The Holy-Land That Needs Hobbes 0

Last September, Mithal al-Alusi, an Iraqi Sunni MP, arrived in Israel to attend an annual counter-terrorism conference. He forcefully cried, “In Israel, there is no occupation; there is liberalism,” to the sound of roaring applause from Israelis and foreign diplomats. Upon his return to Iraq, the National Assembly of Iraq voted to remove his parliamentary immunities and banned him from travelling. He was arrested and threatened with the death penalty. This was not his first visit; in 2004 he made a public visit to Israel. Consequently, five months later, both his sons were murdered. He was sacked from his job at the De-Baathification Commission and was expelled from the Iraqi National Congress.

Al-Alusi recognises that Iraq and Israel share similar challenges, namely the murderous Iranian-funded terrorism that has taken so many lives in both countries. Al-Alusi has lauded Israel as a beacon of hope and liberalism. The Israeli elections on Tuesday were crucially important because it is vital that the future Israeli government seeks to uphold the equality and the civil liberties for all its citizens – Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Druze – that she has attempted to keep implemented since her foundation sixty years ago. She must continue to be the model of a liberal democracy in the despotism-riddled Middle East, despite the very opposite image peddled by the Western Left, the media and the Islamists. It is easy for much of the West to forget that Israel has many Arab politicians, several serving in the cabinet.

The Israeli exit polls show that Kadima, the current ruling party, has won the most seats. But Israel suffers the proportional representation system that is used so widely across Europe; this means that a Kadima politician may not necessarily take the position of Prime Minister. What will happen? And what are the implications for Israel, the region and the world?
Last Tuesday’s election was a year earlier than necessary because the current Prime Minister Olmert resigned after continuous public pressure and police investigations into tales of corruption, and the new leader of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, was unable to form a new coalition.

The Knesset is a unicameral parliament. Its 120 members, known as MKs, are elected to four-year terms in a secret ballot whereat the public will vote for a party and not an individual MK. Seats are allocated in proportion to the number of votes each party receives beyond a threshold of two percent. The 120 seats are apportioned through party-list proportional representation using the d’Hondt method – a widely used system that employs a highest averages method. Once the official results are published, the President of Israel gives the task of forming a majority coalition to an MK whom he believes to have the best chance of succeeding. That MK is then given up to 42 days to negotiate a working coalition with other parties and present his government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence. If the government is approved, the MK then becomes Prime Minister.

The numbers and distribution of Knesset seats in the February elections are as follows: Kadima 28; Likud 27; Yisrael Beitenu 15; Labor 13; Shas 11; United Torah Judaism 5; Hadash 4; United Arab List-Ta’al 4; National Union 4; Meretz 3; Habayit Hayehudi 3; Balad 3.

The politics of Israel is an extraordinary maelstrom of differing ideals, religions and methods. Muslim voters have supported right-wing Zionist parties and religious Jews have voted for Arab parties. In the disorder of the system there is hope and wonderment at the extraordinary examples of different cultures and religions campaigning peacefully and democratically together to sustain hope and achieve peace; a possibility that cannot be found elsewhere in the Middle East.

There are a huge number of different parties that represent all walks of life, but this election showed huge gains for the Right. The Centrist Kadima was a party that sprang out of a squabbling Likud because of disagreement over the disengagement plan from Gaza. Kadima’s win was a surprise to many – especially the pollsters, who had projected Likud to top the results. Kadima’s decision to withdraw from Gaza was highly criticized at the time and now there is little success to show for it – Gaza has become a terrorist state with regular pogroms against its own people and regular attacks against the civilians of Israel. Kadima’s leadership has been weak in times of war, and its dithering in Lebanon is arguably accountable for the deaths of Israeli soldiers. The decision to release Samir Kuntar – a Lebanese terrorist who beat a little blonde four-year-old Jewish girl to death by smashing apart her head with a rock – provoked huge condemnation and dismay from the media and the public. Kadima has been regarded as an ineffectual, weak government – a feeble image that the Israelis have known hostile Arab states to prey upon. Thus Kadima’s decision finally to respond to the constant barrage of rocket fire from Gaza caused some surprise among the government’s detractors. The attempt to destroy Hamas’ weapon caches in December – Operation Cast Lead – may have changed the minds of many Israelis. The operation certainly sapped Likud’s criticism and its accusations of Kadima’s apparent apathy to the vicious attacks by Hamas.

