1. Israeli elections 2006; 31 parties standing
2. “How is it possible that the public is sunk deep in apathy?”
3. “Moving forward” …
4. … and away from the West Bank
5. Olmert receives endorsement from Abbas
6. Labor: “A country of social piety, not of social handouts”
7. Likud: “Strong against Hamas”
8. 62 percent of Israelis unhappy with media’s campaign coverage
9. Israeli police on highest alert for Election Day
10. Ex-Russians, Arabs and undecided voters
11. Livingstone: I offer a complete apology… to Iran
12. France: The Guardian forgets to mention the Muslims
13. Fatwa banning women wearing trousers being considered
14. “Olmert sees permanent Israeli borders by 2010” (Reuters, March 9, 2006)
15. “Olmert’s arrogance” (By Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz, March 15, 2006)
16. “Politicians court a not-so-silent minority: Israeli Arabs” (NY Times, March 21, 2006)
ISRAELI ELECTIONS 2006; 31 PARTIES STANDING
The Israeli elections will take place next Tuesday (March 28, 2006). Of the 4.5 million eligible voters, 83 percent are Jews, 13 percent Arabs, and the rest are Druze and others.
Even though the day of the election is a national holiday, voter turnout at the last election in January 2003 was just under 70 percent. Thirty-one different parties are fielding candidates in these elections; less than half the parties are expected to exceed the threshold of 2 percent of the national vote required to have a member in the 120-seat Knesset (Israeli parliament).
Polls indicate that none of the three main parties will come near to the total of 61 seats required for an outright majority.
“HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT THE PUBLIC IS SUNK DEEP IN APATHY?”
The unexpected extent of Hamas’s win in the Palestinian elections in January, and the stroke and subsequent hospitalization and coma of Ariel Sharon, has cast a shadow over the upcoming elections.
However, the Israeli public has been largely apathetic throughout the campaign. Israel’s second biggest newspaper, Ma’ariv, recently commented that the public was switched off by an election whose result appeared clear. A front page Ma’ariv editorial said: “It is hard to recall an election campaign which was more fateful for the future of the country, the political system and the social map than that of 2006… How is it possible that after all this, the public is sunk deep in apathy? What is happening to us?”
Kadima, the new party founded by Sharon shortly before his stroke, has been the frontrunner throughout the campaign. Its highest opinion poll score was achieved immediately after the hospitalization of Sharon, when the party was projected to receive 44 seats. Since then, it has fallen somewhat. The party election slogan has been “We’re moving forward.” This is a play on the word “kadima,” which in Hebrew means “forward”.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has on several occasions spelled out his plans to set Israel’s permanent borders within the next four years. “This is not an election gimmick. I am going with this, and I don’t plan to hide it or evade it,” he told Israeli Channel 10 this week. “Whoever doesn’t support it cannot be a partner in a coalition I establish.”
Olmert added that Israel wouldn’t wait years for Hamas to recognize Israel. “Meanwhile, I will take unilateral steps,” he added.
… AND AWAY FROM THE WEST BANK
Kadima have made a further disengagement from much of the West Bank the central campaign issue. It is also the policy Ariel Sharon would most likely have implemented had he still been in power. For more on this, see the dispatch from last year titled Sharon prepares to withdraw from “virtually all” the West Bank by 2008.
With the policy of such a widespread further disengagement aimed at attracting left-wing votes, in order to shore up its right-wing vote Kadima has, over the course of the election campaign, attempted to prove that it is not weak on defense. The Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (formerly of Likud, now of Kadima), has warned the new Hamas Palestinian Authority prime minister, Ismail Haniya, that he is not immune from a targeted strike should Hamas resume its attacks against Israelis. The capture of six wanted terrorists from a Palestinian jail in Jericho was also seen by many as an attempt by Olmert to prove he can act tough on terror.
For a short time, Kadima’s poll ratings improved as a result of the “Jericho effect,” but latest polls suggest Kadima will win between 36-37 seats.
Perhaps the biggest danger for Kadima is a low voter turnout which could harm the party’s bid to gain a large enough amount of mandates to dictate the make-up of the next coalition government.
OLMERT RECEIVES ENDORSEMENT FROM ABBAS
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has come out publicly in support of Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party. Abbas said “I hope that Olmert wins. I know him well.”
Abbas also met with Labor leader Amir Peretz during this election period in a bid to give the foreign policy novice Peretz a “prime ministerial appearance.”
LABOR: “A COUNTRY OF SOCIAL PIETY, NOT OF SOCIAL HANDOUTS”
The Labor party, led by its new leader Amir Peretz, has campaigned on a largely social and economic agenda. Peretz has said that “I want a country of social piety, not of social handouts.” Labor says it will aim for an annual growth rate of five percent over the next four years, while at the same time increasing the minimum wage to $1,000 a month.
