territory in the Land of Israel. The ultra-Orthodox parties have wavered on this issue. Altogether the religious parties won 25 seats in the 2006 election.

Three parties have appealed largely to Israel's Arab minority, and together get about 10 seats in the Knesset. The major parties have included Druze and other Arabs among their Knesset candidates, and have attracted some voters from those communities.

Rather than "left" and "right" for the parties that compete for 85 to 90 seats in the Knesset, the more accurate terms are "secure" and "fearful." "Secure" applies to the left of the spectrum, as well as much of the center identified with Kadima. "Fearful" corresponds with the right of the conventional description. Despite their overlaps, "secure" and "fearful" are both more descriptive than "left" and "right."

The emphasis in these categories is on the issue of national defense, and attitudes toward Palestinians and other Arabs . This election has occurred under the influence of rocket attacks, a military operation in Gaza, and frustrating efforts at seeking peace with Palestinians. The classic conflict between socialism and free enterprise has lessened in recent years. Free enterprise had vitality longer than socialism, but has had a bad time with recent problems that originated in the loose regulations of financial institutions in the United States.

On the secure side are those who are confident about Israel's future and are willing to take some chances in the hope of achieving an explicit peace agreement. On the other side those who are fearful and put the emphasis on rejecting territorial compromise.

A sizable proportion of both groups are pessimistic about reaching peace with Palestinians, Syrians, or Lebanese. A major source of frustration is the insistence of even moderate Palestinians on their traditional narrative of assigning Israel full responsibility for their suffering, demands for the 1967 borders or something close to them, plus an unwavering demand for the rights of refugees from the distant past (and their descendants) to return home. Other sources of frustration are the intense animosity toward Israel of Hamas and other Islamic extremists, and the split in Palestinian politics, often violent, that precludes any unified posture with which Israel can negotiate.

Nonetheless, the secure among the Israelis are willing to pursue negotiations. Their rhetoric gives peace a chance, even if they are not optimistic. They see the need to cooperate with hopeful sentiments in the international community, or with the need of other countries to appease the weight of Muslim countries in the world economy (i.e., as sources of energy), and their votes in the United Nations.

In other words, the secure among Israelis are willing to do what is necessary to protect the country's place among the important countries of the world, and what that means for access to trade, science, culture, sport, tourism, and other good things.

Some of those among the secure are optimistic about the chances of a formal peace, and work diligently at formulating one proposal after another. Some view themselves as players in a political theater that serves the optimistic among Israelis, plus Americans and Europeans who insist on continuing a peace process despite its futility.

Even those among the secure who are serious about pursuing peace are not fools. The chances they take are measured. They quarrel about when to desist and when to fight. They invest heavily in the military as the core element of national defense. They view the IDF as the element that allows risks in political negotiations, and a willingness to compromise on territory.

Those who are concerned that secure Israelis are timid or reckless should take another look at those pictures from Gaza, and recognize that a leader in the operation was a defense minister from the Labor Party, the most peace-oriented of the major players.

The fearful express a concern that Israel is not absolutely secure. They focus on every attack as if it threatens the nation's future. They emphasize the Holocaust and other dismal episodes in Jewish history. Their blood pressure rises at every adverse vote in the United Nations, and less than optimal writings or broadcasts. They speak against territorial compromise. They view "dividing Jerusalem" as national betrayal, sure to make Israel vulnerable. They are unwilling to trade Arab neighborhoods that Jews do not visit for the sake of Palestinian concessions. They claim that such a deal would increase substantially the danger to Israelis, while they overlook densely populated areas already under Palestinian control that abut Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the north, east, and south.

Some of the fearful express intense antagonism to Arabs. Avigdor Lieberman has attracted support among Russian speaking and other Israelis with his assertions that Israeli Arabs are not loyal, and should lose their citizenship.

