Bibi, Tsipi and Mini-Me
So, the Israeli people have spoken but what exactly have they said? Even though Benjamin, Bibi, Netanyahu did apparently not manage to overtake his rivals, the right-wing block that he leads appears to be in the best position to form a coalition. If he's to become Prime Minister again, it's particularly bad news for the journalists. Last time when the smooth-talking right-wing politician had the job, most of the news focused on his batty wife Sara. He managed to lay such a stifling blanket of boredom over the peace process that most journalists dozed off well into the second intifadah. Despite its good showing in the polls, his Likud-party appears more brain-dead than former PM Ariel Sharon.
Luckily it seems that the extreme right-wing Avigdor Lieberman is going to be around to spice things up. If current forecasts hold, his Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our home) party will emerge as the third largest, pushing the much diminished Labour party into fourth place. Far be it from MadEast to join in the tasteless jokes about his gnome-like appearance and heavy Russian accent. But has anybody sighted Doctor Evil’s Mini-Me recently (and why do you think Mini-Me never talked)?
Lieberman has over-adapted to the Middle East and advocates stripping citizens of their rights when it suits him. Of course he’s starting with Arab citizens of Israel but who knows where it will end. It’s been rumoured that he has Alberto Gonzales on a retainer. One of the main planks in his party’s platform is transferring areas with mostly Arab inhabitants in Israel to Palestinian control in exchange for the Jewish settlement blocks in the West Bank. And any Arab who chooses to stay behind will have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state and eat a whole plate of gefilte fish, a feat that nobody from West of the Danube can perform.
Israel’s lurch to the right is threatening to turn the leader of the centrist, aakh, ugh, ugh (coughing attack to cover acute embarrassment), Kadima party, Tsipi Livni, into an also-ran twice over, a do ran ran, I guess. First she failed the relatively easy task of just taking over the current vapid coalition and now it looks as if she’ll lose out to Bibi. Maybe the Israelis are just not ready to be led by a woman (I know there was Golda Meir but Ben Gurion called her "the best man in the government.") Of course Livni is an ex-spy and spies make very poor politicians. For one they are way too secretive about their programme, which they reveal only on a need-to-know basis.
The real question is how Labour leader Ehud Hussein Barak failed to capitalise on the popularity of his namesake, the new American president. Israelis still blame Barak for the outbreak of the second intifadah, even though they are about to hand the country’s leadership to the man who was really to blame, Netanyahu. Labour can hardly be called left-wing but its demise does signal the wider malaise in the Israeli peace camp. Neither the left nor the right has an answer to the conflict and most people seem to have lost hope that it can ever be resolved. In that climate more voters seem to prefer the right’s maintenance of the status quo over the left’s bland assurances of better times to come. Of course the Israeli voters are wrong, just as the Palestinian voters were wrong in electing Hamas.
Let’s not even mention the religious Jewish parties that are procreating themselves into an ever growing share of the votes and that will basically go with whoever pays up.
The rest is up to the Green Leaf (pro-marijuana) party, the Pensioners’ Party and, oh yeah, the Arab parties. This election will probably see one of the lowest rates of participation of Israel Arab citizens the Gaza operation and after an unprecedented campaign of intimidation. First of all the Knesset itself tried to ban Arab parties from running until the ban was overturned by the Supreme Court. But now an extreme right wing activist, a former member of Meir Kahane’s Kach movement which has internationally been designated a terrorist group, will be the chairman of the ballot committee in the main Arab town of Um el Fahm on election day. It’s like putting Osama bin Laden in charge of voting in New York.
If all of this sounds dysfunctional that’s because it is. It’s getting harder all the time to distinguish between Israeli and, let’s say, Lebanese politics. Well, at least the country is integrating itself into the Middle East.