Peretz has also stated that the evacuation of all 105 illegal West Bank outposts would be the non-negotiable condition upon which his party would decide to join a future governing coalition.
In the latest polls Labor is expected to gain between 17-21 seats and therefore many pundits say it will most likely be the main partner in a coalition with Kadima.
In such a coalition Peretz (who has little defense or foreign affairs experience) would probably be appointed finance minister, and many fear that Peretz’s old socialist-style economic policies will severely damage Israel’s economy.
For that reason alone, Olmert may try and court Netanyahu to join the government as his finance minister, and Netanyahu, fearing being driven into the political wilderness, may join.
For more on Peretz, see Elections imminent as Shimon Peres ousted (& items on French riots, NY Times, Islam).
LIKUD: “STRONG AGAINST HAMAS”
The focus of Likud’s campaign has been on the recent Hamas election victory. The main Likud slogan, advertised on the side of buses around the country, has been “Strong against Hamas – Binyamin Netanyahu”.
Netanyahu has emphasized throughout his campaign that he will not tolerate the continuing Kassam rocket attacks emanating from Gaza. He added that he will halt the policy of withdrawals unless the PA takes serious steps to end Palestinian terrorism, saying that “every centimeter that we give to them (the PA), they will use against us.”
Some polls suggest Likud will win as few as 14 seats and will be left out of the governing coalition for the first time since 2001. Much of the support for Likud has moved to other right-wing parties such as Israel Beitenu, Shas and the National Union-Mafdal party. These three parties are expected to win 25-32 Knesset seats. BBC and other western media have not mentioned this, giving the incorrect impression that the right-wing vote has diminished in Israel; in fact Likud has lost many voters to other more right-wing parties due to the fact that it was a Likud-led government that carried out the disengagement from Gaza last summer. (For a photo gallery on this, see Exodus From Gaza.)
62 PERCENT OF ISRAELIS UNHAPPY WITH MEDIA’S CAMPAIGN COVERAGE
In a recent poll carried out by the Chaim Herzog Institute, 62 percent of the Israeli public said they were unhappy with the media’s campaign coverage. More than half the public believes that the media have been overly supportive of Kadima, whilst 48 percent of respondents said they felt the media was hostile toward the Likud. Despite their unhappiness, 44.4 percent of respondents said that they were following the media coverage of the election campaign.
ISRAELI POLICE ON HIGHEST ALERT FOR ELECTION DAY
Israeli police will be on their maximum alert level for fear of a terror attack or other disruptions on Election Day. Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said “The coming days will be very sensitive times, as terror groups will attempt to carry out attacks.”
Yesterday a special Israeli army unit caught yet another would-be suicide bomber in Ramallah. Israeli security forces are currently focusing on 13 concrete terror alerts (i.e. Israel has intelligence about 13 different cells in the latter stages of planning attacks).
Extra police will also be stationed in voting centers in both the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors to prevent fraud. In the past there has been a high-level of electoral fraud among voters in these sectors.
EX-RUSSIANS, ARABS AND THE UNDECIDED
The diverse nature of Israeli society means different communities within Israel could have a major impact on the election. The Israel Beitenu (“Israel Is Our home”) party led by Avigdor Lieberman, a 47-year old immigrant from Moldova, has been predicted to win up to 12 Knesset seats making it a potential coalition kingmaker. As many as half of all Israelis from former Soviet bloc countries say they will vote for Lieberman. Lieberman is a hardliner who split with Netanyahu after concessions Netanyahu made to Yasser Arafat when he was Prime Minister.
Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union now number 1.3 million, and the 740,000 eligible voters among them make up about 15 percent of Israel’s electorate.
About 30 percent of Israeli Arabs say they will vote for “Zionist” parties such as the Likud and Labor. But many of the others will vote for specifically Arab parties. Polls this year predict the Arab parties will gain 8 seats, and although they usually refuse to serve in government, will agree to support a future Kadima-led administration that will carry out a West Bank disengagement.
Meanwhile almost 20 percent of voters say they are still undecided. For the undecided, political events in the next few days, including the daily attempts by Palestinian groups to carry out terror attacks, could have a major bearing on which party they vote for.
LIVINGSTONE: I OFFER A COMPLETE APOLOGY… TO IRAN
This is an update to the final note in the dispatch “How I learned to love the wall” & more on Wafa Sultan, other Muslim “dissidents”.
