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

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yakhimovich admits that her stand cost Labor Party seats

972 blogger Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf had a short item about Israeli Labor Party leader Shelli Yakhimovich telling party activists that her refusal to campaign on the Palestinian issue (or the diplomatic issue as she puts it) cost the party four seats in the January 22, 2013 election. She assigned these four as two to Meretz and two to Tzipi Livni's haTnua (the Movement) party. Why did she make this admission and is it true?

There are several possible motives for making the admission. First, she could have simply thought it was true and may be a straight-talking person who likes to admit her mistakes. Really! Second, she may be trying to appear more humble and less arrogant to defuse a move to replace her for the poor performance in the recent election. After all, she is no former chief of staff or war hero and so has to compete with other mere mortals for the leadership. Third, it might be an opening to Livni for a possible merger or absorption of Livni's party in the future. This would be premised on Livni shortly becoming frustrated within the Likud-led coalition government. Presumably Yakhimovich would offer a deal whereby at least half of Livni's list would get safe seats in the next election and Yakhimovich would support her as the party's next leader in exchange for her support when she joins. Fourth, it might be a move towards closer relations with Meretz who were upset after Labor cancelled their remainder agreement with the party. (In Israel parties form agreements to pool their excess votes to allow for the election of an extra seat.) Fifth, it could be both three and four or, as in what Israelis refer to as American tests (multiple guess exams) all of the above. 

Now, as for the issue of the truth of this claim. That would be a matter of interviewing a sample of Meretz and haTnua voters to see how many voted for Labor last time and why they did not vote for it this time. Meretz's natural strength at present is probably about four to six seats. As Livni's party is new, it is impossible to speak of its natural strength. But Kadima's former 28 seats seem to have gone to: Kadima 2, Livni 6, Yesh Atid 19 and one other, which might have gone to either Meretz or Labor this time. As discussing the Palestinian issue endlessly since 2003 had steadily cost Labor seats, it is reasonable to assume that not discussing it did not really cost Labor seats. Especially as Yakhimovich gained two seats over Barak's 2009 performance by her strategy. This means that option one above is probably not the right answer. In reality in 2013 some former Labor and Meretz voters who voted for Kadima in 2009 (and possibly in 2006 as well) returned to their former parties and their strength in the Center was taken by other defectors from the Right who were dissatisfied by the power of the ultra-Orthodox parties and thereby attracted to Yesh Atid's message. 

Overall, however, the Center-Left bloc did not really grow in 2013 (15 +6 +6 = 27 compared to 28 + 13 +3 =44 in 2009). So the Center-Left in its narrow definition lost 17 seats; in its wider definition counting Yesh Atid's 19 seats it gained two. But the internal coherence of Yair Lapid's party appears weak and it looks set to suffer the fate of previous Center parties like the DMC in 1977, the Center Party in 1999, Shinui in 2003 and Kadima in 2006. All these parties flamed out and fell apart after only one or two elections because they had no real coherent ideology but were just a collection of politicians and reformers riding a band wagon together. And they suffered at the hands of fickle centrist voters who wanted a new flavor to try out at the next election. Kadima seemed possibly able to escape that fate because of its large size, but it fell apart because of the Livni-Mofaz split.

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