Viser arkivet for stikkord meretz

Uri Avnery: -A Netanyahu day- and nightmare!

Uri Avnery
May 9, 2015

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU seems to be detested now by everyone. Almost as much as his meddling wife, Sarah’le.

Six weeks ago, Netanyahu was the great victor. Contrary to all opinion polls, he achieved a surprise victory at the last moment, winning 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, leaving the Labor Party (re-branded “The Zionist Camp”) well behind him.

The extra seats did not come from the Left. They came from his nearest competitors, the Rightist parties.

However, it was a great personal triumph. Netanyahu was on top of his world. Sarah’le was radiant. Netanyahu left no doubt that he was now the master, and that he was determined to order things according to his wishes.

This week he had his comeuppance. On the very last day of the period allotted to him by law to set up his new government, he was near desperation.

AN OLD Hebrew saying puts it succinctly: “Who is a hero? He who turns an enemy into a friend.”

In this sense, Netanyahu is an anti-hero. He has a peculiar talent for turning friends into enemies. Sarah’le is a great help in this.

Winston Churchill once advised that at the moment of victory, one should be magnanimous. Magnanimity is not one of Netanyahu’s outstanding virtues. He made it clear that he, and he alone, was now the master.

Right after the election Netanyahu decreed that the next government would be a narrow coalition of orthodox and rightist parties, which would be able at long last to do the things he really wants to do: put an end to this two-state nonsense, castrate the Supreme Court, muzzle the media and much more.

Everything went just fine. Netanyahu was invited by the President of the State to form the next government, coalition talks went smoothly, and the contours of the coalition were clear: Likud, the Ashkenazi orthodox Torah party, the Oriental orthodox Shas party, Moshe Kahlon’s new economic reform party, Naftali Bennett’s nationalist-religious party and Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-rightist party. Altogether: a comfortable 67 of the 120 Knesset members.

Party chiefs don’t have lo love each other to set up a coalition. They don’t even have to like each other. But it is not really very comfortable to sit together in a government when they hate and despise each other.

THE FIRST to throw a bomb was Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman is not considered a “real” Israeli. He looks different, speaks with a very thick foreign accent, his mind seems to work in a different way. Although he came to Israel decades ago, he is still considered “a Russian”. Actually he came from Soviet Moldavia.

There is a saying that has been attributed to Stalin: Revenge is best served cold. This Tuesday, 48 hours before the end of the time allotted by law to the formation of the new government, Lieberman dropped his bomb.

In the election, Lieberman lost more than half of his strength to Likud, shrinking to six seats. In spite of this, Netanyahu assured him that he could retain his post as Foreign Minister. It was a cheap concession, since Netanyahu makes all important foreign policy decisions himself.

All of a sudden, without any provocation, Lieberman convened a press conference and made a momentous announcement: he was not joining the new government.

Why? All Lieberman’s personal demands had been satisfied. The pretexts were obviously contrived. For example, he wants “terrorists” to be executed, a demand resolutely resisted by all security services, who believe (quite rightly) that creating martyrs is a very bad idea. Lieberman also wants to send to prison orthodox youngsters who refuse to serve in the army, a ridiculous demand from a government in which the orthodox parties play a central role. And so on.

It was a clear and blatant act of revenge. Obviously Lieberman had taken the decision right from the beginning but kept it secret until the very last moment, when there was no time for Netanyahu to change the composition of the government by inviting, for example, the Labor Party.

It was indeed revenge served cold.

WITHOUT THE six members of Lieberman’s party, Netanyahu still has a majority of 61, just enough to present the government to the Knesset and get a vote of confidence. Just.

A 61-member government is a continuous nightmare. I would not wish it on my own worst enemy.

In such a situation, no member of the coalition parties can go abroad, for fear of a sudden opposition motion of no-confidence. For Israelis, that is a fate worse than death. The only way for a coalition MK to travel to Paris would be to make an agreement with a member of the opposition who wants to go, say, to Las Vegas. Hand Washes Hand, as the saying goes.

