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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Backfired!

This morning I woke up to election results that were, on the one hand unexpected... and on the other (at least in retrospect), predictable.

Unexpected, because for months the Israeli public has been exposed to a steady drumbeat of well orchestrated media reports, as well as carefully timed statements from Israeli and US politicians, containing one common theme:  Benjamin Netanyahu is what's wrong with Israel and the entire Middle East.  

Every day there would be a new batch of reports / statements:

  • Netanyahu is the obstacle to any agreement with the Palestinians.  
  • Netanyahu is the reason the Palestinians are trying to have the world legislate a state for them rather than negotiating one with Israel.
  • Netanyahu is the reason there is no affordable housing in Israel.
  • Netanyahu is the reason so many Israelis live in poverty.
  • Netanyahu is the reason Israel's ties with the U.S. are in tatters.
  • Netanyahu is the reason Israel is so isolated among the nations of the world.

But at the same time, the election results, at least in retrospect, should have been predictable to anyone with even the tiniest bit of insight into the mind of the typical Israeli:

Israelis don't like to be told what to do (and what not to do).  From traffic laws to the laws of physics, Israelis delight in finding creative work arounds... largely (IMHO) so they can say say, "You're not the boss of me!".

So, predictably, the carefully orchestrated smear campaign from the left-leaning Israeli media... the well planned snub campaign by the Obama adminsitration... the relentless blamestorming on the part of nearly every Israeli politician who would stand to gain by Netanyahu's defeat... all had the opposite of the desired effect.

In fact, it is my firm conviction that many of the people who voted for the Likud (and by extension, Netanyahu), might not have done so had they not been incessantly scolded for the 'sin' of having tolerated this monster for so long.  And many others, who in a less charged atmosphere might not have even voted; having opted to go shopping or hiking on the election day holiday, took a sudden interest in what they were reading in the press, and decided to find out for themselves.

What they found out was as follows:

The obstinacy and intransigence of the Palestinians during Netanyahu's tenure was no different from their behavior during the tenures of previous Israeli leaders and political parties.  While the Palestinians have been given ever greater recognition, legitimacy and privilege, for all intents and purposes, they have continued to adhere to the three 'nos' of the Khartoum Resolution of September 1, 1967; "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it...".  Those who wish to argue this point should first check the current texts of both the PLO's and Hamas' charters, as well as the results of the last valid elections held by the Palestinians.

The recent trend of the Palestinians seeking to gain recognition of their state from the world, rather than from the only sovereign nation that controls the land on which they wish to create it, is also not Netanyahu's doing.  Just as with previous Israeli leaders, he has repeatedly tried to engage the Palestinians in negotiations that would lead to some sort of peaceful coexistence.  He has even done so to the consternation and outrage of the more conservative members of his own party, and offered something that even Yitzhak Rabin specifically stated he would never accept (a full-fledged Palestinian State alongside Israel).   In fact, in his last government, Netanyanhu gave Tzipi Livni - his harshest critic - the sole task of being Israel's peace negotiator with the Palestinians.  I don't know where you work, but in my job, if my boss gives me a task, I'm the one that has to explain if I don't get it done... not my boss.  On the one hand Livni has stated that Netanyahu tied her hands and wouldn't allow her to offer enough concessions.  But on the other, she held up a document (which she attributed to Netanyahu) that outlined concessions that she said went too far and showed Netanyahu to be a liar to his own coalition.  You can't have it both ways, Tzipi!  Which was it?!  No, the Palestinians have been seeking international recognition of their state lately for the simple reason that much of the international community has been holding parliamentary votes as to whether to recognize the Palestinian State.  I can't blame the Palestinians.  They'd have to be stupid not to court a consensus that the world seems willing - anxious, even - to provide.  But at the same time, that means you can't blame Netanyahu.

Netanyahu didn't ignore the social protest movement; you know, the one where a few thousand self-entitled students and young adults set up a tent city along Tel Aviv's Rothchild Blvd.  Bibi just had no power to meet their (mostly) unreasonable demands. Their central complaint was the lack of affordable housing.  But if you look closer, what they were really protesting was the lack of affordable housing in the most desirable areas of the central coastal plain.  For context, this would be like a bunch of American college students protesting the fact that, upon graduation, they couldn't find an affordable first apartment on Manhattan's upper West Side.  Rather than grasping the obvious; that they should be looking for housing in Israel's periphery; in the Galil or Negev where prices are quite reasonable, these young people decided that Netanyahu, and not the economic principle of supply and demand, was to blame for their 'plight'.  I'm sure if it was within his power to grant, Bibi would let everyone have a rent-subsidized apartment in North Tel Aviv or Herzelia Petuach.  But it isn't, so he has continued a reasonable policy of moving many of the IDF's bases from Israel's center (where build-able land is at a premium) to the Negev, freeing up a huge amount of new land for building housing.  But again, since many of these newly vacated tracts of land are in close proximity to Tel Aviv and other desirable communities, the chances that housing built there will be 'affordable' will be dictated by economics, not by the sitting Prime Minister.  

