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Shaul Mofaz Looking for Partner by Latma TV

Kadima Calls Budget Cuts “Political Cowardice”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is introducing across-the-board budget cuts. This includes the reduction of water costs, the reduction of public transportation prices and the cancellation of the latest tax hike on gasoline. Furthermore, the minimum monthly wages will be raised by NIS 450 ($122).

As for the gas price in Israel, it will be slashed 23 Agurot per liter setting the price at 7.02 NIS per liter. The reason why the increase on January, 1st, was a good idea was that it made room in the economy for the electric car industry, which will see Israeli ingenuity celebrated worldwide in the coming months. However, Netanyahu and Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz, folded under public criticism.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Tzipi Livni of Kadima said:

“The budget cut is political cowardice and represents a lack of priorities.”

Adding that the lower classes are the ones who will be hurt by the move.

Knesset Member, Shlomo Molla, of Kadima said the Prime Minister

“has once again been exposed as a spineless man and a tireless zigzagger. There is no trust in this plundering government…Today they are lowering (taxes); tomorrow they’ll raise them. Netanyahu is entirely immersed in his political survival. This is why he must resign immediately…”

Semi-Life Sentence Handed Down to Yeshiva Students

Kadima condemned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the results of a vote on Sunday, in which the cabinet approved a plan to extend the government stipend received by Haredi Yeshiva students for five years, at least. Tzipi Livni complained Netanyahu “sold the Israeli public.” (which arguably, however, is among the prime minister’s tasks). She was referring to the prime minister’s attempt to popularize IDF service among the ultra-orthodox. Which, again, would not be the end of the world.

Fourteen ministers, including ministers from “Yisrael Beiteinu”, voted ‘yay’ on the plan. Among the eight who voted ‘nay’ were Avodah. Shas abstained.

YeshivaAccording to the plan, during the next four years, no changes will be made to the funds received by married yeshiva students who do not work and have at least three children. During the fifth year, however, the stipend for yeshiva students under the age of 29 who meet the criteria will be decreased by some 75%.

Filers of the original petition 10 years ago, the National Student Union, has accredited their movement to the “good results.”

Union head Itzik Shmuli said in a statement:

“We think these are good recommendations that will increase solidarity in our society and make it a more egalitarian one…At the same time, we expect them to be legislated in the Knesset to ensure their future implementation.”

The objective of cutting the Kollel stipend, and Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz, has signed off on this, is to save money, help assimilate the Haredim into Israeli society and mainstream culture, increase IDF service among them, strengthen the work force and set an example for the nation.

Religious Women and The Draft

On Wednesday, the Knesset rejected a bill which would have reduced the number of girls who dodge military service, by falsely declaring that they are religious. The bill brought by Kadima’s Yisrael Hasson, was quashed 63 to 29.

The meat of the proposed law, would have girls, asking to be exempt from the military on religious grounds, to provide proof that they had attended a religious school, for a period no less than three years.

If religious dodging is not curbed now, said an IDF representative, “In five years it will span 60% of all eligible youth.” Asking girls to provide this kind of documentation, would only match the existing stipulation for religious men.

Kadima criticized Netanyahu for his rejection of the bill saying that the Prime Minister “chose to cower before coalitional considerations and legitimize draft dodging… This is shameful surrender to such elements and spitting in the face of the public shouldering the burden.”

“This is sanctioning mass draft dodging courtesy of the defense minister, Labor and Yisrael Beiteinu. Netanyahu chose to serve his ultra-Orthodox partners and ensure his political survival at the expense of national interests.”

Given the recent settlement freeze which is a strong characteristic of the current administration, it would be hard to consider Netanyahu’s decision against this bill as an attempt to appease the religious masses, with whom he is quickly losing favor; unless it is meant as an attempt to “make it up to them” – after showing “weakness” on the West Bank settlements issue.

“Come Together, Right Now, Over The Likud”

Bibi evoked John Lennon on Thursday when he sang to Tzipi Livni and other Knesset members, “Come together, right now, over me.”

The invitation for the Kadima Chairwoman to join the Likud government was “in light of the security situation.”

A statement released from the Prime Minister’s office said:

“The prime minister met with the opposition chairwoman for about an hour and a half and briefed her on security and diplomatic issues… after presenting the issues at hand, the prime minister offered Ms. Livni to join a national unity government, in line with the model where Menachem Begin joined the government in 1967.”

