A comment on Israel's election & Olmert's "victory"

The Definition of Real Victory

THE RESULTS are in. The pundits and parties claim a “victory” for those who propose further withdrawals from the disputed territories of Judea & Samara (the “West Bank”). Nothing can be further from the truth.

This is no “vindication of Sharon” (David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post, 29 March). It can be argued persuasively that many of the votes for Kadima, Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, the new Pensioners party and the many smaller parties who did not cross the threshold for representation are in fact protest votes. Israel voted against the corruption and economic callousness of Likud, against the appeasement and economic socialism (and corruption) of Labour, against the ideological anti-religious stance of the hard-left and against the impractical inflexibility of the hard-right. And of course the majority of the electorate – of the 63% who voted, that is – voted against Kadima and Olmert by voting for other parties. 28 seats, representing less than 25% of the vote, is hardly a resounding “victory” for Kadima.

This election, like so many others in Israel’s history, was no single-issue vote for or against Ehud Olmert’s proposed additional unilateral withdrawals. Polls have shown clearly that following the Gaza withdrawal there is a wide consensus against unilateral withdrawal from more territories and the dismantling of Jewish communities there. This election does, however, reflect a more general rejection of the “Greater Israel” ideology, as Amotz Asa-El wrote (also in the Jerusalem Post) on Tuesday – but it does not reflect any consensus on how, when and where this rejection should be expressed.

This was no more a referendum on Olmert’s unilateral “convergence” program than the ’96 election was a vote for or against Oslo. In ’96 (and ’99, and ’01) even with direct elections of the Prime Minister and a clear vote for or against an individual leader and his direct representation, there were other issues at stake. Netanyahu’s election in ’96 was interpreted – because of the direct election mechanism – as a public vote to “slow down” Oslo in the face of increasing terror, but even that wasn’t a referendum on Oslo. Ironically, after the cancellation of such direct elections of the PM, in ’03 Ariel Sharon’s Likud trounced Amram Mitzna’s Labour - and this overwhelming “victory” can be interpreted as a true referendum on Mitzna’s announced policy of unilateral withdrawal, as this was the consistent and fundamental theme of the election.

In contrast, through the majority of this campaign, Kadima’s policy under Sharon and then Olmert was “no further unilateral withdrawals”. Only in the last two weeks or so of the campaign did Olmert suggest a consistent policy favoring unilateral withdrawal in his “convergence” plan, and did Kadima present a coherent platform. And even then this message was blurred by other Kadima leaders proposing negotiations or postponements and other modifications.

OLMERT NOW has two choices: follow Sharon’s (and Rabin’s) anti-democratic lead and push through existential changes to Israel’s borders just because he can; or change the flawed structure of our electoral system to better reflect the public’s true sentiments.

To become a mature democracy, Israel desperately needs two reforms: a mechanism for single-issue referenda (such as Europe employed regarding the Union), and regional representation for at least half the Knesset. These two issues of electoral reform, coupled with adjustments to a system which literally wastes thousands of votes for smaller parties, are crucial to restore confidence in Israel’s political system and leaders – a confidence which the unprecedented low voter-turnout and various protest ballots demonstrate is at an all-time low. This should be the first priority for the new prime minister who declared “unity” as his primary goal in his “victory” speech early Wednesday morning.

Ironically, these are two of the planks in the Likud platform. If Olmert and his allies celebrate their victory by joining with the Likud and other parties to strengthen Israel’s democracy by instituting such reforms, immediately, the fears of those of us who didn’t vote for them will be somewhat allayed and their ability to govern and carry out their policies will be strengthened. If they do not – civil strife beyond our imagination is almost inevitable.


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