Israel’s Fractional Reality
In Israel, the devil is not so much in the details as it is in the fractions.
Ignore the puffy pundits on TV who have been wrong all along. The math is easy. Likud-Beitenu is a fourth. Yair Lapid’s Yesh-Atid is a sixth. Labor is an eighth, while Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home is a tenth.
And as anyone who crunches fractions knows, there is only one way to do deal with fractions: finding a common denominator.
Benjamin Netanyahu knows this, and that is why he will be prime minister. Yair Lapid knows this, and that is why he ignored the advice of Tzippy Livni and Shelly Yehimovitz to make extreme demands or political statements about never doing business with Netanyahu and about making deals with the anti-Zionist Arab parties.
One quarter and one-sixth in the case of the 120-member Knesset is 50 seats. With Bennet’s one-sixth, that is a 62-member coalition base. Small, strong, workable.
Although the Israeli press—Yediot, Channel 10, Channel Two etc—like to call Tzippy Livni and Shelly Yehimovitz “moderates” or “centrists,” they are not at the heart of Israeli consensus, as fractious and fractional as that is.
The truth is that the Likud is at the heart of the Jewish vote, and that is why it has rarely lost in the last 30 years, especially after the failure of Oslo pacts and the Gaza withdrawal championed by Labor and Kadima. Public opinion polls consistently show that Jewish voters do not feel Israel can make a deal with the PLO or Hamas.
The so-called “peace process” was only an issue in the mind of Shimon Peres, Tzippy Livni and Amir Peretz. None of them will be prime minister.
That is why Kadima has evaporated, and that is why Tzippy Livni got fewer votes than Meretz or the Haredi parties.. Livni built her campaign on talking to the PLO, which actually became more extreme after Arafat’s death and the succession of Mahmoud Abbas, a leader who Livni insists is the answer to Israel’s prayers.
Even Palestinians laugh at this analysis, and it is about time that the Israeli Left recognize the fact that the Palestinian national movement does not have any room in its heart for a real two-state solution. American and European leaders will also need to see this reality rather than continuing the charade of phony meetings that go nowhere.
Like Barack Obama, who got reelected with reduced support, Netanyahu has been re-elected. As in the case of Obama, there is much disappointment with Netanyahu, but the basic truth is Netanyahu did a better job economically and militarily than his predecessors—Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert.
Sharon knew well enough to ask Netanyahu to be his finance minister when Sharon was prime minister. Then and now, Netanyahu did a remarkable job of balancing social needs, taxes and job production. Out of the OECD countries, Israel’s performance beats that of America or Germany—no small trick.
Compare also Netnayahu’s military performance on Gaza with Olmert’s work on Gaza and Lebanon or Barak’s fiasco with the Second Intifada. Netanyahu will form the next coalition because most Israelis think he is best qualified for the job. They are right, and they are also, largely, Right.
Pollster Mina Tsemah said that half of Yair Lapid’s voters identify as rightists, and Lapid himself does not want to do business with the extreme Arab parties or make the kind of failed one-sided concessions that typify Livni and Olmert.
That is why the press talk of two “equal blocs” between the Left and the Right is nonsense. Lapid is not on the Left politically or economically. The heart of his message has been enunciated by his colleague Ofer Shelah—equalizing the burden of army service.
Actually this is symbolic of a larger issue: how to get the Haredi men and women to take a greater share in Israel’s economy. Lapid is smart enough to know that this has to be an evolutionary process, and Netanyahu is smart enough to know that it is the kind of painful change that will be resisted by Haredi leaders.
That is why Netanyahu will probably accept Lapid’s demand to keep Haredi parties out of the government, or at least make tough demands on them.
Aside from the common denominator of keeping Israel safe from Iran and collapsing Arab neighbors (Syria, Egypt, etc) and keeping the economy strong, Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennet will find a common denominator in pulling and pushing Haredi families to remain religious while also becoming part of working Israel.
Those are the common denominators, and that is how Israel can make the fractions work.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. A former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, he was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and teaches at Bar Ilan University. This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.