The offer is completely “in view of the national and international challenges Israel faces at this time…the prime minister told the opposition chairwoman that the basis for joining a national unity government is the premise presented in his Bar Ilan speech.”

The Prime Minister insisted to skeptics, “I made a serious offer and I expect a serious answer. The outline is clear and no coalitional negotiations will be held.”

Livni’s reply was,

“if this is a genuine offer than, as I’ve said before, it is something to consider…However, this goes beyond the mutual understanding of threats. We have to explore this further and meet again… In any case, the final decision will be made by Kadima and not just by me.”

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar requested that both Livni and Kadima maintain “national responsibility” and comply to Bibi’s summons to form a unity government. According to Sa’ar, the decision must be founded on “the security, social and national challenges facing the country.”

This is a big step for the government, and it will be interesting to see what comes of it, especially given the sometimes obscure agenda of the Prime Minister.

Trouble in Kadima

I attended a political event a few months ago where the speaker stated emphatically, and what may be construed as presumptuously, that if anybody wants to make a difference in Israel politically, there are only two parties to join. One is Likud, and the other is Labor. Anticipating the question, he immediately addressed the subject of Kadima, which, he said, would slip out of existence in the coming years.

I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not. I simply preferred to sit back and see if he was right. Well, two pieces of news came out today that are inching in that direction.

MollaFirst, is a story you’ve probably heard before. A Knesset Member pocketing campaign donations, and even charity donations, from US organizations. Well, who doesn’t these days? Or otherwise misuse earmarked funds for some such thing – apartment renovations (Dalia Itzik, former Knesset Speaker), inordinate travel expenditures, whatever. The case here is that of Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who, sadly, is the only Ethiopian parliamentarian in the Knesset today. As such, I hate to see him get himself into this mess, because the Ethiopian community really needs strengthening, and doesn’t need its representative embroiled in scandals. But what’s done is done, allegedly of course.

Here’s the scoop. Molla was first caught lying about a BA he received from Bar Ilan University, when in fact he never finished the degree. While that’s annoying, it’s not exactly horrible scandalous. But now, he is accused of pocketing money from private organizations that supported his campaign. Instead of using the money for the campaign, he bought presents for his family. Well, you could argue that he would have used his own money, which would now have been dedicated to the campaign, but you can’t really prove that.

He also took a $17,000 donation from a Jews for Jesus group, who gave him the money on condition that $10,000 would go towards the needs of the Ethiopian community in Israel. Allegedly, the money was transferred to his personal savings account instead. A source close to Molla said that he kept saying that “…it was not important, that the money only came from Jews for Jesus and not from real Jews,” and that “He tried to make them sound ugly so that no one would care about what happened to the money.”

On a more holistic Kadima front, the editor-in-chief of the party’s website, Amir Segal, wrote an op-ed piece on the site. It was about Kadima head and opposition leader Tzipi Livni. “The de-legitimization Livni is suffering from is not just her private problem,” he wrote. “It radiates onto the entire party. More and more Knesset Members and central activists feel comfortable challenging, criticizing or showing contempt for their chairwoman.”

So we’ll see what happens there. ‘Tis hard to tell whether Kadima will survive, or split. Maybe they will, maybe not. And maybe Labor will come shooting back if Kadima trips. Or maybe the Messiah will come in the meantime or something. I give him 10 minutes.

Netanyahu Under Siege Part One

While certain pundits, including Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler tend to assume that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support is as strong as ever, we at OneJerusalem have a somewhat different angle on the situation. While what Leibler writes may be true in the eyes of the public, the truth is that, within his governing coalition, Bibi is being triangulated from three directions into a practical political prison.

In this two part analysis, we will show you exactly how the crunch on Bibi is taking shape, and that, in the end, he will probably be able to do absolutely nothing in the final calculation, save stay in his spot without testing any side of the triangle. If Bibi pushes too far, which at some point he will most certainly have to do he may be toppled at any minute.

Direction 1 from the Left – The Labor Party and Daniel Ben-Simon

Though the Labor Party emerged from this year’s general elections more crushed and defeated than it has ever been in its entire history, Labor continues to be a huge factor in Netanyahu’s policy decisions. Labor is pressing hard for the removal of 23 unauthorized outposts throughout Judea and Samaria, and they’re getting pushy about it. Labor faction chairman Daniel Ben-Simon was quoted as saying this yesterday: “If the outposts are not taken down, I will tell [Labor Party Chariman Ehud] Barak that that we aren’t expressing the will of the voters and [that] I demand that the party’s institutions meet to reconsider remaining in the coalition. If the institutions say no, I would have to decide my future and take a different path than I have taken until now.”

