BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Unintended Consequences

President Obama would do well to take a step back from his six-month policy of pressuring Israel to make unwarranted concessions and consider the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” After little more than a half-year in office, the US has better relations with almost every country in the world, except the one that has been its most faithful ally for the past forty years – Israel. That is not to say that his policies have borne fruit everywhere: Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela continue to be thorns in the American side.

Meanwhile, his administration’s unrelenting pressure on Israel is leading to the formation of a grand coalition of conservative and right-wing political parties. There is an increasing movement within the right-wing of the Kadima part to split and join Likud, bringing with them 7 – 9 mandates in the Knesset. Likewise, about one-third of the practically defunct Labor party, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, is growing increasingly alienated from party activists and second-tier leaders.

If these factions were to join with Likud, this new entity would have between 37 and 39 mandates in the Knesset. Furthermore, a coalescence of the center-right conceivably opens the door for the two settler-dominated parties with their seven mandates to join a future coalition, creating a center-right bloc of 44 to 46 seats. This would allow it to resist some of the more extreme demands from Aguda, Shas and Israel Beitanu; it may even allow for the dismissal of one of these parties from the current coalition.

This is the “nightmare scenario” for Barack Obama, a truly right-wing government in Israel with a solid parliamentary majority.  Obama’s  administration was pushing for a Kadima-led government before ballots were even cast in Israel back in February. How did this situation come about? It is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action.

In the waning days of the Bush 43 administration, erstwhile Kadima leader Tzipi Livni was treated with more pomp-and-circumstance than a lame-duck foreign minister with meager accomplishments deserved. Meaningless treaties between the US and Israel vowing to combat terrorism and weapons smuggling were signed. These treaties did not stop one katyusha rocket from being smuggled or launched at Israel. These facts were not lost on the Israeli public.

When Barack Obama was sworn in as his country’s forty-fourth president, his administration very publicly began to brow-beat Israel, in the midst of its own general election. Their favorable disposition to the untried and untested Livni was made clear to all. The left-leaning broadcast media in Israel, as well as the left-leaning newspaper were full of dire predictions regarding the consequences of a Netanyahu-led government. These facts were not lost on the Israeli public.

What was the result? The Israeli public overwhelmingly voted for center-right and right-wing parties, handing the center-left and left-wing one of their worst defeats since Menachem Begin’s 1977 triumph.

As pointed out by numerous commentators in Israel, and now increasingly in the US, Obama’s next mistake was to unilaterally abrogate past “gentleman’s agreements” between the US and Israel on settlements, and make US opposition to settlements the salient feature of his new foreign policy.

As Daniel Pipes has shrewdly observed, this was combined with an approach that attempted to neutralize domestic support for Israel in the US. So far, this has generated few dividends. Obama has failed to deliver on both Iran and a more conciliatory Palestinian Authority. This, combined with the pressure on Israel, is starting to erode his own domestic support among the American Jewish community.

Will the Likud successfully split the Kadima and Labor parties? It is more likely to happen with Kadima, which unlike all other Israeli parties has no ideological, ethnic or religious platform. Many see it as being led by opportunists. Furthermore, it has yet to establish a coherent program that it can promote in contrast to Likud policies.

Yet, Israeli politics are among the most dynamic and ideologically based in the world, and what is certain is that there will be several more twists and turns before the final act is played out.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Houston, I think we have a budget

Prime Minister Netanyahu succeeded in passing his proposal to change the way the state’s budgets are passed, when it bothers to actually pass a budget.  It’s now April, two months since elections and four months into 2009 and still no budget.  So, I guess this is some kind of achievement.  Likud was compelled, by parliamentary procedure, to endure a Kadima-led filibuster in the Knesset plenum that lasted a staggering 21 hours before it could savor the flavor, though.

A 21-hour boycott!  Wow!   Like, that’s a lot, isn’t it BigMo?  To better put this in context and split an infinitive in the process, consider Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.  He’s been in the US Senate for something like three centuries.  He’s filibustered about 125 years!  Half the time, he doesn’t even know he’s doing it.  It’s just reflexive, like when the doctor hits your knee with the rubber hammer.  Once, he even filibustered one of his own bills.  The man is legendary.  And don’t get me started on Strom Thurmond!

However, this is Israel and when anybody who draws a paycheck from the government – aside from our military – actually does something that looks even suspiciously like work might have been involved or at least thought of, well, people take notice.  By the way, that doesn’t include the four public servants I call “friend,” and from whom I might need to ask for a lift to the airport next week.  You guys are just peachy!

The loyal, but none-too-bright, oppostion

Kadima MKs requested amendment after amendment and delivered long-winded speeches about soccer (sorry, too late, you’re not getting that demographic) and the forthcoming Passover holiday (ditto) in deliberations that started on Monday at 11am and did not finish until Tuesday at 8am. Holy matzoh meal, Batman!  Don’t they ever have to move their bowels?

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon spoke from the Knesset rostrum about his diet, Kadima MK Nachman Shai read the soccer scores and Kadima’s Yohanan Plessner sang a song he wrote about Netanyahu to the tune of the Pessach song Dayeinu.  What creative minds (for six year olds)!  How is it possible they are in the opposition?  Could we possibly send them to run the government of Syria or Iran for a couple of weeks?

Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev reportedly took pictures of MKs sleeping in their chairs and all over the Knesset chambers.  What a character!  If he had any real initiative, he could have put-up at least a dozen settlements inside Nablus or TP’d Nachman Shai’s house.

So shat’s the skinny?

The proposal called for approving the state budget every two years, instead of annually, because it’s such hard work!  It also extends the deadline for passing the 2009 budget from mid-May until July. Or maybe even later. Who knows?  I mean, we just worked 21 hours over the last four months.

Does this mean I don’t have to pay taxes until July?  Maybe they’ll decide to cancel income taxes.  Wouldn’t I be a fool for having paid them?  The bill passed its final reading Tuesday morning, with 63 MKs in favor and 27 opposed.  Ta-da!

I’m sure that if a pay raise was involved, there’d be a budget vote tomorrow without so much as a coffee break to delay matters.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of, uh, defeat

Former finance minister Ronnie Bar-On of Kadima – who did nothing for three months while 50,000 people lost their jobs – declared Kadima the victor of the night.  Ronnie didn’t do well in math or bother to pay attention when his colleague was reading the soccer scores.  “The Kadima-led opposition proved its determination and its impressive perseverance in its parliamentary struggle against the Likud,” Bar-On said.  Impressive perseverance?  They’ve been in the opposition for a whole week!

It was so impressive that the English-language edition of Ha’aretz, the left-leaning daily newspaper that makes Al Jazeerah look like it’s published by Theodore Herzl, ignored the non-event.  They chose to run with a story about how the polar bears in the Ramat Gan zoo were given a “special” meal of carrots and matzah for the Pessach holiday.  I’m not an expert on polar bears, but I can tell you what they’d like to see next on the menu: bone-headed zoo-keepers!  Maybe Roni Bar-On, too.

Unfortunately, Kadima politicians have been slinging this same dreck at the public for years.  Just last week  Tzipi Livni declared that, like Moses, she would lead Kadima through the desert.  Based on the size of her rear-end, I’d say she hasn’t been in the habit of walking anywhere in some time.  First try walking to the salad bar and past the dessert bar, honey.  Then we’ll work on sharpening up those survival skills.  Toss you in with the polar bears for a week.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , | Leave a comment