But there is a much worse day-and-night-mare for Netanyahu: in a 61-member coalition, “every bastard is a king”’ as a Hebrew saying goes. Each and every member can obstruct any bill produced by the government, allow any opposition motion to win, absent himself from any crucial vote.

Every day would be a field day for blackmail of all kinds. Netanyahu would be compelled to accede to every whim of every member. Even in Greek mythology no such torture was ever invented.

THE FIRST example was given already on the very first day after the Lieberman bomb.

Bennett, who had not yet signed the coalition agreement, found himself in a position in which there would be no Netanyahu government without him. He racked his brains on how to exploit the situation and get something more than was already promised to him (and humiliate Netanyahu in the process). He came up with the demand that Ayelet Shaked become Minister of Justice.

Shaked is the beauty queen of the new Knesset. In spite of her 38 years, she has a girlish appearance. She has also a beautiful name: Ayelet means gazelle, Shaked means almonds.

Her mother was a leftist teacher, but her Iraqi-born father was a rightist Likud central committee member. She follows in his footsteps.

This almond-eyed gazelle excels in political activities based on hatred: an intense hatred of Arabs, leftists, homosexuals and foreign refugees. She has authored a steady stream of extreme rightist bills. Among them the atrocious bill that says that the “Jewish character” of Israel takes precedence over democracy and overrides basic laws. Her incitement against the helpless refugees from Sudan and Eritrea, who have somehow succeeded in reaching Israel, is just a part of her untiring efforts. Though the No. 2 of a rabid religious party, she is not religious at all.

The relationship between her and Bennett started when both were employees of Netanyahu’s political office, when he was leader of the opposition. Somehow, they both incurred the wrath of Sara’le, who never forgets or forgives. By the way, the same happened to Lieberman, also a former director of Netanyahu’s office.

So now is payment day. Netanyahu tortured Bennett during the negotiations, letting him sweat for days. Bennett used the opportunity after Lieberman’s desertion and put up a new condition for joining the coalition: Shaked must be Minister of Justice.

Netanyahu, bereft of any practical alternative, gave in to open blackmail. It was that or no government.

So now the gazelle is in charge of the Supreme Court, which she detests. She will choose the next Attorney General (known in Israel as the “judicial advisor”) and stuff the committee that appoints the judges. She will also be in charge of the ministers’ committee that decides which bills will be presented by the government to the Knesset – and which not.

Not a very promising situation for the Only Democracy in the Middle East.

NETANYAHU IS too experienced not to know that he cannot à la longue govern with such a shaky coalition. He needs at least one more partner in the near future. But where to find one?

The Arab party is obviously out. So is Meretz. So is Yair Lapid’s party, for the simple reason that the orthodox will not sit with him in the government. So only the Labor Party (aka Zionist Camp) is left.

Frankly, I believe that Yitzhak Herzog would jump at the opportunity. He must know by now that he is not the popular tribune needed to lead his party to power. He has neither the stature of an Apollo nor the tongue of a Netanyahu. He has never voiced an original idea nor led a successful protest.

Moreover, the Labor Party has never excelled in opposition. It was the party in power for 45 consecutive years before and after the founding of the state. As an opposition party it is pathetic, and so is “Buji” Herzog.

Joining Netanyahu’s government in a few months would be ideal for Herzog. There is never a lack of pretexts – we experience at least once a month a National Emergency that demands National Unity. A little war, trouble with the UN and such. (Though John Kerry this week gave an interview to Israeli TV that was a masterpiece of abject, belly-crawling self-humiliation.)

Getting Herzog won’t be easy. Labor is not a monolithic body. Many of its functionaries do not admire Herzog, consider Bennett a fascist and Netanyahu a habitual liar and cheat. But the allures of government are strong, ministerial chairs are so comfortable.

My bet: Netanyahu, the great survivor, will survive.

In memory of Pete Seeger and Shulamit Aloni

PETE SEEGER touched my life only once. But what a touch.

It was a few days before the 1967 Six-Day War. After almost three weeks of mounting tension, the war fever was nearing breaking point. I knew that the war was only days, perhaps hours, away.

