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Gevalt

 


The heading is not meant to mourn the election results, but the month or more of haggling and babbling that will surround us until there is a new government.

Several times a day we’ll be hearing commentators speculating about who gets what ministries.

Just as often we’ll hear the self-appointed “ranking” members of each party likely to join the coalition telling us what ministries they deserve.

Kahlon, Lieberman, and Deri have threatened to bolt if Bibi doesn’t cooperate.

So far we haven’t heard about talks between Bibi and Lapid, but that may happen if one of the more obvious partners surpasses the line of acceptable greed.

We’re hearing from members of parties likely to be in opposition about the disasters that will occur because of the election results, and and we’ll hear more of the same about potential appointments to ministries that deal with security, social policy, the peace process, and what it all means for Barack Obama’s relations with Benyamin Netanyahu.

There are several obvious and qualified candidates for each of the most prestigious appointments: Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Finance. 

Critics should moderate their shrill. No ministerial appointments will threaten a disaster. The professionals in each ministry can persuade the politician at the top to avoid the most problematic of their intentions. And if they fail, they can delay and dilute the implementation of great ideas, and outlast the politician who is their nominal boss.  

IDF generals persuaded Bibi and Ehud Barak (then minister of defense) not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. It would have brought thousands of rockets on Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran, and—after delaying Iran’s race to the bomb—would make the mullahs even more intense about dropping one on Tel Aviv.

Economists in the Finance Ministry helped to kill Yair Lapid’s idea of forgiving the value added tax of 18 percent on certain first time home buyers. That would have opened the door to politicians seeking the votes of other worthy Israelis by exempting the VAT on their favored purchases, it would erode one of Israel’s major tax sources while increasing administrative costs.

There are a couple of possibilities that should bother us. The most prominent is Ariyeh Deri’s demand for Interior. He claims experience, but it is an experience of using the fluid resources of that ministry (aid to this or that local government in exchange for political favors or financial kickbacks) to produce a guilty verdict on corruption and 22 months in the slammer.

Another is Education, always a target of politicians who think they know the secret to the future of Israel. They upset teachers and administrators with grandiose reforms about teaching, staffing, and exams that they do not stay in office long enough to implement. While educators can hope for some years of quiet from a Minister with modest intentions, the likelihood is another variety of bombast and confusion.

The failure to get one of the goodies (i.e., the chair of a Knesset committee if not a ministry) is a political fate worse than death. Back bench members of the Knesset, like their cousins in the US Congress and other national parliament must  sit and wait, gaining seniority and personal status, until they inch up in their party to get something more. In the Knesset and European parliaments where party loyalty counts, they risk being left off the list for the next election if they vote wrong, or do not do enough to please the party leadership. American legislators are in business for themselves in terms of getting nominated, but seniority is the key to influence in Washington, and that can take a long time.

The pay and perks of a Knesset Member without a ministry or committee chair are decent. It is a better job than selling shoes, running a neighborhood kiosk, shoveling shit on a kibbutz, or the work of most lawyers. But it’s a long way from shaping policy.

Those of us more concerned to understand what is happening, rather than what should happen, must remember all the variables that will shape the next five minutes of world history and everything that comes later. 

Barack Obama is no more in sole control of the U.S. government than Benyamin Netanyahu will be in sole control of Israel’s.

Obama has more aspirations than Bibi. He has spoken about a New Middle East, with democracy and a Palestinian State, but should recognize his disappointments. He depends on several thousand administrators and advisers to shape America’s place in the world. Also important for what he can do is the cooperation or antagonism of politicians leading other countries, what is happening in the world economy, and all those Muslim extremists recruiting more fighters by videos showing their new standards of barbarism. On the domestic scene, there are thousands of federal bureaucrats plus state and local officials--many of whom see themselves as his political opponents--who affect programs of health and immigration reform.

Bibi has shown more concern for Israeli survival than any particular achievement. No one familiar with Jewish history should express surprise, especially in the context of Palestinians since 1947, and recent actions of Shiite and Sunni fanatics. 

Netanyahu’s constraints will begin with the need to cooperate with ministers from five other parties, some of whom may be heading key ministries dealing with defense, the economy, and foreign affairs, as well as restive Knesset Members of his own party.

The two national leaders might have bad personal chemistry, but that is less important than conflicting interests. The American leader is compelled to deal with the ascendant power of Iran, and it’s not surprising that he prefers to do it politically rather than militarily. Netanyahu is concerned about frequent threats of aggression from Iran, and it is likely that Obama shares those concerns to some extent. 

The US-Israel relationship is unbalanced, but not entirely so. Netanyahu can make a mess of Obama’s vision with Iran if he comes to feel it is essential. Signs are that he made a small mess by that speech in Washington. Now that Bibi has friends in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, the Middle East is becoming a more interesting place.

Neither the Iranians, Europeans, nor our Arab friends are on the same page as the Americans with respect to nuclear weapons, the support of terror and the undermining of governments. 

John Kerry’s sonorous efforts may not produce a deal.

No one should drape themselves in mourning due to Israel’s recent election. Bibi has shown himself to be moderate in action if not in speech. And there are many other actions likely to affect our future as we hear the blather concerned with the details of Israel’s new government. 

Among them is the possibility of Obama’s people talking around stubborn Iranians who can’t agree to what he is willing to offer. And if that happens, what the White House decides as its next steps.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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