London mayor Ken Livingstone seems determined to stir up further anti-Semitism in the UK, in an appeal to his Muslim and left-wing voting base. Yesterday, instead of apologizing to the Reuben brothers, Livingstone said: “I would offer a complete apology to the people of Iran for the suggestion that they may be linked in any way to the Reuben brothers. I wasn’t meaning to be offensive to the people of Iran.”
Livingstone then denounced London Assembly member Brian Coleman, who had earlier said that Livingstone has “a blind spot when it comes to relations with the Jewish community,” as just like “Dr. Goebbels.” In another startling outburst, Livingstone said that Coleman (who is a moderate) was “dancing on the memory of the Holocaust.” With comments such as these, it is Livingstone who is trampling on the memory of the Holocaust.
FRANCE: THE GUARDIAN FORGETS TO MENTION THE MUSLIMS
Meanwhile in France, in the latest of a series of vicious assaults on Jews following the murder last month of Ilan Halimi, a Jewish man was chased in his car by a north African gang screaming “Get the Jew!” and then severely beaten. The Bureau of National Vigilance against Anti-Semitism has condemned the “anti-Semitic violence which has been spreading through France in the past three weeks.”
The Guardian, the main cheerleader for Ken Livingstone, carried a lengthy article this week on rising French anti-Semitism – but the Guardian failed to once mention the word “Muslim” or “Islam” in the article.
FATWA BANNING WOMEN WEARING TROUSERS BEING CONSIDERED
Al-Azhar, the highest authority for Sharia rulings in the mainstream Muslim world, is considering issuing a fatwa that will ban women from wearing trousers, according to a report today in the London-based Arabic language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.
I attach three articles below. The first is a news report on Ehud Olmert’s vision to establish “Israel’s permanent borders, whereby we will completely separate from the majority of the Palestinian population.” The second article, by Ari Shavit in Ha’aretz, is a rare critique from a center-left viewpoint within Israel of the position outlined by Olmert and Kadima. The final article looks at the Arab vote in Israel.
Due to other commitments, there will be no dispatches next week.
-- Tom Gross
OLMERT TO SET “ISRAEL’S PERMANENT BORDERS”
Olmert sees permanent Israeli borders by 2010
By Dean Yates
March 9, 2006
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he plans to impose permanent Israeli borders by 2010 through pullouts from parts of the occupied West Bank, unless Hamas recognizes the Jewish state and renounces violence.
In one of two interviews published in local media on Thursday ahead of March 28 elections that his Kadima party is expected to win, Olmert also said a security barrier being built in the West Bank would largely follow the final borders.
Olmert said the barrier’s final route could change depending on circumstances, the Haaretz newspaper said. Israel officially calls the barrier a security measure while Palestinians call it a land grab meant to pre-empt any future border negotiations.
In a separate interview with the Jerusalem Post, Olmert said within the next four years he intended to “get to Israel’s permanent borders, whereby we will completely separate from the majority of the Palestinian population.”
He made similar comments to Haaretz about the four-year timeframe.
Olmert told the Jerusalem Post he would give a Palestinian Authority led by the militant Islamist group Hamas a “reasonable” amount of time to reform, disarm and embrace past interim peace agreements.
Hamas is forming a government after a sweeping win in Palestinian parliamentary elections on January 25.
“We will wait, but I don’t intend to wait forever,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Olmert as saying.
“If after a reasonable time passes it becomes clear that the Palestinian Authority is not willing to accept these principles, we will need to begin to act.”
Olmert has led the centrist Kadima since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke on January 4. He has indicated he would evacuate isolated West Bank settlements while cementing Israel’s hold on major settlement blocs.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters that unilateralism was not the way forward.
“We urge Mr Olmert to resume permanent status negotiations with us. The road to peace and security in the region is not through unilateralism, the building of walls and settlements, but rather through the resumption of permanent status negotiations,” he said.
In the Haaretz interview posted on its website, Olmert said the barrier could be moved either east or west if needed.
“The course of the fence, which until now has been a security fence, will be in line with the new course of the permanent border,” he said.
Olmert has ordered faster construction of the barrier looping into the West Bank around major Jewish settlements.
Such moves have stoked Palestinian suspicions Israel wants the barrier to cement a permanent hold on areas of the West Bank, which it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
Roughly half of the 600 km (370 mile) network of fences and concrete barricades has been built, some on occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
Israeli officials see the Hamas victory as reinforcing a need for unilateral action and dimming hopes for a U.S.-backed peace “road map,” which calls for both sides to take steps to reach a negotiated settlement.
Israel rules out negotiations with Hamas, which is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction and has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000. Hamas says talks with Israel would be a waste of time.