Is that a threat? Certainly. If Ben-Simon joins the four current Labor rebels, that would constitute enough to create a legal split in the faction, reducing Netanyahu’s coalition by at least 5 seats, if not all of Labor’s 13 if Barak goes with them. According to Ben-Simon, Barak has until October, when the Knesset reconvenes, to evacuate the outposts. Otherwise, Ben-Simon will take action. This is just the beginning. In the other direction, we have…

Direction 2 from the Right – A Polarized Likud Party

There are two serious things happening here. First, Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), just last night had the guts to organize a conference inside the Knesset for the heads of the Judea and Samaria settler communities with the objective of forming a united front against Bibi’s plan to order a settlement freeze. 20 leaders attended the high level conference, where it was agreed that over the next month more pressure should be placed on Netanyahu to ditch a plan to freeze construction.

Ben SimonHotoveli is not the only one behind this, however. Together with her and of like mind are Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and world Likud head Danny Danon, among others. A much more dangerous prospect than the Labor party getting all hot and bothered is having the right flank of his own party turn its back on him. Even Bibi’s close associate, MK Ofir Akunis, said that “There will be no freezing of construction in Judea and Samaria and we will not disrupt the lives of people there.”

Labor will certainly not be happy with any negotiations with the PA going on while settlement construction continues, so who knows where they’ll go once they begin complaining that negotiations have no import without a settlement freeze, which is what they will most definitely cry out if and when Bibi and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas get together and talk.

With Vice PM Bogey Ya’alon recently taking a turn to the Right and openly advocating a return to the evacuated town of Homesh, destroyed during the Disengagement of 2005, Bibi’s room for maneuvering here is small indeed.

The second, and arguably even more important phenomenon going on here is Likud’s right flank openly calling for nationalists to join the Likud and strengthen them. These include, along with the above mentioned Hotoveli and Danon, Deputy Minister of Negev Development Ayoub Kara, and MK Yariv Levine. With the objective of enlisting hundreds, if not thousands of supporters from the otherwise politically unaffiliated Nationalist Camp, they are looking for the necessary backing to be able to counter Bibi’s shifts to the left in order to appease the Labor Party.

If they succeed, Bibi’s hold on the party loses much of its potency, that is if he doesn’t entirely lose it altogether just as Ariel Sharon did, forcing him to take a swift exit from the Likud and form Kadima only a few years ago. Word has it that the coalition, calling itself the “Movement for the Strengthening of the National Camp” has already succeeded in bringing aboard several hundred new Likud members just in the past few days. Members who, most likely, are not all that interested in a settlement freeze.

(And let’s not forget Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s likely imminent indictment for corruption and money laundering, which could have untold effects on Bibi’s coalition agreement with Lieberman’s Party, Yisrael Beiteinu.)

Disengagement: Success or Failure?

Moof MoofWho stands for what, exactly? PM Netanyahu, even though he voted for the disengagement back in 2005, and then resigned from the government because of it (he’s always so consistent) came out today saying that it was, in fact, a catastrophe and it won’t happen again. On the other side, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, along with her number 2 Shaul Mofaz, reiterated their support for what they both termed a “historic process.”

The good thing about this is that we can start to see clear differences between Likud and Kadima now, whereas Kadima’s ideology has always been a point of ambiguity. With Labor quickly dying out and splitting in the meantime, Kadima may be basically the new Labor. Livni even went so far as to say that Netanyahu was implying a return to Gush Katif in the strip. Realistically speaking, it is doubtful whether Netanyahu actually meant that. As a matter of fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb here (it’s a fairly sturdy limb) and say that Livni was just trying to paint her former Likud party as “Extreme Right Wing” and herself as the pragmatic centrist that, what the heck – she’ll gladly go for another round of unilateral withdrawals.

Mofaz came out indirectly in support of future disengagements as well. He called it, an “historic process that helped keep many Israeli citizens out of harm’s way and gave the army the freedom to act against the terror organizations and the Iranians’ hold on Gaza.”

