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Palestinian elections move forward, but will this change anything?

A voter registration office was opened in the Gaza Strip by the political rivals Hamas and Fatah last week, bringing the region one step forward toward presidential and parliamentary elections. These are set to happen later this spring, and we could see once more the two rivals pit against each other in a democratic process. But as this step is taken, and Palestine moves toward yet another election, will this really change much of anything in the region? Will peace prevail? It’s hard to see that as a likely outcome with everything that goes on behind the scenes.

We all recall how the last elections went. In 2006, Hamas won the elections, and it took a year until they managed to get control over Gaza, which they had to wrestle by force. Meanwhile, nearly the whole world considers them as a terrorist group, because of a multitude of attacks on civilians, which they say were provoked by Israel military forces.

Meanwhile, Israel isn’t sitting by, and is arresting any member of Hamas it can find, accusing them of being terrorists, some of which were actually planning to be delegates in the coming election. Tensions aren’t any lower than they’ve been in decades, and while a few people actively work toward peace, there’s a lot of anger in the air. Regardless who wins this election, once again it won’t be done without violence, that much is certain. History is very plain, and tends to repeat itself, especially when it comes to this region of the world.

On the one hand, if Hamas wins, then the situation will be the same as in 2006, with few countries recognizing them as a legitimate organization, and few people willing to let them take power without violence. On the other hand, if Fatah wins, it will be hailed by the world as a victory for peace, which will anger Hamas and they are unlikely to sit still, prompting once again more violence. The situation has been going on for decades, and there seems to be no solution in sight.

Imposing peace has never worked without a strong military presence behind, and everyone is careful not to appear biased or to provoke the anger of the world powers. As a result, the same things keep happening, with Israel trying to bring some order to what they consider their lands, prompting retaliation strikes on civilian populations, which in turn brings more violence. It’s a circle that won’t be broken by yet another round of elections.

Overall, it’s still nice to see a peace process go forward, and this action of a new voting booth should be applauded. But in reality, it’s unlikely to change much at all.

Putin’s Approval Rating Slipping

Although international observers have called the Russian election manipulated and a victim of ballet stuffing, the United Russia party, the governing party of the country, has seen a drop of 14% in voter approval. Vladimir Putin who is running in the parliamentary election leads the United Russia party. On Sunday’s election, the communists won by about a 20% lead. The socially democratic Just Russia party took 13% and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic party followed with 12%.

Although the United Russia party is not likely to collapse in the near future, this is a step back for Putin and his party. If the United Russia party fails to reach a 7% threshold, he will still have around 53% control over the legislature’s seats. Over the last couple of elections, the United Russia party increased their percentage and held 70% of the seats during the last election. This gave them the power to change Russia’s constitution whenever they wanted. However, these days are over.

Putin still holds a 67% approval rating from Russians, but his ratings have been slipping. The highest that he has attained was 87% during December of 2007. This was the month of his last parliamentary election. His disapproval is rising though. It is estimated that about 1 out of 3 Russian disapprove of the way that he runs the government.

This disapproval has sprung over the falling of the oil boom. During the years of 2000-2008, Russian was given disposable income of 10% more than the previous year. Since the global financial crisis, Russia’s economy has suffered. One of the primary concern for Russians is overspending on government pensions and wage boosts for public sector jobs.

Although it is not official, Putin’s win in next March’s election is fairly certain. When he ran before -2000 and 2004- his approval ratings were at 79% and 81%. Even though these approval ratings have slipped for the moment, there is no telling how he will fair against his competitors.

Enter: Muslim Brotherhood

With the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February, Israel’s relations with Egypt have been turned on their head. It is a game of waiting. Will a treaty between Egypt and Israel hold? Will Muslim Brotherhood take more than 50 percent of Parliament seats? If yes, does it mean direct threat? Imminent danger for the Jewish State? Is everything going to be alright after all?

