This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Three of Us

Well, it looks like Bibi passed the Knesset’s summer session in flying colors. Moments before the final curtain, in the grand finale he managed to run a tight ship and pass two bills into law that were dear to him: the Israel Lands Authority Reform, and the Mofaz Law.
Both pieces of legislation are bad news. The first bill proposes reform that will basically hand over lands owned by the Israeli government into private hands, where (let’s face it) citizen’s rights and environmental issues never really take pride of place.
The second bill is a pathetic attempt by Bibi to ease the process for a possible break-up of Kadima in the not-so-distant future. The Mofaz Law will reduce the number of MKs required to split from a faction from one-third to seven in the case of parties totaling over 21 members. I won’t go into explaining why this law is ridiculous, but here’s a good piece to understand why.
But instead of being the usual Bibi-basher that I have become (or always was?), let’s just sit and think for a second: Could this actually be a good thing?
Let me explain:
Shimon_and_SharonA few years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who couldn’t get anything done in his Likud party, decided to break away and form Kadima. This was known as the Big Bang of Israeli politics. Kadima joined top figures from the Likud and Labor (most notably Shimon Peres) to form a centrist party that would finally let the Bulldozer do his stuff, unhindered. Unfortunately just a few months later, the seemingly industructable Sharon slipped into a coma and we got three-and-a-half years of Olmert instead.
But just like the Big Bang of our universe (which apparently is still expanding), our own little bang is not over either. The process has yet to be completed. Kadima never became the big party it hoped to be (mainly thanks to Olmert), and the Likud and Labor also lost their strength. In effect, the Israeli political system has entered a stalemate it has never seen before, with the electorate spread out over so many parties, and many voters feeling they can ideologically vote for almost any party seeing as how the differences between them are so small.galaxy460x276
Probably the most interesting development lately in the Big Bang in Israel is Bibi’s speech in Bar Ilan University, where he accepted the foundation of a Palestinian state (with his own conditions, of course. But still…) Bibi’s acceptance of the two-state solution has dealt a death blow to Kadima and to all the parties left of it. In a way, it was a death blow to the right as well. Because if all major parties, both left and right, agree to the two state solution, then what’s left to differentiate between them? It seems like the only difference between them is not about ending the occupation anymore, but in how many years. 5, 10, 15?
Certainly the estimated arrival time at the final goal isn’t enough of a criteria to differentiate between three major parties. On all the other issues, well… there’s just not much of a difference. This week, by voting with Bibi on the land reform, Labor has shown it basically has no unique ideology left in its bones. And Kadima? You tell me, does anyone really know what Kadima’s agenda is?
My point is, that this political map is too small for all three. Either Kadima or Labor will have to disappear. Someone will have to raise the guantlet and show true opposition to the Likud, a real left wing would have to arise in the Knesset, one which hasn’t existed for years now.
Which brings me to my point: What if the Mofaz Law actually does just that? If eventually, Mofaz and six others left Kadima, it would slowly disappear into oblivion. Maybe that would be a good thing. Or what if there was a split in Labor, which seems particularly likely after the approval this week of the land reform law which angered many of its members? Maybe this could finally kill off Labor?
Whichever one it is, it doesn’t matter. One of them has to go. And the one that stays has to show a clear agenda that is different from the Likud’s. But this time, the point where the two big parties that are left diverge won’t be the  security-dipolmatic issue. That line is now so blurred it no longer exists. No, this time it has to be about social issues, about the environment, about the economy (stupid!). And this time, it has to be about leadership.
I used to like Amram Mitzna, the former Haifa mayor, who ran against Ariel Sharon and lost when he led Labor into the elections. Sure, he had some drawbacks (show me a poitician who doesn’t), but he just seemed like an honest guy, who really wanted to do some good. He was ahead of his time. For the past three years, Mitzna has been living in Yeruham, as a sort of temporary mayor, to get things fixed up in a municipality that needed help. Now that’s what I call Zionism. Leaving your wife for 4 days a week to go run a small town in the desert. He was recently interviewed by Haaretz (a good read) and said something interesting about the future of Israeli politics: 
Haaretz: What will it take to make you say, “Friends, I am coming back”?
Mitzna: “I imagine that the day will come, in another year-and-a-half or more, when Israeli society will long to see honest, credible people heading it, people with proven executive capability. My estimate is that in the next elections there will be enough votes to get between 30 and 40 seats that will support a leadership direction like that, without decisive importance being attached to the diplomatic-security sphere.
“After Netanyahu’s ‘two states’ the question is no longer whether you are left or right. Until the Oslo Accords the policy debate was over what the solution consisted of but, in the years after Oslo, the real debate is how to get there. Nowadays everyone understands that the Geneva Initiative is the solution, that we will leave the Golan Heights, depart from most of Judea and Samaria and that Jerusalem will be divided. The question is how to get there.”
I hope Mitzna is right. Because if he is, it could mean the end of this Big Bang already. And it could be the beginning to ending the occupation, and to becoming a much more normal, healthy country.
And if he thinks he can lead the way, hey, I just might give him a second chance.

