Monday, January 28, 2013

Winning a tie

As expected, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected this week, but nonetheless suffered an unexpected loss of leverage that will make it difficult for him to form a government.

Netanyahu’s joint Likud-Beytenu list did even worse in Tuesday’s election than the polls predicted, winning 31 Knesset seats -- 11 fewer than the 42 its two parties held in the last parliament. Likud politicians blamed Netanyahu for leading the Likud from 27 seats in the 2009 election to the 20 Likud seats of the 31 it shared with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party.

More ominously for Netanyahu, the Center-Left bloc, which won only 55 seats in the 2009 election, rose to 60 seats, placing it in a virtual standoff with the Right.

Because his party won the most seats, Netanyahu is expected to be asked by President Shimon Peres next week to form a government. Then the wheeling and dealing to form a new coalition government will go into high gear.

Netanyahu will have 42 days to assemble a coalition and win a vote of confidence in the Knesset. If he fails, Peres can choose someone else, who then will have 28 days to try. Although it has never happened, if both attempts fail the Knesset is dissolved and new elections are held.

This process is likely to be a cliffhanger, with Netanyahu trying to balance his moderately right-wing supporters and challengers from the far Right, while accommodating the election’s big winner, Yair Lapid. Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) Party of moderate liberals is on the center-left side of Israel’s political spectrum.

One thing is clear about this election in which more than 30 parties competed: Israelis voted for change. Despite the dire predictions of pundits, the country did not move to the right; in fact the right-wing became smaller, if more hawkish. The change was a move to the center, led by Lapid. Another sign of change is that there will be 50 new lawmakers out of 120 in the new Knesset.

Yair Lapid’s 19 seats make him the power broker. It is assumed he has his choice of the top three ministries: finance, defense, or foreign. He campaigned for universal conscription, for reducing the deficit, and other socio-economic issues.

In his victory speech, Lapid declared that he would work for a broad coalition government. The charismatic former TV anchorman played the unity card. “I call on the leaders of the political establishment to work with me together, to the best of their ability, to form as broad a government as possible that will contain moderate forces from the Left and Right, the Right and the Left, so that we will truly be able to bring about real change."

This will be quite a goal to reach with Israel’s population of religious and secular Jews, Arabs, religious extremists, radical leftists, those willing to compromise on a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and those who reject this in favor of settling in all of the Promised Land.

It is a happy coincidence that the elections took place the same week as Tu Bishvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, when the Jewish National Fund since 1890 has sponsored the planting of millions of trees to drain Israel’s swamps, stamp out malaria, and make the country green. This new beginning of tree planting has come to be observed as the official birthday of the Knesset, which this year celebrates its 64th.

It is hoped that the 42 percent of new Knesset members and the new coalition they represent will be an impetus for the changes Israel desperately needs. This election above all set out to provide an answer to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who took to the streets in the summer of 2011 to protest the state of an economy in which hard work in good jobs still doesn’t guarantee being able to make ends meet. It was the economy, not the conflict with the Palestinians or the danger from Iran.
The average Israel earns about $2,572 per month, and families with two wage earners earn approximately $3,428 per month, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Teachers in Israel earn an average of $1,666 a month — among the lowest in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Cars cost nearly double what they do in the United States, and in Israel they run on gas that costs about $8 a gallon. Not only are taxes much higher, but basic household goods also cost more. These are the things that Lapid campaigned about, and young Israelis responded.

The writer is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. His latest novel, The Locket, tells the story of a young girl, a neighbor of Adolf Eichmann, who is caught in the horror of the Holocaust.
By Mike Evans

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