Ahead of legislative elections, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has reportedly joined forces with 17 Egyptian political parties – both liberal, secular and religious alike – to concretize a mutual platform. Involved in the joint platform are such political parties as Brotherood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the more liberal Wafd party, the leftist Tagammu and the brand new Salafi (Muslim Fundamentalist) Noor party.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – which took the governmental reins after Hosni Mubarak was ousted – has set the parliamentary elections for a date in September.

Despite these signs of modernity and democracy from the Brotherhood, Chairman Mohammed Badie held an interview on Egyptian television, indicating as Caroline Glick paraphrased:

“That the Brotherhood will end any thought of democracy in Egypt by taking control over the media. Badie said that the Brotherhood is about to launch a public news channel,” committed to the “ethics of the society and the rules of the Islamic faith.”

Mr. Badie recently said in an interview:

“Mubarak tries to black mail Obama by using Muslim Brotherhood name to remain in charge of on going chaos. All 1.57 billion Muslims are part of Muslim Brotherhood excluding Mubarak, he is member of Israel Brotherhood, he can go Israel and live there.”

Jerusalem Post in February reported Badie saying:

“Asked on CNN if his organization would support the maintenance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Mohamed Morsy, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, dodged a direct answer but said Israel had failed to honor the treaty. He said it would be up to the Egyptian parliament to decide on the fate of the treaty, and that the parliament would reflect the will of the people.”

Not So Fast Bibi

The polls were opened on Thursday for a Likud party vote. Party leader, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants to change the Likud constitution so that internal party elections might be delayed up to the three years following general elections.

Bibi said:

“We are a national movement started by Menachem Begin; we are for the state and for the IDF and for true peace, and that is what we have to focus on…If the vote does not go as I want it to, we will have to dedicate months to an internal process in the Likud, and now is not the time to do that…I think most Likud members know that this isn’t the time.”

Isn’t it undemocratic, though, to change a party’s constitution in the middle of a term and in the midst of controversial issues crucial to the future of the state – giving up east Jerusalem?

Netanyahu said in his defense:

“In a democracy, there are legal and agreed-upon ways to make changes. We are one of the most organized and unified movements in the country; our way to do it is with a majority of two-thirds. Believe me – it is very, very difficult.”

Moshe Feiglin, the leader of Manhigut Yudit, a religious political faction accused Bibi during a radio interview of planning to sell-out Jerusalem:

“It seems that Netanyahu thinks that a true Likudnik would split up Jerusalem…This vote is about Jerusalem; not Feiglin, not Netanyahu…If, G-d forbid, his proposal will pass…there is nothing to stop Netanyahu from doing what Sharon did, only not in Gush Katif, but in Jerusalem.”

In addition Feiglin accused Bibi of cheating during the general elections:

“have you ever heard of elections without observers? With traveling voting booths?”

No Change For Iran – Mousavi Contests Election Results

No sooner had incumbent Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared himself victorious in last Friday’s election, his challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi cried “foul” at the results of the balloting which gave Ahmadinejad 62.5 % of the total vote. Mousavi, a former Iranian president during the 1980’s and who ran under a campaign of economic and social reform, claimed that many election precincts were “managed by untrustworthy monitors”, and many of his supporters rioted in the streets of major cities afterwards.

News in Stories: Iran Elections Boston GlobeSince foreign observers were banned from the actual balloting, there’s no telling what really went on, and many people who stood in long lines for hours at polling stations; and even had their thumb ink dyed when they did get to vote, may have had their vote discarded during the actual counting period once the polls closed. An amazing 85% of the country’s eligible voters went to the polls in an election which had culminated weeks of intense campaigning by supporters of both candidates in a contest that was really a referendum on Ahmadinejad’s handling of the country’s economy, now experiencing 30% inflation and more than 17% “official” unemployment. Many Mousavi supporters were dissatisfied young Iranians, especially academics who can’t find decent jobs after completing university studies.