Dina Dinur, the wife of the Holocaust-writer K. Zetnik, called to invite me to meet Pete Seeger. Dina, a huge woman, had for years gathered a small group of Jewish and Arab intellectuals who met regularly in her home to discuss peace.

The meeting took place in Tel Aviv’s Hilton hotel. It was sad, depressed, but also uplifting in a strange way. We were thinking about all the young men, ours and theirs, still alive and breathing, who were going to die in the next few days.

We were a group of two or three dozen people, Jews and Arabs. Pete sang for us, accompanying himself on the guitar, songs about peace, humanity, rebellion. We were all deeply stirred.

I never met Pete Seeger again. But 19 years later, out of the blue, I received a postcard from him. It said in clear handwriting: “Dear Uri Avnery – Just a note of deep thanks to you for continuing to reach out, and take action. I hope next time you are in USA my family and I can get to hear you. Pete Seeger.” Then three Chinese characters and a sketch of what seems to be a banjo.

TWO DAYS before Pete passed away, we buried Shulamit Aloni. Perhaps some of those who took part in that earlier sad meeting were present this time, too.

Shula, as we called her, was one of the few leaders of the Israeli Left who made a lasting imprint on Israeli society.

Though she was five years younger than I, we belonged to the same generation, the one which fought in the 1948 war. Our lives ran on parallel lines – lines which, as we learnt at school, can be very close but never touch.

We were both elected to the Knesset at the same time. Before that, we were active in the same field. I was the editor of a magazine that was prominent, among other things, in the fight for human rights. She was a teacher and lawyer, already famous for defending citizen’s rights in the press and on radio.

That sounds easy, but at the time it was revolutionary. Post-1948 Israel was still a country where The State was everything, citizens were there merely to serve the state, and especially the army. The collective was everything, the individual next to nothing.

Shula was preaching the opposite: the state was there to serve its citizens. Citizens have rights that cannot be taken away or diminished. This has become part of the Israeli consensus.

HOWEVER, THERE was a great difference between our situations. Shula came from the heart of the establishment, which hated my guts. She was born in a poor part of Tel Aviv, and when both her parents enlisted in the British army during World War II, she was sent to the youth village Ben Shemen, a center of Zionist indoctrination. One of her schoolmates was Shimon Peres. At the same time I was a member of the Irgun, in stark opposition to the Zionist leadership.

After Ben Shemen, Shula joined Kibbutz Alonim – hence her adopted family name – where she met and married Reuven, who became prominent as a senior government official in charge of judaizing Galilee.

Apart from writing articles and dealing with citizens’ complaints on the radio, she performed illegal wedding ceremonies. In Israel, weddings are the exclusive province of the Rabbinate, which does not recognize women’s equality.

In the Knesset she was a member of the ruling Labor Party (then called Mapai) and subject to strict party discipline. I was a one-man faction, free to do as I pleased. So I could do many things she couldn’t, such as submitting bills to allow to legalize abortions, to allow harvesting organs for transplantation, annulling the old British law against homosexual relations between consenting adults, and such.

I also demanded a total separation between the state and religion. Shula was known for her attacks on religious coercion concerning civil rights. Therefore I was utterly surprised when in one of our first conversations she strenuously objected to such separation. “I am a Zionist,” she said, “The only thing that unites all Jews around the world is the Jewish religion. That is why there can be no separation between the state and the Jewish religion in Israel.”

From there on, her outlook widened from year to year. To my mind, she followed the inescapable logic of the Left.

From her original concentration on citizens’ rights, she moved to human rights in general. From there to the separation of state and synagogue. From there to feminism. From there to social justice. And, in the end, to peace and the fight against the occupation. Throughout she remained a Zionist.

This was no easy path. In early 1974, when she was elected to the Knesset again, this time as the leader of a small party, while I lost my seat, I took her in my car to a meeting in Haifa. On the way, which took about an hour, I told her that now, as a party leader, she must get active in the fight for peace. “Let’s divide the task between us,” she answered, “You deal with peace and I deal with civil rights.”