We know enough about politics to be careful in judging rhetoric. At times the secure act in ways that some view as fearful. And at times those who speak as the fearful are flexible in practice. In the present campaign, Benyamin Netanyahu (Bibi) has appealed to the fearful. Among distortions cited by opponents are his claims that he never made overtures to the Syrians about withdrawing from the Golan, and never supported the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza.

Even if Bibi does become prime minister, he is likely to go along with the concern of western democracies that Israel seek peace with the Palestinians. He has shown in the past that when push comes to shove (and the American can shove hard), he demonstrates pragmatism, and not a great deal of concern for the difference between what he has said and what he does.

Bibi may roar like a lion but behave like a mouse. Nevertheless, Netanyahu's rhetoric along with Lieberman's, and the voters they attract, as contrasted with the rhetoric and the voters of Livni and Barak, justifies the labels of fearful and secure.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:19 AM
February 06, 2009
How Israelis vote, and what they should expect

This commentary on the Israeli election campaign is as good as any. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/07/world/middleeast/07israel.html?hp
Those interviewed note that ideology is no longer a feature of Israeli politics; that voters have moved toward the center; that no one has a clear idea how to respond to the confused regional realities; and that Avigdor Lieberman has emerged as the star of the campaign, partly by latching on to anti-establishment sentiments.

My explanations for those descriptions:

First, ideology is the stuff of simple and clear postures that indicate how to deal with specific problems. The prominent ideologies are those which define you on the side of socialism or free enterprise, and those which maximize compromise with international neighbors or emphasize the glories of one's own nation.

Second, the pressing issues that Israel faces are as fluid as they are unpleasant. Ideology does not work when needs are unclear. The need here is how to settle a dispute of a century or more with Palestinians and other Arabs when there is so much diversity among the Arabs, and each segment that Israel might negotiate with is hampered by a fear of what the others will do. When Ehud Barak was prime minister he offered Yassir Arafat a large portion of what he wanted, and withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon. Those actions produced Arab violence at home, and led to the 2006 war in Lebanon. Ariel Sharon withdrew settlements from Gaza, which heightened rocket attacks on southern Israel and produced you know what. Or maybe nobody knows what it produced. We have all seen the destruction in Gaza. None of us have seen what will result from it.

Third, the economic ideologies have been muted in Israel and elsewhere throughout the West. Most of us know the problems of socialism, and recent months have shows the faults of free enterprise.

Fourth, economic ideologies are little more than decorations when a national economy is small and dependent on the need to export and import much of what it produces and consumes. Local politicians can posture all they want about the classic issues of ownership, regulation, distribution, the national budget, and social services. Much of what happens depends on how much the Europeans and Americans buy from Israeli high tech components and services, diamonds, fruits and vegetables, and the prices of imported energy, grains, other raw materials, and consumer goods.

Fifth, Israeli politics is usually a scene of the same old faces that have been around for years. Voters have never chosen a party headed by someone like Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama. Those elected have climbed through the ranks of national politics. Even relatively new faces, like Amnon Mitzna, chosen to head the Labor Party for the election of 2003, or Amir Peretz, chosen to head Labor for the election of 2006, came from positions as the mayor of Haifa, Israel's third largest city, or as head of the Labor Federation. Neither led their party to an election victory.

Sixth, a familiarity with personality takes the place of ideology. Voters can assess how the leaders of each party are likely to respond to what they see on the horizon. As noted above, however, the horizon is blurred and fluid. This puts a premium on generalized likes or dislikes of known candidates, rather than any clear notion of how each will deal with whatever happens.

Seventh, no Israeli party has ever won a majority in a national election. All "winning" parties have to cobble together a coalition. None of the parties in this election seems likely to win more than a quarter of the seats in the Knesset. The political competitors of today will sit together over the course of the next government. We can expect that many of their meetings will be contentious.

What all this means is that some of the same old people will be dealing with Israel's problems. The voters and politicians are familiar with the problems defined in general terms, like security in the face of Arab threats, or economic fragility. No one knows just how these and other issues will play out from sources outside of Israel's borders. As a result, the premium for whoever leads the next government will be on flexibility, pragmatism, avoiding dangerous adventures, and coping with what happens.