Ahmadinejad gave one of his usual long victory speeches on Saturday, and gave an even longer one on Sunday during a news conference where he compared the rioting to disturbances that occur “after a football match”. Football match indeed! The streets of Teheran were almost turned into a battle ground as many young protesters battled police and paramilitary personnel, and numerous vehicles and shops were set ablaze. Many of the protestors were arrested, and it was even rumored that Moussavi himself has been detained for questioning for his possible part in the rioting (and may even be under arrest). The protests, according to many observers, were nothing less than many peoples’ dissatisfaction with the way the country has been run under Ahmadinejad, and how Iran has become increasingly isolated by international sanctions due to the ongoing nuclear program; including Ahmadinejad’s tirades against Israel and his denial of the Holocaust.

News in Stories: Iran Elections Boston GlobeThe results of the election come to no surprise with Israeli leaders, and many even hoped that Ahmadinejad would win in order to continue international pressure against Iran, and especially it’s missile and nuclear enrichment program which is now said to have progressed far enough to have enough enriched uranium and plutonium for at least one if not two nuclear bombs. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to give a speech to the country Sunday night, which is said to be a response to both U.S. President Obama’s speech in Cairo, as well as the aftermath of the Iranian elections. Israel has been warned by the Obama administration not to try to “go at it alone” to take out Iran’s nuclear capability; and the country’s leadership is now fully aware that Israel’s current relations with the USA are a far cry from what they were during the Bush administration.

All in all, however, the violent protests which have occurred in many parts of Iran following the election may wind up being a “consolation prize” for Mr. Mousavi and his followers; and are an indication that all is not well in the country. There appears to be a strong “grass roots” movement that could decide it’s had enough with people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs.

GIANT HAT TIP: Boston Globe Iran’s Presidential Elections in Pictures

Lesser of two evils: Mousavi or Ahmadinejad?

46 million Iranians voted Friday in what was declared to be the first really contested election in that country since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that “lovely” man who continues to say that Israel is an “illegal” state and should be “wiped of the face of the map“, was opposed by former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who presented himself as a “reformist candidate”, although he still backs his country’s nuclear program. What Mr. Mousavi may have meant as being “reformist” is probably similar to former president Mohammad Khatami, who was really one of the Mullah religious leaders, and said to wield the real power in the Islamic Republic, with people like Ahmadinejad only being front men.

Mahmoud AhmadinejadWhat all this means for Israel is that no great surprises were in store, no matter who would win, and that the anti-Israel rhetoric will continue, as well as the nuclear program, which went into high gear when Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005. Mousavi is even said to have begun the nuclear program back in the 1980’s.

Reform means a lot of different things to different people, especially in a country like Iran, where Sharia Islamic law is practiced to a large extent, although not to the extreme as it is in Saudi Arabia, or in the former Taliban controlled Afghanistan. What this means for Iranian women is that they are allowed to drive, not completely cover their faces (even a bit of fashion is permitted), achieve a higher education, work in most professions, and vote. The voting right by women was definitely exercised in the election, although the way many women exercised their vote was probably influenced by their husband or father (if they are not married yet). The Iranian legal system continues to try, and punish, both men and women according to strict Islamic law, meaning that people committing acts that are contrary to Islamic Law are often given the harshest punishment – including death.

It is well known that the real holder of the reins of power in Iran is the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is as bad or worse than the Ayatollah Hasni Komeni, who presided over the country following the Islamic Revolution.

Iran has a number of problems that should be dealt with by no matter who wins this election. These include a 17% unemployment rate, and an energy and industrial infrastructure that is in complete shambles. For a country with the world’s second biggest oil reserves (said to be anywhere from 14 to 25 %) it must import most of its refined petroleum products; and many Iranians still drive around old locally made versions of British Hillman Hunter automobiles from pre-revolutionary days. And at least half of the population is 27 years old or younger, making available careers for university graduates even scarcer.

In the end no earthshaking changes came about, as the “reform candidate” Moussavi didn’t win. As for people living in Israel, being prepared for the worst case scenario is a matter of acute reality in these current times.

All Eyes Turn to Peres

Tomorrow, Wednesday evening, at 6 pm Jerusalem Time, President Shimon Peres will receive the official results of the general elections, which took place last week. These results will include all the votes, including the soldiers’ ballots.

