Friday, January 24, 2003
Ha'aretz has a little graph (scroll down) that they have updated with each poll that shows the relative strength of the "Left" and "Right" blocs in the polls for the upcoming Israeli election. Following the graph, it appears that the Left gained dramatically from Dec 12 through Jan 8, nearly pulling into the lead of the elections. Then the trend reversed, and the Right recovered.
Those who have been following this blog's reports on the election know that this is not what is happening. As defined in the graph, the "Left" includes both Shinui - a centrist party focused on secularism, economic liberalization, and a tough-on-terror security policy (though flexible on the ultimate nature of a settlement), and which has refused to sit in an left-wing government (but not a right-wing one) - and the Arab parties, which are avowedly not patriotic (Azmi Bishara, in defending himself and his Balad party from charges of disloyalty, said, "I am an Israeli citizen . . . but I am not an Israeli patriot"). In fact, from Dec 12 through its highest poll showing on Jan 8, the Left - Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties - gained only 3 seats, while Likud lost 14. The other 11 seats lost by Likud went to the center-secular Shinui (5), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (4), and the Far-Right National Union (2). By contrast, since Jan 8 the Left bloc has lost 4 seats (Labor lost 6, Meretz gained 1 and the Arab parties gained 1) while the Likud-led center-right bloc (Likud plus Yisrael B'Aliyah) has gained 5 (Shinui also lost 1 seat, while Shas and National Union stayed constant). There has been no shift from right to left since the beginning of this election campaign; if anything, there has been a continued shift to the right, but to a right that is much more fragmented in the wake of the horrible Likud corruption scandals.
But I've made this point before. Something I have not stressed before is: the role of the Arab parties in the crisis of the Left.
Only twice in Israel's history has the government been dependent on the votes of the Arab parties for survival: the Rabin government that brought us Oslo and the Barak government. Nothing excuses the evil murder of Yitzhak Rabin. But that evil should not obscure the fact that the Rabin government, by making existential decisions without majority support of loyal Israelis, brought the country to the point of crisis. (Barak's reliance on Arab votes was more complicated; he was directly elected by a landslide, but his party representation actually dropped; by the time of the Camp David talks, Barak had only about a third of the Knesset still sitting in government, but parties like Shas that had left the government nonetheless refused to vote no-confidence because they thought new elections would reduce their representation.) Left-wingers who think the Sharon government is headed towards disaster must reckon with this fact: their program has *never* garnered the support of a majority of loyal MKs.
I want to stress: I am not raising the old question of a "Jewish majority." Arabs are equal citizens and have equal right to decide the fate of the nation. Arabs vote for Labor and Meretz - and even Likud - as well as for the Arab parties. But the Arab parties - not the Arab citizenry - are not loyal. They are avowedly opposed to the interests of the State of Israel. They say this openly. They speak about themselves as if they are the "peace camp" of the enemy - as if they represent the faction of Palestinian Arabs willing to negotiate and make peace with Israel. I don't think that disloyalty makes them "illegal;" I think the attempt to ban Balad, Bishara's party, was ridiuclous and counter-productive. But I do think it makes them illegitimate as coalition partners. And if they are illegitimate as coalition partners, then equally so no Israeli government can depend on their votes without inviting civil war.
This is what the Left will not recognize about their predicament. In the past 20 years, the best showing for the Zionist left was in 1992, when Labor and Meretz together won 56 seats. In that election, the Arab parties won only 5 seats. This strong showing was still a minority in the Knesset; indeed, it was smaller than the Rightist and ultra-Orthodox bloc, which together won 59 seats. With only half the nation behind him, and depending on the votes of disloyal parties to remain in power, Rabin recognized the PLO and initiated a process to give Yasser Arafat a state in the disputed territories of Gaza, Judea and Samaria. The result was disaster.
In 1999, the year of Barak's massive landslide and the collapse of Likud, the election that brought a government to power that made concessions far beyond any anticipated before, including of the Rabin government of 1992 - that election gave parties of the Right 50 seats (Likud, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, Yahdut Ha-Torah and the National Religious Party), and parties of the Center (Shinui, Yisrael B'Aliyah, Center) 18 seats. And the Arab parties won 12 seats that year, which was a historic high-point for Arab participation in Israeli elections. The Zionist Left - Labor and Meretz - won only 36 seats - 30% of the Knesset - in this year of supposed triumph. And on the strength of this "victory" Barak sought to divide Jerusalem and even give land within the pre-67 borders away to a new Palestinian State. The result, again, was disaster.
Does anyone think the Left will get any closer to a majority in the future? Based on the most recent polls, Labor and Meretz are expected to take only 27 seats between them - less than half their 1992 showing. But the Arab parties - who are less convincingly loyal than they were in 1992 - could take as many as 10 seats. Things could go badly for the next government; there could be a massive terrorist attack, the economy could slide further into the abyss, there could be a dramatic confrontation with settlers or ultra-Orthodox that splits the government. Labor could regroup and "win" the next election. But without a massive re-alignment, governing will mean coalition with the Center-Right or dependence on the Arab parties.
For its own sake, if it is to regenerate in opposition, Labor needs to make a public declaration: we will not form a government dependent on disloyal votes. We will campaign for Arab votes. We will put Arab citizens in realistic slots on our Knesset lists. We will consider coalition with an Arab-dominated party that is self-professedly loyal to the State of Israel. But if our government ceases to command a majority of loyal MKs, we will call new elections. This declaration - not a refusal to serve in a Likud-led government - is the precondition to regaining the trust of the Israeli people.