Uhhh….OK then. Do you think Mofaz is going to break away and join Likud now, with the Mofaz Bill all done and passed (which would allow him to break away from Kadima with 6 other legislators)? With those kinds of positions, I doubt Likud members would vote him in at primary time next round.

So then what will the Mofaz Bill accomplish, if not bait him to join Bibi? Splitting Labor and hurting his own coalition seems like a reasonable possibility.

Lieberman “If I’m indicted, I’ll quit all my political positions”

Avigdor LiebermanIs Avigdor Lieberman the big bad wolf, or really a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Following a number of allegations being made against him by the police for crimes that include money laundering, and accepting bribery, Israel’s Foreign Minister now appears to be ready test his popularity among his own party, Yisrael Beitenu, as well as the Likud led Netanyahu government. By threatening to leave political life, including heading his own party, his cabinet post, and even his Knesset seat, Lieberman hope to get his constituents to rally around him and in the end make him even stronger politically. This supposition became apparent when he stated yesterday that he believes that he will no only win out over the legal case that is built against him, but will even garnish more Knesset mandates (as many as 20) in the next election.

“I reviewed everything I said in the questioning sessions, and I am at peace with all of my actions,” he said. “If I had the opportunity to do things over again, I would do the same.”

The question a lot people are asking, what “things” is Lieberman talking about? Obviously, the F.M. still has a number of issues to work out concerning his activities, both business and political, which seem to be mounting up against him. Since being chosen for the second highest cabinet post behind the Prime Minister’s, Lieberman has not exactly won over most of the world as well as many people here in Israel. Only perhaps in Russia has he been able to find a bit of respect, as he sees eye to eye with people such as Russian P.M. Vladimir Putin. But in the rest of Europe, as well as the USA, his manner has been not well received by virtually everyone he has come in contact with.

Political circles in Jerusalem are already speculating as to who would replace Lieberman should he step down. Most likely, Deputy F.M. Danny Ayalon (a former ambassador to the USA) would temporarily replace him, which makes a lot people happy as Ayalon was very well liked during his tenure in Washington. As to who would replace him in his own party, right winged No. 2, Uzi Landau, would be a likely candidate; although his personal political views are a bit on the extreme side.

Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni doesn’t appear willing to join a Netanyahu led government, so her likelihood of again assuming the post is not likely at present. But in the game of Israeli politics, anything is possible, however.

But the police appear to be putting a case together against Lieberman, and are being backed up by former Police Chief Inspectors, and other high police officials. But Lieberman has managed to keep himself ahead of his accusers before, and could very well be successful again. It all depends on who really is running the police.

The Coalition Cat Fight

Are you ready for a OneJerusalem quick analysis of Knesset Mayhem?

Keep that circus music in your head now as you read this. By the numbers, PM Netanyahu’s coalition is 74 seats made up of 6 parties. He now wants to pass a bill called the “Mofaz Bill” which would allow for 7 Knesset members to break away from a party and form their own faction. This bill is named after the guy on the right, number 2 on Kadima, currently in the 46-member opposition, who has been irking to join the government against the wishes of his party leader Tzipi Livni, and who has 7 MK’s from his faction that he could break off and join Likud with. Netanyahu wants to do this to break up Kadima, a 28-member faction, down to 21.

Meanwhile, another Kadima MK has thrown a monkey wrench into the shoe factory by sticking an addendum to the bill which would allow 4 MK’s to break off instead of 7. He did this because of the 4 “Labor Rebels” who are technically part of Netanyahu’s government, but sure as heck don’t want to be. They are these guys:

rebelsFrom left to right, Eitan Cabel, Amir Peretz, Yuli Tamir, and Shelly Yachimovich. If 4 can break off, then these four might break off from the 13-seat Labor faction, which Labor leader Ehud Barak, who is part of the government, sure doesn’t want, so would he support the bill? That’s the monkey wrench.

Many people don’t like these moves because they change the rules of the game in the middle of the game. Now, to get into the nitty gritty, Netanyahu also wants to pass a land reform bill which would allow private citizens to own land instead of leasing it from the Israel Lands Administration. The current set up is meant to prevent the sale of land to non Jews who may slowly buy up the state from Jews and keep it. Netanyahu, last week, failed to pass this law because various members of his coalition ran out of the plenum in the middle of the vote so it wouldn’t pass. He got angry, tabled the bill at the last second, and threatened to fire ministers who didn’t support it the next time around.