Peres’ decision won’t be an easy one. Neither candidate — Binyamin Netanyahu nor Tzipi Livni — has so far managed to garner the necessary support of 61 Knesset members. Some media commentators even say jokingly(?!) that we might need to redo the elections!

So who is it going to be? Tzipi or Bibi? Too bad Mr. Obama is already taken.

Shimon Peres' Hard Choices

Opposition Reconstruction

These were strange elections. The “Right Block” (of political parties) and the “Center Block” have achieved a problematic tie, while the “Left Block” has been brutally crushed by its (lack of) voters.

Ehud Barak, a former Prime Minister, current Minister of Defense, and chairman of the Avoda (Israeli Labor Party), was the first party leader to carry a speech last night, soon after the exit polls were announced at 10pm. Among other things, in his “Defeat Speech” — as it was quickly declared by the news media — he warned that his party isn’t afraid of sitting in the opposition. Other prominent members of the Avoda are now echoing the same message. “We need to listen to our constituency, and to rebuild ourselves in the opposition”, they are saying.

A similar scenario is also taking place in Meretz, the socialist Left party, who now remains with merely 3 seats in the Knesset. (The Israeli parliament holds 120 seats). Zehava Gal-On, who apparently just lost her place in the Knesset, also wants to see her party “laying a new ideological foundation” in the opposition rows.

It seems that “sitting in the opposition” has become the preferred solution to any parliamentary decline. Indeed, the public gets weary of ruling parties more than he does of opposition parties. And it is much easier to keep your campaign promises when you are not confronted with the fierce pressures of the coalition, which sometimes demand very difficult compromises.

However, I do believe that any political party should at least attempt to enter the coalition, as long as it is able to maintain its core values and to deliver at least some of its promises. It’s all too “easy” to turn away from the heat.

Yes, some parties are too obsessed with being a part of the coalition, willing to sell away their constituency for an overpriced seat by the government table — yet others are all too shy of it. Remember that Change comes from within.

Full Moon Elections

Tomorrow Israel elects a new Prime Minister. But tonight… tonight Israel celebrates the New Year of Trees, or Tu B’Shvat (15 in the month of Shvat).

Because the Jewish calender is a lunisolar calendar, the 15 of each Jewish month is always a full moon night. Another Jewish holiday that is marked by the full moon is Tu B’Av, or 15 in the month of Av, which marks the Jewish version of Valentine’s.

Tu B’Shvat has its own traditions, such as reading a special book, similar to the Haggadah of Passover. We also eat lots of dried fruits during Tu B’Shvat… Which might make the polling lines somewhat agitated tomorrow.

So eat and drink my friends, and go tomorrow to consummate your democratic right to vote.

Tzipi Livni womanhood in Israeli politics

Livni in The Uman in Tel AvivA little while ago the US showed the world that it can reinvent itself just when we thought we knew everything about them. A black man was elected to president. I still remember the Eddy Murphy comedy show Delirious where he makes fun with the notion of a black president. A president that would have to make his speeches while running to avoid getting shot… And yet, there he is. Obama is the President.

Now in Israel it seems like we are not quite there. Yes, this is a generally forward thinking society BUT (insert big but here..) there are actually political figureheads/political parties that feel that politics is no place for a woman. This is to the extent that if you were to look at the election posters in Jerusalem where all three candidates are showing, the face of Tzipi Livni has been erased.. To remind you the year is 2009!

Now this goes beyond the religious parties which like there Iranian counterparts are fanatics. This extends to the mainstream. When it comes to discussing the issues and facing a woman in the race, the gender card will ultimately be used by any of the “modern thinking” leaders as well. It will just be better disguised.

Given that we are a testosterone driven society. We are faced with 10 flavors of death in any direction, but still. Wouldn’t the job of a good prime minister be putting together the right team? Would it not be possible for a woman to run Israel?

Livni recently went for the young vote with her campaign. She did the Tel Aviv bar/club circuit trying to get the young vote. She recently has invested more in getting the undecided women vote and sounded good in front of the women’s conference in Herzelia. I heard some of the speech and she sounded comfortable and energetic. I didn’t like the way she sounded when she was in some of the other venues and in Knesset. She got a heavy, old political guy tone to her that just sounded tired and almost forced. Like someone who has to make them sound like an old experienced political horse, something she isn’t and shouldn’t be. I think sounding like a modern, smart, leading woman in this election is the way to go.