Kadima appears to have consolidated its lead as campaigning for the election swings into high gear, surveys show.
Opinion polls published in three Israeli newspapers on Thursday indicated the party had stabilized its position following a drop in support earlier in the month.
The opinion polls gave Kadima 37 to 38 seats in the 120-seat parliament, far ahead of the center-left Labor Party and the right-wing Likud party.
“THE PALESTINE OF OLMERT WILL BE HOSTILE, DISSATISFIED AND VIOLENT”
By Ari Shavit
March 15, 2006
In September 2000, the Palestinians began a terror offensive against Israel. They did this because they refused to accept the Camp David proposal, which promised them the entire Gaza Strip and 91 percent of the West Bank in exchange for full recognition of Israel and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Ehud Olmert is elected prime minister and implements his convergence plan, then in September 2010 the Palestinians will have sovereignty over the entire Gaza Strip and some 91 percent of the West Bank, and all this without recognizing Israel and without ending the conflict.
Thus will the national Palestinian movement fulfill the objectives of its wars and obtain a full strategic resolution against the State of Israel. The history books will record Olmert’s unconditional withdrawal as the unconditional surrender of Zionism. No, it will not be the end. But it will be the beginning of the end. While relying on big money on one side and big journalism on the other, Olmert will lead the country to the beginning of the end.
At first glance, Olmert’s plan appears enchanting – no fear, no hesitation, and very Israeli. Here, we’ll take our destiny in our own hands. Within three years we’ll evacuate some 80,000 settlers. Within less than five years, we will undergo a final disengagement from the Palestinians and converge within the borders of a flourishing lowlands country. We will surround our existence with a high wall, which will protect us from both the craziness of the Land of Israel and from the threat of Palestine. And so, in one term, we will isolate ourselves from all the sickness and terrors of the Middle East. So simple. So clear. How did we not think of this sooner. Why did we wait so long so that the man who saved Jerusalem could also save the State of Israel.
However, on second glance it becomes clear that the Olmert plan has a small flaw: It has no Palestinians. This is a plan whose logic is simplistic and patronizing. This is a plan for Israelis only, which ignores its ramifications on Israelis. It takes an extreme unilateral position to the point of absurdity, totally ignoring the fact that the conflict is bilateral and the political reality is multilateral. The plan, then, is an arrogant one, and the hubris that characterizes it is no less than the hubris of the person who formulated it.
What Olmert plans to do in the next few years is to establish an armed Hamas state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Via the nearly complete withdrawal, Olmert will promise Hamas almost total control in the Palestinian state for generations. The Palestine of Olmert will be hostile, dissatisfied and violent. Its founding ethos will be “We’ve chased them out of Ofra, we’ll chase them out of Tzahala too.”
Since Olmert is establishing this country without first assuring its demilitarization, it will have significant military capability. Since he is establishing it without removing the right of return from the agenda, it will have a destructive claim against Israel, whose legitimacy is recognized by the international community. The combination of political sovereignty, military power and a commitment to demanding return will transform Olmert’s Hamas state into one that will endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.
Despite the irony, the convergence plan will not implement the Bush vision, but will destroy it. It will not build a stable two-state solution, but will create an unstable reality in which an Islamic Palestinian state systematically undermines the foundation of the Jewish democratic state.
But it is not just the stability of Israel that Olmert is endangering. He is also endangering the regional stability. A Hamas state will accelerate Jordan’s collapse. There is no chance that the Hashemite rule will stand up against a Palestinian state on its doorstep whose religious fervor has just subdued the Zionists. Egypt will also be threatened. A victorious Muslim Brotherhood republic that controls a third of Jerusalem and devours the Temple Mount will be the beacon of zealotry for the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. And in Damascus. And in Amman.
And Olmert will be supporting not only anti-Israeli terror, but also the anti-Western revolutionary movement. His radical unilateral process will disrupt the American strategy in the area and will bury U.S. President George W. Bush’s dream of stability and democracy in the Middle East.
The Land of Israel must be divided. The occupation must end. A two-state solution is necessary. But the Hamas victory has made a two-state solution more distant and more complicated. Olmert’s convergence plan makes it impossible. Therefore, if the public gives him the chance to carry out his arrogant plan, then March 28, 2006, will go down in history. History will remember it as the day that did not bring peace and did not bring security, but began the end.
ALMOST 20 PERCENT OF ISRAEL’S 6.8 MILLION CITIZENS ARE ARABS
Politicians court a not-so-silent minority: Israeli Arabs
By Dina Kraft
The New York Times
March 21, 2006
Dr. Ahmed Tibi waved to supporters as his car moved slowly down the main road of this Arab town, past carpet shops, vegetable stands and billboards that call him “a son of the village,” unmistakable code for Arabs who are citizens but resist identification with Israel or Zionism.