But 20 years later, Shula was already a leading voice for peace, for a Palestinian state, against the occupation.

WE HAD another thing in common. Golda Meir hated our guts.

Shula could disregard the party line as long as the benevolent Levy Eshkol was prime minister. When he suddenly died and the scepter passed to Golda, the rules changed abruptly.

Golda had a domineering personality, and, as David Ben-Gurion once said about her, the only thing she was good at was hate. Shula, a young and good-looking woman, with unorthodox ideas, aroused her ire. In 1969 she removed Shula from the party list. In 1973, when Shula tried again, Golda showed the full force of her spite: at the very last minute she removed Shula again.

It was too late for Shula to go through the lengthy procedure of setting up a new party list. But a miracle happened. A group of feminists had prepared a list of their own, with all the necessary requirements already completed, but without a chance of passing the minimum threshold. It was an ideal combination: a leader without a list for a list without a leader.

During the last hours of the time allocated for the submission of the lists, I saw Shula struggling with a huge pile of papers, trying to bring some order to the hundreds of signatures. I helped her to do the job.

Thus the new party, now called Meretz, came into being and won three seats on its first attempt.

HER HOUR of glory came in 1992. Meretz won 250,667 votes and became a political force. The new Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, needed her for his new government. Shula became Minister of Education, a job she coveted.

The trouble was that the 44 seats of the Labor Party and the 12 seats of Meretz were not enough. Rabin needed a religious party to form a government.

The transition from opposition fighter to cabinet minister is not always easy. It was especially hard for Shula, who was more of a preacher than a politician. Politics – as Bismarck famously remarked – is the art of the possible, and compromise came hard to Shula.

Nonetheless, right at the beginning, when Rabin decided to expel 415 radical Islamic citizens from the country, Shula voted in favor. During the protest against this outrage, my friends and I founded Gush Shalom. Shula later admitted that her support for the expulsion was an “eclipse of the sun”.

But the main trouble was to come. Shula never believed in hiding her opinions. She was totally honest. Perhaps too honest.

As Minister of Education she dispensed her opinions freely. Too freely. Every time she said what she thought about some chapter of the Bible and such, the religious coalition partners exploded.

The climax came when she announced that in all schools, the theories of Charles Darwin would replace the Biblical creation story. That was just too much. The religious demanded that Rabin remove Shula from the education ministry. Rabin was occupied with the Oslo peace process and needed the religious parties. Shula was removed from the ministry.

AT HER funeral, one of her two sons, in a brilliant eulogy, hinted darkly at the “treachery” which was the hardest moment of her life. All those present understood what he meant, though he did not elaborate.

When Rabin dismissed Shula from her beloved job as Education Minister, her party colleagues did not come to her aid. Among themselves they accused her of acting foolishly. She should have known that joining a coalition with the religious parties would demand a price. If she was not ready to shut her mouth, she should not have joined in the first place.

Meretz was the creation of Shula. Party founders are generally strong personalities, with whom it is not easy to cooperate. Shula’s party colleagues conspired against her, and eventually she was replaced as party leader by Yossi Sarid, a sharp-tongued Labor Party politician who had lately joined Meretz. In the next election, Meretz crashed from 12 seats to 3.

During the last few years, she was rarely in the public eye. I never saw her at demonstrations in the occupied territories, but she lectured incessantly to anyone, anywhere, when invited.

IN ONE of his frequent outbursts of vulgarity, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of the Shas party said: “When Shulamit Aloni dies, there will be a feast!”

There was no feast this week. Even the Right acknowledges her contribution to Israel. The Meretz party, now with six members in the Knesset, is doing well in the polls.

The sixth chapter of the Song of Songs ends with the call: “Return, return oh Shulamite, return, return!” No chance of that. Not much chance of another Shulamit Aloni, either. They don’t make them like that anymore.