I don’t think Tzipi Livni will win this election although she seems to be moving forward in the poles. The assumption is that Bibi and the Likud will take it and then form a coalition with one of the top three mainstream parties, maybe the religious as well. I would like to see her in there though and wish her the best of luck. It would be nice…

This is Livni on the Lior Shlein show (Night Show)



The main election issues in Israel

Avigdor Liberman

Parliamentary elections are only a few days away, and ongoing pre-election polls are trying to determine what the most important issues are in regards to which political party, or parties, in Israel’s usual governmental coalition formations afterwards will wind up forming the next government.

livniIn the aftermath of the just completed 22 day military operations in Gaza, and the continued firing of rockets and mortars into Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian extremists, it would appear that the security issue is the one that will be on the top list of most voters when they step into voting booths on February 10. The problems dealing with the country’s security, especially for Israelis living in Israel’s southern regions and northern areas near Lebanon, as well as the problem of dealing with Iran and its nuclear program; has resulted in parties like Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitanu gaining so much in the pre-election opinion polls.

barakSecurity is a very important issue, and will always be so in a country still largely surrounded by hostile enemies. But as important as this issue may be, there are many others that need the most urgent attention. And two of these issues are the country’s dire water problem and the economic recession that the country’s population is now “officially” immersed in. Both of issues are none-the-less serious than the security one, and may even be eventually more difficult to deal with.

The water problem, or it’s increasingly lack of, is a very major concern due to one of the driest winters in the country’s history; which follows a number of below-average rainy seasons that has brought the current water in the Kinneret as well as the mountain and coastal aquifers to levels so low that it will soon reach an irreversible state. Apparent lack of proper government attention to this problem has resulted in a state where water may have to be actually imported in large quantities just to satisfy the population’s basic household needs. Much of this problem could have been averted years ago if enough emphasis had been put on building desalinization plants along Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. Although a few of these plants were built, such as the one in Ashdod, at least 20 more should have been constructed. An example of how some countries have solved their water problems by desalinization is how Persian Gulf Emirate countries have been able to build beautiful futuristic cities which have virtually all their fresh water needs supplied by this method. One Emirate state, Dubai, even constructed a ski slope within an ultra-modern shopping and entertainment complex. Had Israeli governmental authorities followed this example Israel might now have at least 30-50% of its water needs supplied this way.

bibiThe other major problem deals with the state of the economy, in which thousands of people, many of them engaged in technology based industries, are now unemployed and having to look for any kind of work just to put food on the table for their families. Although the world economic crises, which began in the U.S.A. several months ago, is not of Israel’s making the result has created a recession which is most likely to worsen before it gets better. The weaker elements of society, especially the old, the disabled, and the poorer sectors of the population, are suffering the most as they had virtually no reserves to fall back on even before the stock markets began to crash. Lowering prime interest rates to all time levels (now at 1%) doesn’t help much if one has no money to spend anyway. And Israel’s dependence on exporting goods and services to certain economically stressed markets, like the U.S.A., has resulted in a sharp reduction of cash flow to most companies, not to mention small businesses.

Taking all of these issues into account, there will be a lot of things on peoples’ minds on Tuesday when they vote to elect their country’s leadership for the next few years.

Banned Disabled Sex Ad Found Unacceptable to Our Election Race

For some reason the powers to be decided that this ad was too much and banned it from showing. Maybe it was the sex, maybe it’s the amputated legs the man has in this video. You would think that a country with such a strong army/war background would be more understanding to the rights of the disabled..

In any case a political voice that needs to be heard these elections – check out Koach Lehashpia!

Russiafication

Israel is undergoing Russiafication says Lily Galili in HaAretz (this phrase only appears in the Hebrew version of the article).

What Lily means to say is that veteran Israelis increasingly share the immigrants’ negative views of the police. In other words, Russian immigrants are more suspicious of the police, and are more likely to feel persecuted by the police.

