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Israelis Split Over Trump or Clinton

Israelis for Donald or Hillary?

It is still hard to say whether most Israelis favor Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Going into the Democrats' convention, Trump had a slight lead. Coming out, Hillary got her expected 'bounce' and this will also be reflected in Israeli public opinion. Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians are wary about getting drawn into the U.S. presidential campaign for obvious reasons. A majority of Netanyahu's Likud party supporters hope Trump will make it to the White House, while the Centre and Left (Zionist Union-Labor) favor Clinton. Where does Bibi Stand? An indication is the clear-cut position taken by 'Yisrael Hayom' (Israel Today) the freebie newspaper that backs Netanyahu and is also in Trump's corner. Israel Today is financed by American casino tycoon, Sheldon Adelson. But the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill, have always been strong supporters of the Jewish state.

Bad timing...

The timing was atrocious. In the midst of Israel's bid to wrap up a new military aid package with the Obama administration, Israel announced a new plan to build some 300 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, located over the former 1967 border. The response from the U.S. State Department was swift, loud and clear. The latest Israeli construction plan was both 'provocative and counter-productive' - it cast doubts about Israel's commitment to the two-state solution. In Israel, even the Left wing Labor party (Zionist Camp) considers Gilo to be an integral part of Jerusalem. In fact, it is not located in eastern (Arab) Jerusalem but in the southern part of Israel's capital.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry took issue with the angry American response. First of all, it was well known that Gilo would remain inside Israeli territory in any future peace deal with he Palestinians. Moreover Israel contended that America's position that the construction undermines the two-state solution was baseless and ignored the real obstacle to peace - the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state on any borders at all.

This brings us to the latest Palestinian caper - President Mahmoud Abbas wants to sue Britain for passing the Balfour Declaration of 1917 calling for the establishment of a 'Jewish homeland' in Palestine. Until the establishment and the formal adoption of the name Israel in 1948 the entire region was labeled Palestine. James Balfour was the British Foreign Secretary at the time).

Brick wall of Palestinian rejectionism...

Today, nearly one hundred years later, even the moderate Palestinians, like Abbas, who say they favor a two-state solution, want to sue the UK over its support for the Jewish homeland! This is not just a diplomatic joke; it pulls the rug from under the Palestinians case. How can they possibly be in favor of negotiating a two-state solution in 2016, if they are still stuck back in 1917? It is very telling about what the vast majority of Palestinians really think, including the so-called moderates.

By threatening to sue the UK, they reveal that they simply do not accept the idea of a Jewish state in the first place. It is yet another discouraging signal to the vast majority of those Israelis who have supported Israeli leaders such as Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and most recently Ehud Olmert. It is an undeniable fact that they kept pushing for the two-state solution but ran into a brick-wall of Palestinian rejectionism. Even when they were ready to give back the kitchen sink and withdraw to more or less the old 1967 lines with border swaps.

After you cut through the babble of rhetoric about right and wrong, this is the unvarnished historical truth. You don't have to take my word for it, just recall what former President Bill Clinton said recently about his powwow with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David 2000:

       'I killed myself for the Palestinians!'

But Arafat walked away from Barak's huge concessions at Clinton's prodding. The Palestinian leader did not even give an answer. Informally this is what he told American officials what would happen if he went home with a peace deal that recognized Israel:

       'My people will kill me!'

That is not to say the present Israeli government is doing all it can or should. In fact, decisions like building in Gilo invite condemnation from its best friend the U.S, not to mention the EU and the UN. But Bibi is under pressure from his Right wing coalition and probably thinks:

'The Palestinians are not ready to make peace no matter what we concede, just look at the price Barak paid - he was ready to give back everything but Arafat turned him down. Then Barak's own Labor Party kicked him out for going too far, too quickly. So what difference does it make if we build across the old border or we don't'?