Uri Avnery
February 1, 2014

Uri Avnery: The Great Gamble

Uri Avnery
21.2.09

The Great Gamble

“IACTA ALEA EST” – the die is cast – said Julius Caesar and crossed the River Rubicon on his way to conquer Rome. That was the end of Roman democracy.

We don’t have a Julius Caesar. But we do have an Avigdor Liberman. When he announced his support the other day for the setting up of a government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, it was the crossing of his Rubicon.

I hope that this is not the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy.

UNTIL THE last moment, Liberman held the Israeli public in suspense. Will he join Netanyahu? Will he join Tzipi Livni?

Those who participated in the guessing game were divided in their view of Liberman.

Some of them said: Liberman is indeed what he pretends to be: an extreme nationalist racist. His aim is really to turn Israel into a Jewish state cleansed of Arabs – Araberrein, in German. He has only contempt for democracy, both in the country and in his own party, which consists of yesmen and yeswomen devoid of any identity of their own. Like similar parties in the past, it is based on a cult of (his) personality, the worship of brute force, contempt for democracy and disdain for the judicial system. In other countries this is called fascism.

Others say: that is all a façade. Liberman is no Israeli Fuehrer, because he is nothing but a cheat and a cynic. The police investigations against him and his business dealings with Palestinians show him to be a corrupt opportunist. He is also a friend of Tzipi. He cultivates a fascist image in order to pave his way to power. He will sell all his slogans for a piece of government.

The first Liberman would support the setting up of an extreme Right government by Netanyahu. The second Liberman could support a Livni government. For a whole week he juggled the balls. Now he has decided: he is indeed an extreme nationalist racist. As the Americans say: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

For appearances’ sake he told the President that his proposal to entrust Netanyahu with the setting up of a government applies only to a broad-based coalition encompassing Likud, Kadima and his own party. But that is just a gimmick: probably such a government will not come into being, and the next government will be a coalition of Likud, Liberman, the disciples of Meir Kahane and the religious parties.

SOME ON the Left say: Excellent. The voters will get exactly what they deserve. At long last, there will be an exclusively rightist government.

One of the proponents of this attitude is Gideon Levy, a consistent advocate of peace, democracy and civil equality.

He and those who think like him say: Israel simply has to pass through this phase before it can recover. The Right must get unlimited power to realize its program, without the pretext of being hindered by leftist or centrist members of the coalition. Let them try, in full view of the world, to pursue a policy of war, the overthrow of Hamas in Gaza, the avoidance of any peace negotiations, unfettered settlement, spitting in the face of world public opinion and collision with the United States.

In this view, such a government cannot last for long. The new American administration of Barack Obama will not allow it. The world will boycott it. American Jewry will be shocked. And if Netanyahu strays – even slightly – from the Right and narrow path, his government will fall apart. The Kahanists, up to then his full partners, will divorce him on the spot. After all, the last Netanyahu government was overthrown ten years ago by the extreme right after he sat down with Yasser Arafat and signed an agreement that gave (pro forma) a part of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority.

After the fall of the government, according to this prognosis, the public will understand that there is no rightist option, that the slogans of the Right are nothing but nonsense. Only thus will they arrive at the conclusion that there is no alternative to the path of peace. The voters will elect a government that will end the occupation, clear the way for a free Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and withdraw to the Green Line borders (with slight, mutually acceptable, adjustments).

For the public to accept this, a shock is needed. The fall of the deep-Right government can supply such a shock. According to a saying attributed (mistakenly, it appears) to Lenin: The worse, the better. Or, put in another way: it must become much worse before it can get any better.

THIS IS a seductive theory. But it is also very frightening.

How can we be sure that the Obama administration will indeed put irresistible pressure on Netanyahu? That is possible. Let’s hope that it happens. But it is not certain at all.

Obama has not yet passed a real test on any issue. It is already clear that there is a marked difference between what he promised in the election campaign and what he is doing in practice. In several matters he is continuing the policies of George Bush with slight alterations. That was, of course, to be expected. But Obama has not yet shown how he would act under real pressure. When Netanyahu mobilizes the full might of the pro-Israel lobby, will Obama surrender, like all preceding presidents?