From what we know about the major candidates, they all know this, and have proven themselves capable. Neither we, nor they, know what they will be doing a week after one of them forms a government. We know even less what they will be doing a month or a year later, in circumstances that we cannot predict in detail.

Given all of this, no one should be surprised that the candidates are emphasizing their own personalities and (negatively) those of their rivals. This campaign would be strange, indeed, if it sounded like a seminar on socialism, free enterprise, peace at any price, or strident nationalism.

Avigdor Lieberman is the outlier. He poses more than others as the man who knows the answers, and is not afraid to express them. His emphasis is on the disloyalty of Israeli Arabs, and an even more forceful posture toward the enemies outside of Israel. Much of his support comes from Russian-speaking Israelis, and from others who want a strong and decisive leader who will deal with unresolved problems of national security. The latest polls show him winning as many as 18 seats, which would make his party the third largest in the Knesset.

Coping with Lieberman, as well as coping with whatever happens among the Arabs and in the world economy, is what the next government will be doing.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:45 PM
February 05, 2009
Palestinian opinion

Every once in a while I receive a mass e-mailing from the Palestine Center for Public Opinion. The latest came on February 4th, and reflects interviews conducted during the week beginning January 25, i.e., after the IDF finished most of its work in Gaza.

Those wanting to do their own analysis should go to

Like all public opinion polls, this one carries no obvious map toward the future. The organization that does the work seems to meet professional standards, but the population is a difficult one. One suspects that many of them do not trust people who come asking opinions. The culture puts a greater premium on being acceptable than being truthful. Hamas and others can get tough with individuals who express views they see as unacceptable.

Palestinian polls in the run up to the 2006 election predicted a victory for Fatah. Hamas won. Assessments were that while Fatah was still in control, Palestinians were not inclined to say out loud, to someone from outside the family, that they would vote for Hamas.

Almost all the polls that I have seen from this organization in recent years have presented a picture of economic and personal depression. This one is no different. Among the findings:

61 % said they were pessimistic about the future
72 % thought the general economic situation in the Palestinian territories was bad
82% are worried about their family's livelihood
41 % are mainly concerned about security
64 % think peace will be unlikely when their children reach their own current age

When asked about the recent Gaza operation,

34 % said that Hamas won the war
54 % think that nobody won the war
44 % believe that Hamas' power has increased after the war
54 % hold Israel responsible for the war
39 % favor continued firing of rockets toward Israel

In regard to the parties and leaders of Palestine and elsewhere

51 % think Hamas is leading in the wrong direction
46 % think Fatah is leading in the wrong direction
50 % have an unfavorable opinion of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas
45 % have an unfavorable opinion of Hamas Gaza leader Ismael Haniyyeh
50 % have an unfavorable opinion of Hamas leader Khaled Mishal, resident in Damascus
58 % have an unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama

Conclusions are risky, but pessimism seems more appropriate than optimism.

If anyone has a chance of pushing Palestinians and Israelis together, it is probably Barack Obama and his team. Yet along with the problems he has at home, the situation on the ground is more difficult than last year. The Palestinians are not a happy family, and are unlikely to be on the same page when foreign peacemakers come to call. This survey suggests that Obama also has a personal problem. A majority of the Palestinians do not have a favorable opinion of him.

The survey does not probe Palestinian concerns about Obama. Many of them may think he is committed to helping the Israelis at their expense, just as many Israelis fear that he is committed to helping the Palestinians at Israel's expense.

It does not sound like one of those parties where the White House couple would enjoy a dance..

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:16 AM
February 03, 2009
Next week's election

The campaign for the election of February 10 is far enough along to risk some commentary.

Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud is holding a lead with a projected 28-30 seats in the Knesset; Tzipi Livni's Kadima cannot seem to rise above 21-24 seats; and Ehud Barak's Labor is stuck in the range of 15-17 seats.

