Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Various political news from Israel:
Aryeh Gamliel is carrying out his threat to quit Shas and start his own party. No polls yet on how it will do, but should get at least a couple of seats on the strength of emotional support for Arieh Deri. More interesting is his apparent intention to make the new party - Ahavat Yisrael - a less explicitly ultra-Orthodox party. I predict this party's seats come exclusively at the expense of Shas - which is good for Likud. Even better: it further splits the ultra-Orthodox bloc, making it more possible for Likud to pick and choose among coalition partners.
Mitzna says his first act as PM would be to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza - not as a gesture of goodwill but because it is in Israeli interests. He promised by this means to deliver the same security on the Southern Front that Ehud Barak delivered in the North by unilaterally withdrawing from Lebanon. (Just kidding.)
Dan Meridor is the leading candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, assuming (as expected) that current mayor Ehud Olmert joins the next Sharon cabinet.
The Arab parties are expected to shrink in the next Knesset, due to low voter turnout. This could potentially be significant for minor parties like Moledet and for the size of Likud's majority. Under Israel's proportional representation system, Knesset seats are allocated according to the share of the vote, with a very low threshold for representation. If Moledet is close to the edge of getting one seat, and the Arab parties lose, say, two seats, that might be enough to push Moledet over the hurdle. By the same token, if the Arab parties lose two seats and Likud gets, say, 40% of the Jewish vote, that would mean one of those lost Arab party seats would go to Likud. Which would make it that much easier to form a government.
(As an aside, several years ago Shas made a serious play for Arab votes. If the new Ahavat Yisrael doesn't take a strong position on security matters, it would be in a position to do something similar. Indeed, a religiously conservative, socially-conscious party would be the natural home for that fraction of the Arab vote that is willing to accept the permanence of the Jewish state - a much more natural home than either Labor or Likud or the left-wing secularists of Meretz.)
The Jerusalem Post correctly points out that Labor has no economic program at all, and that this is a second major reason (along with Oslo) for the party's parlous state. Who does this leave an opening for. You got it: Shinui, which is running on a platform of economic liberalism, among other things.
Finally, I can't help noticing the similarity between the Labor debate and the Democratic Party debate in this country. Labor is currently debating how to oppose Likud given the public's change in mood in the wake of the collapse of Oslo. And the candidate overwhelmingly likely to win today - Mitzna - is the standard-bearer for the notion that Labor has been too hawkish, too much like Likud, and that therefore they need to move left to survive. Kind of the way Nancy Pelosi talks about the Democrats here. Israel's political system is different; there are far more than 2 viable parties. But that cuts both ways. If left-wingers are inclined to vote Meretz rather than support a more hawkish Labor, hawks are more likely to vote Shinui rather than support a more dovish Labor. Which is why I continue to believe that the real sea-change in this election will be the emergence of Shinui as a serious challenge to Labor. After this election, there will be one center-right bloc at the heart of Israeli politics, with Likud at its heart. Arrayed around it will be several other blocs of fairly equal size: a center-left bloc, a far-left bloc, a far-right bloc, an ultra-Orthodox bloc, an Arab bloc and Shinui. Until the political climate changes radically, that's the shape of Israeli politics.