Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Predictions for the Israeli Elections: All Sides Lose

It’s after 7:00 am Tuesday March 28th, do you know where your favorite Israeli is? At the polls, of course. Elections began this morning at 7:00 am, and Israelis take their elections very seriously. And that’s no surprise, since these elections are monumentally important. But how many of them will make it to the polls today? I suspect it will be much less than were seen in recent elections, and will send a clear signal to all parties that there is no real winner in this election, and that all the parties, and the Israeli people, will lose because there is no outstanding candidate running.

Unlike the US, where success or failure is determined by which party you back, I always got the feeling while living in Israel that success or failure was dependant on turnouts; When I voted for in 1996 and 1999, anything under 75% voter turnout would have been considered an abomination, even though there were always plenty of people like me today who are eligible to vote but refuse to vote if not living in the country. Today, 65% turnout is expected, a shockingly low number for such an important election.

Yesterday Ehud Olmert, the Kadima candidate and front runner leading into the election, made an appeal to Israelis, saying that a vote for Kadima was a vote for Israeli the withdrawal from the West Bank, utilizing the plan laid out by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon formed the Kadima Party around his own specific views for the future of the country before slipping into a coma on January 4th, 2006.

Olmert made the appeal to voters he feared would either not show up for the election or voters he feared would switch to the parties they traditionally voted for , since this is the first election Kadima has participated in. Unfortunately for Olmert, his statements emphasized the two main weaknesses of the Kadima Party: 1) Ehud Olmert is not Ariel Sharon; and 2) there is more to this election than just the withdrawal from the West Bank.

The Kadima Party expected 40 seats in the 120 seat Knesset two months ago, a number that certainly would have risen with Ariel Sharon at the helm of the party; but on the eve of the election, last minute opinion polls showed them receiving 34-36 seats. While it’s true that Israel has never given a party a clear majority in any Prime Ministerial election, the recent ambivalence towards the vote is indicative of the growing crisis arising from the demise of the leaders in the state of Israel.

"If Sharon were in charge, we would have gotten 50 seats," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said. "Everyone knew and respected him and the Russian immigrants voted for him. But Olmert is suitable and, with enough
support on Election Day, he will be able to run the country."

Most Israelis that I’ve spoken to are ready to get out of the West Bank and ready to set borders that will allow for some definition of the borders of the country. Sure, there are those who do not like where the borders have landed, but that would have been the case with any chosen borders. Still, most Israelis recognized that the move has to be made. However, there is a big difference between pulling back from the West Bank with Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister and pulling back from the West Bank with Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister.

Ariel Sharon was a brilliant military strategist, and while his tactics were always insensitive to the needs of the Palestinians, often brutal not only to combatants but to innocent civilians, sometimes pre-emptive and unwarranted, and occasionally even immoral, they served to keep the Israeli people safe during a long uprising. Ariel Sharon was the great father to many Israelis, the protector, keeping them safe from the dangers they could not see but they knew were out there. And certainly similar dangers were expected from a West Bank Withdrawal.

But Olmert has shown none of the same prowess, and instills minimal confidence in the security of the country. Since Sharon slid into his coma in January, the Gaza Strip, which Sharon withdrew from last year, has fallen into chaos. Qassam rockets are being fired regularly from Northern Gaza into Israel. Kidnappings are par for the course. Basically, the area has grown out of control, and I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking it would not have been that way if Ariel Sharon had been Prime Minister of Israel.

And while the pullback from the West Bank is tremendously important, this is also a very important time in Israel for other reasons. The Israeli economy is in shambles, in large part due to the lack of tourism in the country during the recent anti-fatah. The welfare system in Israel needs to be restructured to pay for the vast welfare required by the still-young nation that has been in many too many wars, leading to many people dependant on the state. And the defining of the borders of the nation also requires the defining of the nation itself, and questions as to the identity of Israel suddenly have to be answered. Plus, it is not unreasonable to expect that the next Prime Minister will have to address the issue of a nuclear Iran.

The great leaders that came out of Israel, leaders like Sharon, Rabin, Perez, Ben Gurion, Meir, these are names of the past. Olmert, Peretz, Netenyahu, and Elon are the names of the present, and they are not names that inspire a great deal of faith. I liked the Netanyahu years, but because he prevented bad things from happening, not because he was able to bring about the positive change the country needs now. And while I have little faith in the others, I suspect I am not alone, and that is why voter turnout will be so poor.

Olmert will come away from this election with the most seats in the Knesset, and he will retain his role as Prime Minister of Israel. But he loses this election by many standards, because he will not generate the voter turnout or the seats in Knesset to send a clear signal that the country is behind him. Those are my predictions for this election: a clear loss for all parties.

technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted by Scottage at 2:53 AM / | |