Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who should I vote for, 2009 version

In March 2006, last time national elections came around, I discussed how I perceived the choice of parties and which one I decided to vote for. Time has come for another round of Wheel of Proportion(al representation).

Rereading the old post, it's interesting how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same. On the one hand, the constellation of major parties likely to enter the Knesset has remained the same, except for the fissioning of the NRP/National Union. On the other hand, most of them have replaced their leaders.

The biggest changes, though, have been in the geopolitical situation. Oddly, these changes are only somewhat reflected in the political campaigns; many of the parties seem to think they can keep hitting their old themes and slogans without reacting to the changes around them.

In 2006, remember, Olmert's Kadima ran on a promise of further unilateral territorial concessions, including substantial withdrawals from Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. This time around, after Hizbullah's success in Lebanon and the Hamas occupation of Gaza, no one's talking about that. We've given our enemies enough rocket launching areas, thank you very much.

But rather than reach the obvious conclusion that there is no diplomatic solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Olmert and Livni have been busy negotiating with Abbas under the Annapolis process. Even in the unlikely case we could reach a deal with Abbas, what good will it do as long as Hamas controls Gaza and the Palestinian parliament? On that, Livni is mum.

Labor continues to talk about war and peace as if nothing of interest has changed. It's also shamelessly exploiting the Gaza campaign to score political points. What, are they trying to confirm the cynics who claim Barak went to war because of the elections? Heck, I'm not sure I'd put it past him myself.

Considering the choices of right-wing parties I briefly flirted with Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu. But seeing his campaign, which is solely based on fanning the flames of hatred towards Israel's Arab citizens, he holds no appeal to me whatsoever. I have no illusions about the challenges Israel faces from its Arab population, but we gain nothing by deliberately demonizing them. Disgusting.

Shas is striking a hawkish note, attacking Livni for refusing to rule out negotiating over Jerusalem. Okay, but everything short of that is okay with them? I expect so.

Which narrows me down to the usual suspects: Likud, NRP (now "the Jewish Home"), and the National Union. (By coincidence, I know at least one of the candidates in a realistic slot in each of the three parties.)

From the Likud this time around I hear a substantial - and refreshing - change of tone. No more talk about working for a negotiated settlement or expectations of peace. Netanyahu is talking soberly about the challenges we face and the hard choices to be made. No more "I'll bring you peace with security, or security with peace." Netanyahu has put forward a plan for "economic peace", suggesting that in the absence of real prospects for a diplomatic agreement we work on agreed steps to help the Palestinian economy. Frankly, I think that's a crock, but it's a potential way to maintain a diplomatic track which doesn't entail unrealistic expectations or unacceptable demands. In other words, it may be a way to buy time while filling the diplomatic void with something concrete.

I'm less sanguine about his economic program. It's nice to hear him talk about tax cuts - no one else is - but it's plain that his promise of a 20% cut over four years is unrealistic, especially with global economic crisis. Why set himself up for failure, when he could set a more modest but achievable goal?

Do I trust Bibi? Do I look forward to his leadership? Not particularly. But I'm still in general agreement with his positions, more so than any of his rivals. And Likud has plenty of good candidates who are reliable security hawks, including representatives of Feiglin's Jewish Leadership faction. Likud may actually elect more religious Knesset members this time around than either of the religious-Zionist parties.

Then there's the NRP. My natural political home, one would think. Yet, when you get past the flags and knitted kipot, what exactly do they stand for? What is their record of legislative effectiveness? Why do they think it makes sense to populate most of their list with novice politicians? They're opposed to territorial withdrawals, but stayed in the Sharon government until the last moment. Their economic platform seems to confuse Judaism with socialism. Their educational program is generally based on increased budgets for religious schools, but does anyone think the real problems with the religious schools are financial? I love Uri Orbach, and I respect the records of the rest of the list, but what do they plan to accomplish in the Knesset? Wrest the rabbinate from Shas? Unlikely.

And the National Union. Again, I admire Ketzeleh, but what legislative experience does he have? I also have a serious problem with the partnership with the neo-Kahanist crowd, and in general with the factions which have started to turn against the legitimacy of the state. And there's virtually no chance of them joining a coalition - in the current diplomatic climate, no government will openly agree to funding the settlements. So a vote for them might only help drive Bibi into a unity coalition; he'd rather prop up Labor against Kadima than be seen as caving in to the demands of radicals. Finally, I'm still disappointed with Uri Ariel for splitting the religious-Zionist camp - though I'm aware it might also salvage thousands of votes which would otherwise be wasted on fringe right-wing parties.

All that said, I have to decide how strongly I want Netanyahu to lead the next government. The stronger the Likud, the more likely he is to get the nod. Unlike in the old two-party days, today the "centrist" Kadima can always claim the ability to form a government, since it can reach out either left or right. To trump that, Likud needs a solid lead in mandates. Voting for the religious parties won't help that. If I didn't feel more strongly about Likud v. Kadima, I'd be more inclined to vote NRP. (Before you vote for a small party because you're certain Likud will win the election, read this.)

So once more I'm leaning towards the Likud. For different reasons than last time, but nonetheless.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What he said!

Following up on my last post, take a look at Anthony Cordesman. (Hat tip: Larry Johnson.)

I hope our leaders have something up their sleeves.

If Hamas survives, Israel has lost

To adapt an old joke about lawyers:

Q: What do you call 300 killed Hamas "operatives"?

A: A drop in the bucket.

With all due gratitude and admiration for the IDF, it's becoming increasingly clear that the current operation is running out of steam. If it ends now without advancing to the next stage - apparently entry into urban areas, with all the risk that entails - it will have failed to achieve any long-term goals.

Killing hundreds of Hamas terrorists, including a handful of senior officers, is welcome. So is destroying tunnels, blowing up offices and command centers, and just plain frightening them into thinking hard before assaulting us in the future.

(Though I wonder if those 300 include the Hamas police cadets killed at their graduation on the first day of the airstrikes? And if the total death toll is over 600, who were the rest of them - we've been told the vast majority of the dead have been combatants?)

But as long as Hamas leaders continue to issue threats and set conditions for a truce, they have not been defeated. And unlike Hizbullah, which is a Lebanese political party and bears some public responsibility for bringing down Israeli wrath on Beirut, Hamas is itself the government in Gaza and faces no apparent public pressure to desist, to say the least.

No, the only way to deter Hamas is to depose them. Whether that means wreaking such havoc on its ranks that there's no Hamas left to govern, or moving in and occupying their seats of power, is secondary. If this campaign ends with Hamas in charge of Gaza it's hard to see how it will be considered a success.

I don't see Hamas budging from its positions as long as it still breathes. If we're afraid to remove them from power for fear of what comes next, then they hold the winning hand in any confrontation with Israel. The only conceivably effective deterrence against a militantly ideological terrorist enemy is to demonstrate that if they attack us they won't survive to tell the tale. Not as individuals, but as a movement.

We're presented with nightmare scenarios of "Somalia in Gaza", a chaos of warring factions with no central government or effective regime. This would be less than ideal, no doubt. But it takes an effective central administration to gather international funds, import heavy weaponry, organize a military, launch an information effort. Gaza has countless long-range rockets because it has an effective central regime - one hostile to Israel and devoted to fighting us. A chaos of warring factions would not yield security for Israel, but it would be a far less potent threat.

Fear of "what if" must not deter us from fighting "what is". Whatever that demands.