There are 120 seats in the Knesset. Kadima currently has 29 seats, Likud 12 seats, and Labor 18.

Reinforcing the polls were phone-in responses to the three leading candidates' appearance on television. Netanyahu came in first, Livni second, and Barak third. A query on a popular web site found 73 percent of 44,000 respondents indicating that they would not vote for Livni.

Along with Likud, the high flyer is Avigdor Lieberman's Israel our Home. It has 11 seats in the present Knesset, and is showing as many as 18 in the polls. Lieberman may be taking votes from Netanyahu.

The electorate has moved to the right. Persistent rocket and mortar attacks on southern towns and the Gaza operation have done their work. Israelis are thinking about national defense, and the leading parties emphasize the subject.

Netanyahu refuses to divide Jerusalem, and promises that he will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Lieberman has sought to outlaw one of the Arab parties; he says that Arabs who do not demonstrate their loyalty to Israel should lose their citizenship; and has proposed transferring to Palestine areas of Israel with large Arab populations.

The Obama presidency may be making its contribution to the shift rightward. Israel was a lone outpost of support for George W. Bush, and is expecting a change in the messages coming from Washington. The media chart the appointments the new president has made in fields that concern Israel. Some Israelis may be reading the commentary from "well placed" Americans--often Jews--who are urging the administration to get tough with a country that has come to rely on unquestioned American support, and has not bothered to offer the Palestinians anything worthwhile. (See, for example, http://www.newsweek.com/id/177716)

The media has not be kind to either Netanyahu or Lieberman. It labels Netanyahu as unreliable, and Lieberman as beyond the pale. We have seen comparisons of Netanyahu's statements of past years with what he claims he said, as well as his earlier predictions and promises that never came to pass.

Among the questions raised concerning his previous term as prime minister are, Did he, or didn't he send an emissary to Damascus to promise that Israel would withdraw completely from the Golan? And what prompted him to concede large sections of Hebron to Palestinian control?

The whopper in his career is the claim that he was offered the finance ministry of Italy due to his success in reforming the Israeli economy. We are also hearing that he authored a book, which is printed, but will not be released until after the election. Speculation is that the book describes his actions in cutting welfare payments, which might get in the way of what he is now promising one of his potential coalition partners.

There are positive and negative sides to Netanyahu's reputation. The obvious negative is that voters cannot have the foggiest idea what they will get from Prime Minister Netanyahu, other than inspiring declarations of what he will do and what he has done. The positive side is that he is unlikely to be as destructive to a good relationship with America or Europe as his campaign suggests.

His rhetorical record is disturbing, but he has waffled under pressure in the direction of pragmatism. He will disappoint his most enthusiastic supporters, but provide them with fine sounding claims of steadfast consistency.

Israel's election, and the American election will provide yet additional opportunities to examine the "great leader" conception of history. Expectations of Obama are unsurpassed. Netanyahu may not be in his league, but he is as close as any Israeli.

Both of them will face profound challenges to what they have promised. Obama's come from the economic crisis, as well as from the perennial problems of the world's leader fixing all those problems in its far flung responsibilities. When the problems are interconnected, the chances of scoring high on any one of them is especially problematic. Israel is in a complex of issues for the United States that also includes Iraq, Afghanistan, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and oil. Each of those places, as well as Israel,has its own politics, and each is likely to resist any effort of the United States (or anyone else) to dictate an optimal solution. Palestine has vaporized into the contending West Bank and Gaza, and has made this corner of America's constituency even more troubling. It is not the time for outsiders to deal with Palestinians when they are talking nasty to one another, and occasionally killing one another.

Netanyahu has some credits on his record. He led a reform of Israeli social programs which reduced welfare payments below the level where they were threatening economic viability. Despite his claims, however, he did not produce all by himself the years of prosperity.

Israel is a small country, with an economy that responds as much to what happens outside as to what its government decides. Its government, like many others, can exercise a veto over what the United States demands, but it had better not exercise that veto too often, or too explicitly.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:42 AM