But it does make a difference to Israel's moral standing in the U.S. and the Free world at large. And then there's the future fate of Israel as Barak described it in an interview with CNN:

       “They (Netanyahu's government) are interested basically in continuation, extrapolation of the present situation, which is a one-state or headed toward a one-state solution against all the declarations of the opposite."

The former PM called it a 'hidden agenda' although he respected Bibi.

       "{I don't underestimate Netanyahu. He's a serious person - he was elected more than once and he tries to do what is good for Israel”

In Barak's view, Netanyahu has allowed his ruling Likud party to be taken over by 'extremists'. Barak warned a one-state solution would eventually deteriorate into a civil war and spell the end of the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland. This begs the question of what is in Israel's best interest over the long run.

No readin', writin', or arithmetic for ultra-orthodox...

At present, the Right wing commands a 67-seat majority in the 120-member parliament. Netanyahu has just cemented his union with the ultra-orthodox religious parties that hold the balance of power in the standoff between the Right and the Center-Left. Bibi has just caved in to the ultra-orthodox demand that their children not have to learn even English or Math in their separate schools. All they will be obligated to study are Talmud, the Old Testament etc. This rescinded a decision by Netanyahu's former government that would have forced the ultra-orthodox to start studying English and Math by the year 2018.

It sounds incredible but it's true; the ultra-orthodox rabbis and politicians are forcing their own children to go without a decent education that would prepare them to earn a decent living. On the contrary, they persist on forcing the government to grant handouts to ultra-orthodox families. Fathers of seven and eight children do not get a job but spend their entire lives studying in religious institutions! In return, they eke out government handouts by using their balance of political power to enable the Likud to form a government. This is not to say the Labor has not bought-off the ultra-orthodox political parties in the past. In addition, the ultra-orthodox men and women are exempted from IDF military service. This is the sorry state of Israeli politics.

In the last election, the Right-wing bloc garnered fifty-four seats, while the Center-Left took fifty-three. The ultra-orthodox came through with the thirteen seats and held the key to a majority in the 120-member Knesset. The ultra-orthodox are not interested in settlements or politics. They are interested in only one thing - preserving their way of life, which holds that religious study comes before all else. The Likud offered them more and Bob's your uncle!

Zionist Camp Knesset Member Tzipi Livni, a former Likudnik who saw the light, has been proposing the formation of a single Center-Left wing bloc as a tactic for trying to break Netanyahu's hold on the premiership. This will not be easy bearing in mind that thirteen Israeli Arab MKs would be part of it. (Livni herself has served as Foreign Minister and in the eyes of many she has the stuff that prime ministers are made of).

But remember in the former election in March 2015, all the polls showed that Labor held a commanding lead over the Likud. However when Bibi went on TV to warn that Arab voters were being bussed to the polls in droves, this scared many middle-of-the-road Jewish voters: they suddenly switched from Booshie Herzog to 'Mr. Security', Bibi Netanyahu. In Israel, security will usually trump the wallet.

Barak testing the waters...

Enter Ehud Barak. Since he left politics in 2013 after serving as defense minister in a former Netanyahu cabinet, Ehud Barak has withdrawn from the limelight and concentrated on making a small fortune as a military consultant abroad. Recently the former kibbutznik turned thriving capitalist has again interjected himself into the state's national discourse on war and peace. In his CNN interview, Barak discounted the current threats to Israel posed by Iran and Daesh contending Israel could handle both. He was more concerned about preserving the Jewish state of Israel that required separating from the Palestinians on the West Bank. Barak's approach harkens back to the late Yitzhak Rabin who first posited:

      'The Palestinians are there and we're here!'

At present, the Center-Left lacks a dynamic, credible leader who can coalesce a bloc that could take on Bibi and win. It is still early days. Labor (Zionist List) is entangled in a struggle to dump Herzog for another of its lack luster members. Centrist Yair Lapid has little if no future as leader of his Future party. So it may still be a long shot, but on paper Ehud Barak is still the only available prospect with the required security credentials. Barak will not canvass for such an appointment; the former General will wait to be 'drafted' as head of such a political bloc.


 David Essing

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