Despite Kadima winning the largest number of seats, it does not have the support from the other large parties and given the current stances of Likud, Yisrael Beitenu and Shas, it is highly unlikely that Tzipi Livni will be able to secure a working coalition. In this case, President Shimon Peres may ask Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud to form a coalition from the Right-wing parties that dominate the election results.
The large gains by the right can be explained by the realisation among Israelis that their doves have been met with rockets and that their concessions have been met with violence. In 2001, the then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank with border compensations to make up for the other 3%. Furthermore, Jerusalem would be a shared capital for both countries. When the Palestinians shot down this offer, so fell the appeal of the Left. Further failures to respond properly to terrorist attacks resulted in more support manifesting for the Right. The South of Israel, especially around towns such as Sderot, which has endured thousands of rockets and mortar attacks, almost entirely voted for the Right. The residents want military action to end the indiscriminate attacks on their town – rockets are fired when school is starting or finishing and the children are out on the streets. Suliman Qadia – a Palestinian from Gaza from where the Israeli intelligence service, Shin Bet, helped him escape, said of Hamas: “Nothing else will work, we just need to go into Gaza, full force, and pound them, erase them completely, until it’s over. That’s the only language they understand and believe me – I know what I’m talking about. After all, I lived with them.”

The Northern Arab town Haifa and Tel-Aviv voted for the Left and Centrists; in the South the persistent attacks and a demand for their end necessitated an almost entirely Right-wing stronghold. In other words, the rockets voted.

Obama’s Presidency is also a cause for concern among Israelis. There is a real fear that he would not act to stop a nuclear-armed Iran. In response to an American President perceived as Left-wing, a more hawkish Prime Minister feels like a necessary choice to many Israeli voters.

The reason Likud could not strongly capitalise on the Left’s decline was the belief that Netanyahu’s previous term as Prime Minister in the late nineties was considered by-and-large a failure – he had made similar profitless concessions to the Palestinians that Kadima has made. Netanyahu has also failed to provide a direction for Israel that differs from Kadima’s. Thus, many Israelis that wished to respond to the Palestinian attacks – not to turn the other cheek but to clench their fists – voted for the further-Right parties, such as Shas or Beitenu.

Among the political parties there is a great deal of squabbling. The main issue that divides them so, is of course the path to peace with the Palestinians. There are those that would appease and there are those that would defend themselves at all cost. What is clear however is that Proportional Representation (PR) is disastrous for Israel. This tiny country is at war, and has been so for the last sixty years. It cannot afford to have chaos in the government at a time when order has never been so important. It can be argued that PR does help to unify the country – every party represents all Israelis regardless and so there is no chance of segregation through politics and race. But what of the small Bedouin tribe who needs representation in Knesset and has no MK to do so? Israel needs strength, equality and democracy, and PR does not sustain these values effectively.

One prospect is certain – whoever becomes Prime Minister will have to use a coalition of Right-wing parties. This would suggest – unless the Iranian elections in June provide a reformist candidate that would halt their nuclear programme – that a future Israeli government will take military action against Iran. Hezbollah’s steadily growing supply of rockets in the South of Lebanon and the large-scale Syrian troop movements to the border with Israel, suggests it is possible that a large conflict may break out across the region, a danger exacerbated by Iran’s increased missile capability and promises of retaliation. When Israel’s security is directly threatened, there is little argument among her political parties. Even the far-left parties supported Israel’s recent defensive campaign against Hamas, and in the face of Iran, there is strong unity. Military action is seen as a last resort but recognized as a very possible outcome.

Furthermore, the build-up on the Right would mean that the destruction of the Jewish West Bank settlements would seem unlikely as a means of concession. The idea of displacing almost half a million Jewish settlers is unthinkable to the Right, especially after the ruinous withdrawal from the Gaza Strip that just brought more attacks and death to Southern Israel.

The truth is that Israel’s future has never been so uncertain. There is much speculation as to from whom and from which parties a coalition will be formed. Some American commentators have suggested Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu will be given the foreign office portfolio, and there are even rumours that Livni and Netanyahu might share the position of Prime Minister. It is impossible to know or understand what bargaining and comprising is going on by the political parties behind the scenes. And in some ways, the choice of government may not matter. In foreign affairs, the actions of Israel can only be dictated by the hostile states surrounding it. Every government must protect its people, and Israel’s actions – while perhaps varying in strength – will be unchanged no matter what current party is in power. In times of war, Israel does not want an attempt at government, but definite ordered rule – an effective government is needed.

The results of the elections have reacted little to domestic affairs but largely to the changing world. Reasons such as Obama’s Presidency, a Turkish government that is arguably no longer secular, the Iranian elections in June, the undeniable attempts by Hamas to destroy Israel and her people, are all reasons for many Israeli voters to have demanded a stronger, more hawkish government. But uncertain times have bred uncertain results – now Israel must bring order out of the chaos if she wishes to succeed and survive.

Posted under Commentary by on Monday, February 16, 2009

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