And world public opinion – how united will it be? How much pressure can it exert? When Netanyahu declares that all criticism of his government is “anti-Semitic” and that every boycott call is an echo of the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden” (“Don’t buy from Jews”) – how many of the critics will stand up to the pressure? How much courage will Merkel, Sarkozy, Berlusconi et al be able to muster? And on the other side: will a world-wide boycott not intensify the paranoia in Israel and push all the Israeli public into the arms of the extreme Right, under the time-worn slogan ”All the World is against us?”

IN THE best of circumstances, if all the pressures materialize and have a maximum impact – how long will it take? What disasters can such a government bring about before the pressure starts to take effect? How many human beings will be killed and injured in attacks and acts of revenge by both sides? Such a government would be dominated by the settlers. How many new settlements will spring up? How many existing settlements will be extended at a hectic pace? And in the meantime, won’t the settlers intensify their harassment of the Palestinian population with the aim of bringing about ethnic cleansing?

The components of the Rightist coalition have already declared that they do not agree to a cease-fire in Gaza because it would consolidate the rule of Hamas there. They seek to renew the Gaza War under an even more brutal leadership, to re-conquer the Strip and to return the settlers there.

Netanyahu’s talk about an “economic peace” is complete nonsense, because no economy can develop under an occupation regime and hundreds of roadblocks. Any peace process – real or virtual – will grind to a halt. The result: the Palestinian authority will collapse. Out of desperation, the West Bank population will turn further towards Hamas, or the Fatah movement will become Hamas 2.

Inside Israel, the government will have to confront the deepening depression and perhaps cause economic chaos. All the sections of the government are united in their hatred of the Supreme Court, and the crazy manipulations of Justice Minister Daniel Friedman will give way to even crazier ones. Under the catchy slogan of “regime change”, targeted assaults against the democratic system will take place.

All these things are possible. One or two years of a Bibi-Liberman-Kahane government can cause irreparable damage to Israel’s standing in the world, Israeli-American relations, the judicial system, Israeli democracy, national morale and national sanity.

THE POSITIVE side of this situation is that the Knesset will once again include a large opposition. Perhaps even an effective opposition.

Kadima came into being as a government party. It will not be easy for it to adapt to the role of opposition. That will require an emotional and intellectual transformation. For ten years I myself conducted an uncompromising oppositional struggle in the Knesset, and I know how difficult it is. But if Kadima manages to undergo such a transformation successfully – which is very doubtful – it may become an effective opposition. The necessity to present a clear alternative to the rightist government may lead it to discover unsuspected strengths within itself. Tzipi Livni’s games with the Palestinians may turn into a serious program for a Two-State solution, a program that will be strengthened and deepened by the daily parliamentary struggle vis-à-vis a government with an opposite program.

Labor, too, will have to undergo a profound transformation. Ehud Barak is certainly not the person to wage an oppositional fight – especially as he will not be the “head of the opposition”, a title officially conferred by law on the leader of the largest opposition faction. He will be second fiddle even in opposition. Labor will have to compete, and perhaps-perhaps this will lead to its recovery. The Bible tells us of the miracle of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37).

That is true even more for Meretz. It will have to compete with both Kadima and Labor to justify its place in the struggle for peace and social recovery.

A real optimist can even hope for the narrowing of the gap between the “Jewish Left” and the “Arab parties”, which the Left has until now boycotted and left out of all coalition calculations. The common struggle and the joint votes in the Knesset may bring about a positive development there too.

And beyond the parliamentary arena, the government of the extreme Right may change the atmosphere in the country and stimulate many well-intentioned people to leave the security of their ivory towers and start a process of intellectual rejuvenation in the circles from which a new, open and different Left must spring.

ALL THESE are theoretical possibilities. What will happen in reality? What will be the consequences of a “pure” rightist regime, if Tzipi Livni maintains her determination not to join a Netanyahu government? Will Israel set off down a suicidal road from which there is no return, or will this be a passing phase before the wake-up call?

