Some Initial Musings on Biberman
- The creation of a single list combining Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu for the January election has the potential to alter the very nature of Israeli politics and society entirely. Its power as a transformational force must not be underestimated, but nor must it necessarily be feared.
- Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic makes the very salient point that, although the politics of Likud-Beiteinu might be opposite to those of the centre-left, have a sizeable, mostly secular party keen on separating synagogue and state in Israel would undoubtedly be a good thing. To quote Goldberg, “Israel can’t afford to subsidize the ultra-Orthodox sector anymore, and the Orthodox parties have been granted much too much social and religious power. Secular and non-Orthodox Israelis have to take a stand against creeping fundamentalism”. Implementing a universal draft system, and reforming the system of benefits and handouts to the Haredim will be top priorities.
- The merger (though not a merger, a joint list) does have the potential to backfire on Netanyahu in particular. For, so-called soft voters, in other words those on the relative left of the Likud movement, could be turned off by Lieberman and drift towards centrist parties like Yesh Atid and Kadima. Meanwhile, traditional Jabotinsky-type supporters could drift away towards Israel’s other nationalist parties, including National Union and Jewish Home. So could its MKs of course, though the deadline has now passed to move parties without resigning from the Knesset.
- In my initial giddiness, I believed that both Yisrael Beiteinu’s support for the two-state solution (of a kind) and the movement of national-religious elements out of Likud into National Union/Jewish Home (a hypothetical) could restart the peace process, if they were to form a coalition with Yesh Atid and Kadima. I have been assured that to even propose this would be grasping at straws. J.J. Goldberg in The Forward even goes so far as to argue that peace process will be buried for good unless Olmert, Livni, Lapid, and so on formulate centre-left power bloc with a view to restarting the Olmert-Abbas negotiations. But I have to hope.
- Having Likud-Beiteinu on the one side, and an Olmert-Livni-Lapid super-party with Kadima and Labor on the other could turn Israel into a two-party state for the purposes of the next Knesset, as (Jeff) Goldberg also noted. Do not expect this to be permanent, however. Israel has been had this kind of arrangement before, most notably with Likud and the Alignment on opposing sides during the 1970s and 1980s, but after the death of Rabin, the left entered a kind of decline, giving way to discord and schism. Moreover, broad-based parties are all the more difficult to form in contemporary Israel, given the rise of both the national-religious settler movement and the ultra-Orthodox as political forces.
- If there is anything to be feared, however, it is the prospect of having Avigdor Lieberman in high office. At the moment, he is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. As far, he has only excelled at damaged Israel’s image abroad — he has yet to begin the work of tearing apart a nation. As I stated earlier, Yisrael Beiteinu has a good line on religion and state, and acknowledges the two-state solution from time to time, but it is a fundamentally anti-democratic institution with a nasty anti-Arab, anti-gay element at its core. Reports suggest that part of the deal to force the electoral pact through involved a commitment to make Lieberman Prime Minister towards the end of the next Knesset. Be afeard.
UPDATE: Israel’s Channel 2 conducted a snap poll after yesterday’s merger. The results seem to confirm my initial suspicions — and those of Joel Braunold — that soft Likudniks would, if pressed in this manner, drift towards Labor and Yesh Atid, while national-religious voters have gone with National Union/Jewish Home. Avi Mayer published the results in English, for your benefit as well as mine:
Poll results: Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu 33, Labor 27, Yesh Atid 18, Nat’l Union/Bayit Yehudi 13, Arab parties 10, Shas 9, Meretz 5. (Channel 2)
— Avi Mayer (@avimayer) October 25, 2012
FURTHER UPDATE: Another tweet from Mayer, this time from Channel 10 News, on the theme of what job from Lieberman, indicates that he might be offered the Finance Ministry:
Curious…Channel 10: Senior Likud official says Netanyahu and Lieberman have agreed that the latter will serve as finance minister.— Avi Mayer (@avimayer) October 25, 2012
Of the four main offices of state aside from the presidency and first ministership — Minister of Internal Affairs; Minister of Foreign Affairs; Minister of Defence; Minister of Finance — Lieberman has to have one of these, in the event of a Likud-Beiteinu victory. For those whose concern is Israel and its democratic character, Lieberman essentially needs the one in which he can do least harm. With this in mind, Minister of Finance might be the least worst option. Staying as Minister of Foreign Affairs is another possibility.