So Tzipi Livni was unable to come up with enough baksheesh to get Shas on board, and now Israel will have new elections, possibly as soon as in 90 days. “Shas cannot be bought!” said party leader Eli Yishai, in a statement that ranks with “I am not a crook” (Richard Nixon) for sheer counterfactuality and brings to mind the ancient joke:
Man: Would you go to bed with me for $10 million?
Woman: Yes, probably I would.
M: How about $40?
W: How dare you! What do you think I am?
M : We’ve already determined that; now we’re haggling over the price.
One positive consequence of this will be that the situation in which the composition of the Knesset is to the left of the position of the electorate will be rectified. And one expects the people to want to punish those it feels are responsible for the debacles in Gaza and Lebanon.
This implies that Kadima and Labor should decline and the Likud should gain. While the Likud has definitely moved up, surprisingly Kadima leads the Likud in polls by a slight margin, probably because of Livni’s personal popularity — and because most Israelis see the disgraced Olmert as the real villain. Labor looks to be the biggest loser. If so, the coalition that will be formed will probably include the Likud and Kadima, with one or more small parties. At least it means that the possibility of a left-wing coalition including Kadima, Labor and Meretz is ruled out.
So what does this mean for the direction that Israel will go in its relation to the Arab world and the Palestinians? Shimon Peres is ever the optimist:
The president then asked parties to consider their role in the Israeli-Arab conflict, insisting that the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative was a huge step in distancing the Arab world from a concrete policy of rejecting Israel’s existence. Peres said that most of the Arab leaders he has met with were “unwilling to fall in line with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s imperialist approach to Islam,” and added that Egyptian President Hossni Mubarak had made it clear that “a peace deal with the Palestinians will inevitably lead to a larger peace agreement in the Middle East.” Peres insisted, “We have never been as close to peace as we are now.” — Jerusalem Post
Peres, who still thinks that the Oslo agreement was a great achievment rather than a disaster that lead to thousands of deaths, also thinks that the Saudi initiative represented some kind of concession by the Arabs. But a promise to establish ‘normal relations’ with Israel after a pre-67 sized Israel has been submerged by 5 million hostile Arab ‘refugees’ does not represent a real improvement over the “three No’s“. Peres reminds me of the guy who is happy when his girlfriend promises to marry him when Hell freezes over, because that means he has a chance.
Peres is correct that the Sunni Arab nations are very uncomfortable with Iranian plans to project revolutionary Shiite Islamism throughout the Mideast. While this might cause them to ignore Israeli actions against Iran or her proxies — as happened in the 2006 Lebanon war when Arab reaction was mostly verbal — it cannot change the ideological principles and domestic considerations that underlie the rejection of Israel. It cannot be a foundation for a lasting peace.
If the Likud’s Bibi Netanyahu is taken at his word, he will push to keep the Golan Heights, much of the West Bank, and an “undivided Jerusalem”. He has also said that he sees nothing wrong with continued construction of housing within Jewish neighborhoods outside of the 1967 lines, a red flag for Palestinians, the EU and the US State Department.
Even if Livni heads the government, she will be constrained to some extent by her partner. So I expect that the chances for serious concessions to the Palestinians or Syria in return for some kind of paper ‘peace’ agreement are much less likely. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. Meanwhile, especially if Barack Obama wins the election here in the US, we can expect more pressure on Israel to make such concessions.
Finally, in all the excitement one forgets that Ehud Olmert will continue to be Prime Minister for at least another three months.