Poverty in Israel isn't something new.  Once upon a time nearly everyone in Israel lived an austere life that most today would equate with poverty.  What most people are pointing to today is not the fact of poverty, but rather the enormous economic gulf between Israel's 'haves' and 'have-nots'. To some extent this can be laid at the Prime Minister's feet, but not just the present one.  All Prime ministers - from the left and from the right - since the early '80s have presided over the steady privatization of many former state-owned enterprises and companies.  This process was handled so clumsily, and with so little forethought or oversight, that today nearly half of Israel's wealth resides in the hands of some 20 families.  And I have a little secret for you:  I doubt any of the scions of these families voted for Netanyahu yesterday, as Israel's elites tend to be extreme lefties.  Obama and the American Democrats made the mistake of simplistically equating the Israeli Likud with the American Republican Party.  But the fact is that the Likud came to power by representing and empowering Israel's economically-challenged Sephardim, and it has been members of the predominantly Ashkenazi left wing in Israel that have historically maintained control of much of the country's wealth, media and commerce.  Blame the last government for not doing more to dismantle the monopolies and oligarchies... but share that blame with all the Likud and Labor governments that went before.

This penchant, on the part of the Obama administration, to relate to Netanyahu and the Likud as if they were Republicans, is at the root of most of the dysfunction in the relationship between the two countries.  Partisan politics may be acceptable within the US government, but no sovereign country (or its leader) will long tolerate such overt condescension and open rebuke.  Yes, I'm sure Obama (like his predecessors) is deeply disappointed at not being able to have peace in the Middle East as the cornerstone of his legacy (maybe his Nobel Peace Prize was awarded based on a promise to deliver).  But by placing the blame for the lack of a negotiated peace agreement on the leader of the one entity that actually showed up made a lot of Israelis feel that the substance of the agreement was of no importance to the US, only the signed piece of paper.  It may sound trite, but WWII began mere months after Neville Chamberlain arrived home waving his signed piece of paper that was supposed to have assure a nervous world of "Peace for our time".

Despite strident claims to the contrary, Israel has been isolated from the world for most of its existence.  But it has been a pragmatic sort of isolation that has allowed both Israel and the rest of the world to continue to benefit from the exchange of economic and scientific lucre.  Think about it, where would the world be today without Israels contributions to medicine, computer technology, agriculture, etc.?  Where, for that matter would Israel be?  The bottom line is that until the oil wells run dry or an alternative source of cheap energy is found/developed, Israel will remain the fat easy girl:  Most everyone wants to be with us... but few want to be seen with us.  That isn't Netanyahu's fault.  That is a sad byproduct of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the economic/political loyalties that have resulted from it.

So in the end, the Obama administration and the Israeli media were able to profoundly influence the outcome of the Israeli elections.  But they were too foolish and heavy-handed to understand the backlash their meddling would engender.

Those in Israel and around the world who tried mightily to unseat Netanyahu woke up this morning to see that their efforts had backfired horribly. Because their entire case was based on ousting Bibi, and offered not a single concrete platform or idea as to how to solve any of the problems that they had placed at Netanyahu's feet... a sizable chunk of the Israel electorate - including many who may not have voted for the Likud, if at all - simply said 'no'.

Posted by David Bogner on March 18, 2015 | Permalink

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blamestorming.
Congratulations on the neologism, a worthy addition to barnstorming and brainstorming.

Posted by: Eliezer Eisenberg | Mar 18, 2015 3:52:32 PM

Did you believe much of the Israeli media,or your own eyes and ears about conditions and personalities, foreign and domestic. This time most of the swing voters went with the latter.Many people might dislike Bibi,but still want the strength and determination he projects,rather than any of the alternative parties.

Posted by: Ed | Mar 18, 2015 5:04:09 PM

The Israeli Left has all the qualities that have made the international Left the destroyer of societies.

Posted by: RAM | Mar 18, 2015 6:49:41 PM

As usual, Bogie nails it.

Posted by: Elisson | Mar 19, 2015 4:11:29 AM

Don't blame Livni for something that is clearly Obama's fault. That framework that failed to go through because The Knesset wouldn't vote to release the last batch of terrorists that Erekat wanted in order to stay engaged? Bibi thought he could get them released if Pollard would be set free. Kerry urged Obama to make freeing Pollard part of the deal. Guess who dragged his feet and held back? While Obama was hemming and hawing, Abbas, at Erekat's urging, sent his applications off to the UN. Obama totally blew that one.

As for Livni having it both ways? There were two things going on. The first, where she felt her hands tied, was an attempt to negotiate to an actual resolution. The second, where she thought Bibi was ceding too much was the "framework," mentioned above, which the American negotiating team would have accepted as a sop to its wounded pride. These "frameworks" always seem to use the '67 borders as their starting point, which is a poor starting point for any negotiation.

That said, your point about the three "no's" of Khartoum and the charters of Hamas and the PLO is well made. The PLO uses the "peace process" as part of its strategy for deligitimizing Israel. Hamas rejects that sort of subtlety.

I'm not a huge Bibi fan, but honestly, if it were my election to vote in, I think probably I would have voted for Kulanu which will likely be part of Bibi's government. The government Bibi is likely to form worries me a bit, primarily because the direction it is likely to go on non-Orthodox conversion and Jewish Identity seems likely to make Aliyah and life in Israel more difficult for my family than it seems it ought to be.

Posted by: Rich | Mar 19, 2015 6:16:46 AM

"simplistically equating the Israeli Likud with the American Republican Party"

For the record, the wealthy elites in the US are also leftist Democrats. Unlike Israel, though, so are poor racial minorities.

Posted by: Nachum | Mar 23, 2015 12:28:01 PM

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