4 Responses to “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Three of Us”

  1. August 4, 2009 at 21:49

    So a new law allows for further fragmentation of the Israeli political system, a less centralised decision making, necessarily larger coalitions – and therefore and even more reduced capacity for strong decisions like this country – this region – needs.

    How fantastic!

    That the prime minister be willing to push for such a damaging law to further his immediate interests is a little beyond me. But then again, it’s Bibi…

    Allow me to disagree with one of your assumptions – “a real left wing would have to arise in the Knesset”. Why? The current political spectrum seems like a viable equilibrium. Not one I like obviously, but one that I expect to endure for a while.

    Kadima is not going anywhere, if only just out of the stubbornness of its politicians and supporters. The did, after all, come ahead in the last elections… As for Labour, the latest stunt pulled by Barak joining the coalition fragmented an already diminished party.. Labour is dead. The centre of Israeli politics has shifted to the right, and the spectrum is now a basically an extreme right, right, and centre right, with a fringe Labour.

    • 2 shmookty
      August 4, 2009 at 22:06

      Hi Mohamed!
      I guess it wasn’t really an assumption – more like a wish… Of course, I also know that the Israeli electorate has moved to the right. And yes, of course, the left is dead – and has been for quite a while now. My only point is to show that Bibi’s move (ridiculous as it may be) could turn out to be a double edge sword.
      As for your assumption concerning Kadima, I wouldn’t be so sure about it’s survival rates. First, center parties have a very bad survival rate in Israeli politics (Dash, Merkaz, and Shinui – the latter getting many mandates only to disappear from the face of the earth). Second, the only thing holding together these politicians from left and right were the offices and Volvos they got as ministers. Sitting in the opposition is not what these guys joined Kadima for. Mofaz is itching to join Bibi, trust me. And he’s not the only one…
      But let’s say you’re right, and Kadima is here to stay, does that mean you could see Labor disappearing?
      A viable equilibrium? If anything can be said about Israeli politics, I’m not sure the word “viable” should be one of them… 🙂

  2. 3 כ לויטה
    January 4, 2010 at 07:11

    This is January….this was written in August…but better late than never? I have been hibernating on this questions for years now. I never thought of myself as a Yoredet, I feel the strongest affinity to israel, perhaps being far away, my heart os more than fonder. I have always had arguments about arguments about israel till I realized it has been so long since I moved, so I shut my mouth.
    But no, here is my conclusion – and basically I agree with the sagacious pig from above: If you live in the diaspora or have left israel, you can voice your thoughts – with respect and debate decorum, knowing that you may not be right, no matter how sure you are about your position. But If you live in Israel, you can say and do what you want in any level of Mediterranean passion..because you LIVE the country, breathe it’s air, surrounded by it, eating it, drinking it, mangal’ing it, drive it, watch its news, hear galatz.. only then, can one truly voice a solid, based opinion. So either voice opinion, outsiders or say what you feel insiders.

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August 2009

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