“Look in the mirror and see whom you’re voting for,” Dr. Tibi told a gathering of potential voters here, a town bordering the West Bank. His eyes fixed on theirs, he said, “Zionist parties are the problem, not the solution.”
As Israel’s election approaches on March 28, Arab and mainstream Israeli parties, the ones that Dr. Tibi meant by “Zionist parties,” are competing for the votes of an alienated minority: Israeli Arabs.
A recent survey of 500 Arab voters found that only about 16 percent planned to vote for mainstream Israeli parties. In the last election roughly 30 percent of Israeli Arabs voted for these parties.
Almost 20 percent of Israel’s 6.8 million citizens are Arabs (a group distinct from the Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip), and a significant voting bloc that has made a difference in past races.
Israeli Arabs speak of frustration with everyone who is trying to represent them. Many criticize both the Arab parties, for focusing more on Palestinian issues than on their own needs, and the mainstream ones, for decades of unfulfilled promises.
The Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections adds another element to the already complex political relationship between Israel’s Jews and Arabs. But the Arabs say what would matter to them is if that victory produced further violence between Palestinians and Israelis.
“There is a fear that Israel will impose solutions and not negotiate, as in Gaza, and that will lead to clashes that will have some bearing on Arabs in Israel,” said Muhammad Amara, an Israeli Arab who teaches political science at Bar-Ilan University, outside Tel Aviv.
Some Jewish Israelis are worried about a growing Islamist movement that appears emboldened by the Hamas victory. Leaders of the pragmatic Islamist wing in Israel that does participate in politics – unlike its more militant branch, which refuses to – stress that they are the face of moderate Islam. “We are against all extremists, whether they are Arab or Jewish,” said Sheikh Abas Zakoor, a candidate of the Islamic Movement.
Dr. Tibi, a gynecologist who has been a member of Parliament since 1999, has joined in a coalition with the more pragmatic wing, which currently has two seats.
The heated nationalism practiced by Dr. Tibi and the Arab parties is an effort to tap into the mood of a fed-up minority.
“People live under continued and planned discrimination when it comes to the economy, education and jobs, and we do not see Israeli governments changing the situation,” said Ali Haider, co-executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, a group advocating equal status for Arabs and Jews.
Candidates from the mainstream parties are busy courting the Arab vote, too, touting their political muscle and promising to improve towns and villages, and schools and job prospects.
Fighting political discontent with economic solutions is part of Nadia Hilo’s strategy to sway Arab voters. An Arab with a high spot on the Labor Party list, she criticizes the Arab parties for claiming to be their people’s only legitimate representatives. She says she believes Labor will be part of the governing coalition with the power to force through an agenda focused on narrowing the economic gap between rich and poor.
“This will give a chance to the Arab sector to be more influential and improve their daily lives,” she said.
The apathy of a community grown increasingly cynical about the power of government to change its status makes turnout uncertain. This could hurt the Arab parties, which dropped in 2003 to 8 seats, from 10, in the 120-seat Parliament. Only 62 percent of Israeli Arabs voted in 2003, a significant drop from previous years. Pollsters predict a similar figure this year, and expect the parties to win eight seats.
This year, the threshold for a party to win a seat was raised, so some of the smaller parties have banded together in new coalitions.
Mustafa Abu Mokh, 46, a member of Baqa’s municipal council, said he doubted he would vote for any party. “What will convince me,” he said, “is a party that will answer our day-to-day problems.”
Arabs in Israel have higher levels of education, medical care and standards of living than their counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East. But they compare their lives with those of Israeli Jews, who are generally better off.
“Our life in this country is a kind of ambivalence,” said Professor Amara. “On the one hand you are a citizen, but what kind of citizen can you be as an Arab citizen in a Jewish state?”
A 32-year-old resident of Baqa who would identify himself only as Hassan said the mainstream parties held no sway with him. His vote will be going to the Arab Balad Party. “We tried Labor; we tried Likud,” he said. “They’ve done nothing.”
Azmi Bishara, an Arab member of Parliament who heads Balad, said that compounding the community’s sense of isolation was that Jewish Israelis viewed Arabs with suspicion. “The best-case scenario is that they are a demographic burden or tolerated guests, and at worst a fifth column,” he said.
Weary of politics and promises, Hanan Ihsaniya, a 23-year-old college student, is among those tuning out the elections all together. “We always vote,” she said, “but we don’t see results.”