Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Which ministry for Yair Lapid?

Before the latest election, Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said that after the election he would break Likud Beitenu back into its two component parts: Likud (20 seats) and Israel Beitenu (17 seats). This would make his party the third largest party in the ruling coalition that Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to form and leave Likud with only one more seat than Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party. This would strengthen the bargaining position of both Lapid's party and Israel Beitenu vis a vis the Likud. Since Lieberman has made no secret of his wanting to replace Netanyahu as the leader of the Israeli Right, and the media during the election campaign was so full of portraits of Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home, expect him to carry out his pledge.  

Normally a party in the position of Yesh Atid would be offered a choice of either the finance or foreign affairs ministries. Lapid has no expertise or background in either area. From a vanity and publicity point of view, the latter ministry would be more advantageous as it would allow him to be constantly in the Israeli and international media in a positive light meeting with world leaders. Whereas as finance minister he would have to be cast as the villain by cutting Israel's blotted national budget. He might be better off either taking a lesser ministry that would be closer to one of the reform agendas he campaigned upon, or deferring to one of the experts who was elected on his party's list.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two Likely Coalitions for Netanyahu

With the final results of the Israeli election to the 19th Knesset in  two possible coalition choices for Netanyahu appear likely.  The first would be a Center-Right coalition with Yesh Atid:

Likud Beitenu      31
Yesh Atid             19
Jewish Home       11
Total                    61

Kadima with two seats could be added to provide a little safety margin. In this scenario, Netanyahu would agree to a draft of the ultra-Orthodox Haredim and Yesh Atid would go along with continued settlement. As Yesh Atid appears to put more emphasis on ending religious privilege and coercion and the ultra-Orthodox draft exemption than on achieving peace, this is possible. Certainly, if Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is anything like his father, Tommy Lapid, leader of the Shinui party of the 1990s-2006, he is closer to the Likud when it comes to borders than he is to Labor. Here is an article from Foreign Affairs that indicates that on territorial issues Lapid is very compatible with Netanyahu.

The second coalition, would be more Centrist:

Likud Beitenu    31
Yesh Atid          19
Labor                15
Total                65

Under this scenario, there would be a religious draft, an end to subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox, and settlement construction would probably be defined by some formula or committee that would allow for "natural expansion" within settlements but not much in the way of new settlements outside of Jerusalem.  There would also probably not be any renewed peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Labor leader Shelli Yakhimovich campaigned on socio-economic issues, so as long as there was a change in budget priorities towards helping out the secular poor it would probably be happy.

This Jerusalem Post article discusses various coalition possibilities and graphically illustrates four of them. And here Ben Birnbaum of The New Republic discusses the winners and losers of the latest Israeli election in terms both of parties and individuals.

The Center-Left lacks the sufficient Knesset votes to construct a stable coalition of its own without the Likud, even if it was inclined to include the Arabs--which they have not been willing to do in the past.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Israeli Election and the Coalition After

The last polls legally allowed before Israel's January 22 election have the Israeli Right bloc composed of the secular Right parties and the religious parties winning a slim majority of about 64 seats. This includes two seats to the far-right Otzma L'Israel (Strengh to Israel) party, which Netanyahu is determined to keep out of his coalition. This will give him 62 seats or a majority of two. This projection has Likud Beitenu receiving only 32 seats, over ten less than was expected only a month ago. Another older poll by the newspaper Ma'ariv has Likud Beitenu receiving 37 seats (Hebrew link). But usually the differences between polls occur between parties within the same bloc so that the overall bloc margins remain about the same. The Ma'ariv poll has Labor coming in a distant second at 15 seats, Jewish Home a close third with 14, and Shas a close fourth with 12 seats. But the Ma'ariv poll is older and doesn't take into account an apparent shift to the Center-Left and the far Right. Much depends on turnout--typically the highest levels of turnout are found among settlers in the West Bank and among the ultra-Orthodox who are both ideologically motivated to vote. The mainstream Israeli peace movement Shalom Akshav/Peace Now has been attempting to counter this by publicizing voting levels in different locations in the previous election in an app for smart phones and other electronic devices.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Israeli Election: A Preview

Israel goes to the polls on January 22. Everyone has already conceded that Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will be heading the next government. His Likud Beitenu (Union: Our Home) party is forecast to receive between 34 and 38 seats out of 120 in the Knesset. Next largest will be the centrist Labor Party with 16 to 18 seats--up from 13 in 2009. Third will be the Jewish Home (haBeit haYehudi) party with 13-14 seats- (Hebrew link) --this will be a record for the old National Religious Party, which normally received anywhere from four to ten seats in each election since the 1950s. For another forecast in English see here. The Kadima party, founded by Ariel Sharon as a splinted from the Likud in November 2005, is likely to only receive two seats despite being the largest party after the 2009 election with 28 seats. Most of its voters are said to be either returning to the Likud after seven years, returning to Labor after three years, or going to former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's haTnua (the Movement) party that is projected to receive seven seats. Overall the Right is projected to receive about 53 seats and the Center-Left about ten seats less than that. Daniel Levy, an analyst affiliated with a number of European and American think tanks as their resident Israel expert, has a very good article organized around the concept of Israel's "four tribes" or electoral blocs.