Now, the 3-member Jewish Home faction is threatening not to vote for the land reform bill round 2 if Netanyahu doesn’t support the Slomiansky Bill, another game changer meant to allow one MK from each faction to retire from the Knesset if named a minister and get his seat back if he is fired from the government. This is meant to allow Jewish Home number 4 Nissan Slomiansky into the Knesset if Jewish Home number 1 Daniel Hershkovitz, Sport Minister, retires from the Knesset.

This is a limited Norwegian Law, and the reason a full one isn’t being passed is that Netanyahu would rather be seen in his underwear than pass a full Norwegian Law that would see over 10 Likud ministers retire from the Knesset and Netanyahu’s arch enemy Moshe Feiglin get in and cause him trouble.

In return, Netanyahu is threatening not to support the Slomiansky Bill if Jewish Home doesn’t support the Land Bill (support of which is needed for it to pass), who in return is threatening not to support the Mofaz Bill if Netanyahu doesn’t support the Slomiansky bill.

SLOW DOWN!

Basically, if any of this circus makes too many people unhappy, the government falls and we go to elections again.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to build nuclear weapons. Numbers really don’t matter so much when it comes to that minor detail.

That’s it for this week’s installment of “Israeli Knesset and Me.”

Funny Polls

I’m confused. Last time I looked at the polls, the Likud was far ahead of Kadima.

But today I read an article that says Kadima has a slight margin over Bibi’s party. It doesn’t make sense. Either poll makers are distorting the picture, or the Israeli public is more confused than I am.

Who’s Afraid of Debating?

During a speech yesterday, Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni invited Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu to an impromptu debate. Both her opponents, who were sitting in the audience, declined her surprise invitation.

However, the Avoda (Israeli Labor Party) was quick to respond, and this morning it came out with its own invitation for a series of 3 public debates between the 3 main party leaders.

Will Livni show its seriousness to debate? Or was it a hollow political trick?

Israelis deserve a debate!

Livni? I Don’t Believe Her

Tzipi Livni and her Kadima party launched a fierce campaign against Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, in which black billboard ads cry out “Bibi? I Don’t Believe Him.”

Well, personally, I might not believe him — but I sure as hell don’t believe Tzipi any better. She has always been muddy in her agenda, and faint in general. Recently, she began “shooting in all directions”, under the guidance of her media consultants. There are lots of “puppet politicians” in Israel and abroad, but no one has even been so apparent as Tzipi Livni.

Today she denied UN official Prof. Richard Falk from entering Israel, after the Jewish-American Law expert arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport. If it hadn’t been an election period, she wouldn’t have done it.

Who will blink first?

Livni had about a month to form a coalition ever since she was elected Kadima’s. But in the past 28 days she seemed to hurry nowhere, conducting the negotiations quite sluggishly.

Today her 90 minutes are up, and she only has a single round of overtime. (if you’d excuse my soccer metaphors). This morning, Mrs. Livni met with the president Shimon Peres and was granted 2 more weeks to try and form a government. If she fails, then the country is automatically thrown into an election period.

Until this moment the gap between her Kadima party and Shas is so wide, that it seems she has much work to do if she wants to bridge the differences. But I also think that Shas is just as eager to remain in the coalition, and as time progress, they will become more and more flexible in their demands.

And Tzipi Livni knows that. So perhaps that’s the game she’s playing. Is she a poker-face player (as evident by her past in the Mossad) or a weak politician (as her opponents claim)?

Sexist Politics

Ehud Barak is playing hard to get with Tzipi Livni, being the last politician to avoid her so far. But we’ve seen how hard to get he had been with Olmert, despite all his promises to resign the government. (hard as a *****)

Barak at the Pentagon in 1999
Image via Wikipedia

What has suddenly changed? Tzipi will proceed exactly where Olmert left off, and that’s exactly what Barak himself demanded a few months back.

Obviously this is a tactic move, part of the negotiation process — but would we see him similarly avoiding Shaul Mofaz, had the former Chief of Staff were elected Kadima chairman? Probably not. I believe Barak is only doing this because Livni’s a woman, and he thinks it’d be easy to throw her off balance.

Yes, he fits the sexist type.

BTW (Off topic),
Don’t have a ticket to go see Paul McCartney at the park on Thursday? No worries! Channel 10 will broadcast the whole event live!

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