Two examples are fresh in memory. The first is Russian Knesset member Marina Solodkin who recently stood by a suspected child murderer, and seems to believe some conspiracy theories.

MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) accused the authorities yesterday of taking advantage of a Ukrainian immigrant’s ignorance of Israeli law to “set him up” as the alleged murderer of 13-year-old Tair Rada from the Golan Heights.

The second example is the reason why Lily Galili wrote the aforementioned quote. Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant, and the leader of the “Yisrael Beytenu” (Israel is Our Home) party, is once again being harassed by the police in connection with some serious corruption allegations. The irony is that the more involved Lieberman becomes with police investigations, the more support he receives from the Israeli-Russian public.

Personally, I agree. This might not be a politically correct statement, but Israel is definitely undergoing Russiafication — Whatever that means, and however you choose to interpret this statement.

In the past 20 years, more than a million immigrants have arrived in Israel from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Along with their luggage, the Russian immigrants brought with them a unique blend of political and social impressions. Most of them have aligned with the far-right of the political map, and ultimately, have irrefutably transformed our national discourse to what it is today.

On the bright side, the racist hostility towards Russians that had used to characterise veteran Israelis throughout the 90’s have mostly dissipated by now. However, nowadays many veteran Israelis are eagerly adopting the Russian hostility towards the Arab-Israeli population.

Therefore it is of no surprise that Ehud Barak now seeks to reseble Russian president Vladimir Putin in an attempt to lure the Russian electorate. In a new broadcast ad, when referring to Arab terrorists, Barak turns specifically to the Russian public: Like you say in your circles, we need to wipe them while they’re on the toilet.

Do you find the ad racist? Is the attempt to market a brutal perspective the only chance to garner the Russian vote, or is it yet another stereotypical approach to politics?

What’s Up With Olmert?

According to leading commentators, both Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni are in favor of pulling the IDF out of Gaza. They understand that there’s nothing more to gain from staying in enemy territory, and that it only puts our soldiers’ lives at risk.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to go in deeper.

Three political opponents, who admittedly can’t stand each other, are running a war together, just one month before the general elections. Each has his or her own personal and political interests.

However, there is one person who stand outs in this odd trio. Mr. Olmert is a man with no political future whatsoever. This is as clear as the morning sky in July. He is the only Prime Minister in Israel’s history whose government has had to tackle two separate war campaigns. When he leaves office, there are several corruption allegations that await him impatiently. It is already known for a fact that he will be prosecuted — Perhaps more than once.

The longer the war continues, more and more voices — both in the media and in the Knesset — are calling to postpone the elections. The one person who might gain the most if such a scenario takes place is obviously Ehud Olmert. The prospect of a few more months in power — and a few more months out of the courtroom — could definitely alter any person’s sound judgment.

These are mere speculations of course. It’s inappropriate to lay down such serious accusations without any evidence. There is only a restless gut feeling… and some very bizarre comments made by PM Olmert himself.

During a press conference yesterday, Mr. Olmert boasted in front of the cameras how he had managed to subdue America’s Secretary of State, and how President Bush promptly agreed to abandon the podium in the middle of a speech in order to pick up Olmert’s call.

“I said: ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,'” Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. “They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care: ‘I need to talk to him now.’ He got off the podium and spoke to me.”

Olmert said he argued that the United States should not vote in favor, and the president then called Rice and told her not to do so.

“She was left pretty embarrassed,” Olmert said.

   — Associated Press

Another childish remark soon followed this self-accounted tale of international diplomacy. “In this struggle between the Hamas and us, we shall see who has the bigger motivation!”, he said firmly.

Yes, our Prime Minister is busy comparing who has the bigger… hmm… missiles.

Ask the Candidates

For the very first time in Israeli history(?), ordinary people get the chance to submit questions to the major candidates who compete for the Prime Minister seat.

YouTube — the video sharing hub, owned by Google — is holding an open contest, in which everyone is encouraged to submit a video footage of themselves raising a question for one of the candidates.

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