There are many explanations for this move to the right.  But the important thing is the effect that it will have on the policy of the Israeli government. Netanyahu is likely to form another rightist coalition with one of the Center parties in the coalition, such as Yesh Atid (There is a Future), as a legitimizing party in the small role that Labor has periodically filled (after 2001, after 2009 etc.) An attempt to form a Center bloc with Yesh Atid, Labor, and haTnua blew up last week when Tzipi Livni issued a statement about a meeting that the three party leaders held and then the other two contradicted her.  This will make it easy for Netanyahu to play the three parties off against one another after the election. The most interesting figure in this election cycle has been Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, portrayed in this New Yorker article by David Remnick.  Here is an article that ran on Sunday January 20--two days before the election--in The Times of Israel on the Likud's post-election coalition options.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A solution to the flags issue in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, particularly the Greater Belfast area and East Belfast in particular, has witnessed protests accompanied by rioting for the last five weeks in response to a Belfast City Council decision to fly the Union flag (the British flag) over city hall only on some 15-20 designated days per year rather than 365 days per year as had previously been the practice. This decision actually brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. But the loyalist working class, backed up by elements of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in East Belfast and initially by the mainstream unionist parties are determined to show their Britishness by behaving in a thoroughly un-British manner. 

As has been pointed out at the Slugger O'Toole website (see comments) the American South also has a flags problem. Ever since the beginning of desegregation in the mid-1950s the Confederate flag has been used as a symbol of racists opposed to integration and equality. When pressed, in order to be politically correct, they claim it as a symbol of cultural pride. But in reality, as in Northern Ireland it functions as a territorial marker in the South warning blacks to keep out.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Israeli elections and Israeli psyschology

Yesterday Americans for Peace Now, the support organization for Israel's mainstream peace movement, hosted a briefing phone call-in on the Israeli elections on Jan. 22 by retired Ha'Aretz senior diplomatic correspondent Akiva Eldar. A recording link can be obtained by going to the APN website ( or by emailing Sarah Sagan at Unfortunately there was very little analysis of the polling data or of the trends. Usually with these call-ins there is a mixed audience of very knowledgeable American Jews who follow both the American and Israeli media and either newcomers who just happened to see the link or freelance journalists who aren't up to speed on the beat. 

Eldar did mention that the discrepancy between the percentage of Israelis who claim to support a two-state solution and the election results in election after election can be easily explained by the tendency of Israelis to believe that they don't have a real partner and that the conflict is all the fault of the other side. But Israelis don't want to sound like they are opposed to peace so they say they support a two-state solution and vote for parties of the Right. Israelis lie to themselves and then vote for leaders who lie to the world. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Predictions

When I was younger I used to love watching the pundits on ABC'S Nightline have their predictions read to them from the previous year with the obligatory buzzer sound signalling that the prediction had failed to pan out. It confirmed my opinion of the punditocracy as being composed of a bunch of pompose windbags who did not really know very much. So now I'll risk the buzzer by going public with my predictions in the world of international politics for 2013.

1) The Syrian civil war will continue for several months until Assad is finally driven from power. Then fighting will break out among the contending factions over who will inherit power. This will take several months to sort out.

2) Benjamin Netanyahu will be reelected as prime minister in Israel later this month. His third term will be as vacuous as his second term. He will not attack Iran.  His coalition will be another coalition of the Right consisting of Likud Beitenu, Jewish Home, Shas, and possibly Yesh Atid to balance off the religious parties.

3) Obama will reach an agreement with Iran limiting the level of refinement of uranium and opening up Iranian nuclear facilities for international inspection. Iran will attempt to cheat on the agreement in 2014, but will be caught.

4) The UUP and SDLP will continue to stumble in Northern Ireland as they continue to lose public support to the DUP and Sinn Fein. 

5) Alliance will come out of the flag protests marginally stronger as middle class unionists and nationalists give it votes for having stood up to the loyalists.

6) Muhammad Morsi will continue to grab for power when he can and retreat when he is faced with a strong backlash from liberals. Morsi will attempt to mobilize anti-Copt sentiment to increase his power.

7) Obama will continue with his plan to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. Ultimately little will come out of all of the blood, treasure, and prestige invested by the United States in Afghanistan.

8) The Benghazi hearings will reveal little of substance--no smoking gun. But the GOP will continue to criticize the Obama administration as weak and vacillating. Americans will continue to ignore the GOP attacks on foreign policy and foreign policy in general.

9) Bahrain will be the next crisis of the Arab Spring. The U.S. will be faced with a decision to either back the regime, thereby losing credibility in the rest of the Arab world and risking our future if the Sunni majority comes to power or backing the Sunni opposition and risking that it will betray the U.S. when it comes to power. I don't know how Obama will come down on this.

10) The ANC will begin to lose some support in South Africa as Jacob Zuma is exposed as incompetent and corrupt.