Elections are in the air in the State of Israel. Politicians are beginning to reach out to their supporters and are trying to expand their voting base. Many parties have developed a branch which will connect them to the English-speaking voters who have been massively ignored for quite some time. I recently attended two such events. One was held by Moshe Feiglin , head of the Zehut Party and another was held by Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid Party. It was an up-close opportunity to hear their platforms and assess their potential. Both had some valid points to make. Both had areas which were weak -requiring reality checks. This is just the beginning of the election fever which will soon follow. The goal quite simply – is to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and win enough seats for one’s own party to wield power over the ministries on offer- and the coalitions to be formed.
This week the Jerusalem Press Club invited Amit Segal from Channel two news to give his assessment of the current political situation in Israel. He is a respected investigative reporter who has in- depth knowledge of every move taken on all sides of the political spectrum. The audience at this press conference was filled with men in Western suits and ties, rather than the usual mix of casually dressed foreign and Israeli correspondents. It was an indication of how many people in high levels wanted to hear Amit’s assessment. It has been a long time since I have heard a political analyst speak, with whom I concurred across the board. Thus, what I am sharing with you are Amit’s conclusions, which I found quite lucid.
Amit’s opening remarks defined Israeli political concerns quite simply: Everything in Israeli politics is connected to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. It may be camouflaged but somewhere there is a link.. “Politics” in Israel is not focused on domestic concerns; economy, social issues and local problems. Perhaps it should be, but it is not. Parties wishing to depose Netanyahu generally focus on these tangential issues which many feel have been sorely neglected in favor of existential concerns. This approach is especially attractive to young voters who care deeply about issues such as affordable housing, immigrants and civic rights. The lack of attention to these social needs is exemplified when political parties emerge with platforms focusing on the elderly, women’s rights, and ecological concerns. Israeli governments generally wait until there are massive protests on social issues before focusing on them.
Mr. Segal’s analysis of Prime Minister Netanyahu was quite in- depth. He explained that Bibi holds a coalition of “kippot of all variations,” and that hat he connects strongly with Jewish core emotions. Amit explains that until the Left acknowledges how important these primary Jewish values are to the Israeli public, it will not win another election. He explained that he believes that Bibi’s nature is not inclined to make dramatic political moves. He is not a warmonger and is not likely to attack Iran as pundits might like him to do. In the last Gaza war, Netanyahu did not want boots on the ground, yet his cabinet pushed him in that direction. He says that Bibi is a man who defines political success as the documents which are signed and agreements which are forged between other nations and the State of Israel. Netanyahu believes in the importance of language, communication and International relations.
The Prime Minister’s coalition is strong, says Amit. There is almost no chance of an early election. This may be one of the rare moments in Israeli history when a Prime Minister actually completes his term of office. That is what has fueled the three major investigations which have been forged against Netanyahu. They are an attempt to bring down a solidly embedded leader. Opponents hope that one of these investigations will bring the downfall of this Prime Minister.
Amit’s analysis of the three investigations proved telling. Investigation 3000 revolves around the submarine contracts and are related to a cousin of Bibi and his lawyers. It is not about Bibi directly. There are no claims that Bibi received any benefit nor is there credibly proof that he approved contracts in order to financially help his cousin, who actually earned a relatively small fee from the project. Amit explains that the numbers simply to not add up. Billions of shekels involved with very little benefit to those being accused implies that corruption is highly unlikely.
“Investigation 2000” into Bibi’s relationship with Amnon Moses who owns the “Yediot Ahranot” newspaper is also fraught with holes. Moses had similar relationships with multitudes of politicians who were looking for favor from his newspaper, and he wanted their help on his concerns as well. According to Amit, there would be hundreds of Israeli politicians who would need to be prosecuted in addition to Netanyahu …hence it is a “non-starter.” Bibi, he believes, will not be prosecuted on these accusations. Every politician wants favorable press. This is not a revelation.
“Investigation 1000” regarding the receipt of gifts, is more complicated. Amit explains that there is no dispute about the fact that gifts were received by the Prime Minister. The problem is that there is no law against this, and other Prime Ministers have also, legally accepted gifts from friends, associates and dignitaries. The only issue is whether it can be proven that the gifts were really bribes. Proving that is complicated, labor intensive, will take a very long time … and may not actually be possible. Segal estimates that this investigation will take at least a year and a half, by which time the next election will have come and gone. Hence this investigation will have no impact on the coming election whatsoever. In this particular investigation, he explained, there would be serious complications if the prosecutor was to indict a standing Prime Minister and then was proven to be incorrect. There would be serious repercussions if on the other hand, he decides not to indict and other politicians then become more active/abusive in accepting gifts. It opens up a Pandora’s box, either way, and it is a tremendously difficult decision for the Prosecutor to make . Ultimately the State of Israel will be seriously impacted and the issues are not likely to go away.
Regarding Bibi’s relationship with President Trump, Mr. Segal noted Netanyahu’s original skepticism when Trump was one of many candidates. He was clearly not the PM’s first choice when there was a large playing field. Bibi’s political thinking Amit explains, is Republican by nature. He thinks within Republican ideology and framework. Trump was always on the outside of that pattern and hence POTUS’s problems dealing with the party which had no choice but to allow him to be their candidate. In the meantime, Netanyahu has now found a friend and supporter in Donald Trump and his administration which he could have never anticipated in his wildest imagination. The reality is that President Trump’s administration’s support of the State of Israel super-cedes that of any of its predecessors.
Mr. Segal answered questions as to Netanyahu’s relationship with the Settlement movement. He explained that there is a tacit agreement between them to protect their current status, but that Bibi does not believe that settlements will create the future borders for the State of Israel. He feels that only agreements will do that. In the mean-time there is no one with whom to forge an agreement. Agreements need compromise. There has not been a single compromise from the Palestinian side on any critical issue thus far.
The problem as I see it, is that the political ideology of the Left and the Right are not at all far apart. Ehud Barak, according to Segal, is politically the most despised man in Israel. Why? Because he offered the Palestinians everything and Arafat said it was “not enough.” Barak therefore destroyed the illusion of a real peace where Jews and Arabs could compromise and live side by side in voluntary harmony. It was an illusion proffered by Shimon Peres throughout his lifetime, but never offered by any Arab leader in return. Hence Israel continues to have the same dilemma as in previous elections: Does the voter want to take the chance that a new leader will be able to continue the current healthy economy, improved security and international relationships that Bibi has established over his tenure? Young people will most certainly want their social issues addressed, and will vote accordingly. Women will want their issues addressed and some will look for the pro-feminist candidate. The religious know that essentially Bibi Netanyahu, who is not in his personal life “observant-“ is in fact the protector of their core values and concerns He has always been the defender of the “Jewishness” of the Israeli State. It is that defense which will keep it solid. He is also the comfort zone candidate…regardless of who his opposition will be.
Barring an internal upheaval within the Likud party itself, at the moment, the shining stars of different political parties in Israel do not appear to be quite bright enough to carry the day. Each sunrise in Israel brings a new day. The competition has a mighty task ahead if they intend to bring down the incumbent. Elections are scheduled for the winter of 2018. It is only a year away – Expect a bumpy ride which will probably result in the status quo.