It is a great gamble, and like every gamble, it arouses both fear and hope.

(Copyright Uri Avnery)

Uri Avnery on the post election process in Israel

Uri Avnery
14.2.09
Ms Tantalus

TANTALUS IS punished by the Gods for reasons that are not entirely clear. He is hungry and thirsty, but the water in which he stands recedes when he bends down to drink from it and the fruit above his head continually evades his hand.

Tzipi Livni is now undergoing a similar torture. After winning an impressive personal victory at the polls, the political fruit keeps slipping from her grasp when she stretches out her hand.

Why should she deserve that? What has she done, after all? Supported the war, called for a boycott of Hamas, played around with empty negotiations with the Palestinian Authority? OK, she has indeed.. But such a terrible punishment?

HOWEVER, THE results of the elections are not as clear as they might seem. The victory of the Right is not so unambiguous.

Central to the election campaign was the personal competition between the two contenders for the Prime Minister’s office: Livni and Netanyahu (or, as they call themselves, as if they were still at kindergarten, Tzipi and Bibi.)

Contrary to all expectations and all polls, Livni beat Netanyahu. Several factors were involved in this. Among others: the masses of the Left were terrified by the possibility of Netanyahu winning, and flocked to Livni’s camp in order to “Stop Bibi!” Also, Livni – who was never identified with feminism – remembered at the last moment to call Israel’s women to her banner, and they hearkened to her call.

But it is impossible to ignore the main significance of this choice: Netanyahu symbolizes total opposition to peace, opposition to giving back the occupied territories, to the freezing of the settlements and to a Palestinian state. Livni, on the other hand, has declared more than once her total support for the “Two-Nation-States” solution. Her voters opted for the more moderate line.

True, the big winner in the elections was Avigdor Liberman. But his triumph is far from the fateful breakthrough everyone foresaw. He did not win the 20 seats he had promised. His ascent from 11 to 15 seats is not so dramatic. His party is indeed now the third largest in the Knesset, but that is less due to its own rise than to the collapse of Labor, which fell from 19 to 13. By the way, not one of the parties won even 25% of the vote. Israeli democracy is now very fragile indeed.

The Liberman phenomenon is ominous, but not (yet?) disastrous.

HOWEVER, THERE is no way to deny the most significant message of these elections: the Israeli public has moved to the right. From Likud to the right there are now 65 seats, from Kadima to the left only 55. One cannot argue with numbers.

What has caused this shift?

There are several explanations, all of them valid.

One can consider it as a passing phase after the war. A war arouses strong emotions – nationalist intoxication, hatred of the enemy, fear of the Other, longing for unity and for revenge. All these naturally serve the Right – a lesson sometimes forgotten by the left when it starts a war.

Others see in it a continuation of a historical process: the Zionist-Palestinian confrontation is becoming wider and more complex, and such a situation feeds the Right.

And then there is, of course, the demographic factor. The rightist bloc attracts the votes of three sectors: the Oriental Jews (a majority of whom vote for Likud), the religious (who mostly vote for the fundamentalists) and the Russians (most of whom vote for Liberman). This is a group vote, almost automatic.

Two sectors in Israel have an especially high birth-rate: the religious Jews and the Arabs. The religious vote almost unanimously for the Right. True, the Orthodox and the National-Religious parties have not increased their strength in the elections, probably because many of their natural voters chose Likud, Liberman or the even more extreme National Union. The Arab citizens almost completely abstained from voting for Jewish parties, as many of them used to in the past, and the three Arab parties together gained one more seat.

The demographic development is ominous. Kadima, Labor and Meretz are identified with the old-established Ashkenazi sector, whose demographic strength is in steady decline. Also, many young Ashkenazis gave their votes – at least four seats worth – to Liberman, who preaches a secular fascism. They hate the Arabs, but they also hate the religious Jews.

The conclusion is quite clear: if the “center-left” does not succeed in breaking out of its elitist ghetto and striking roots within the Oriental and Russian sectors, its decline will continue from election to election.

NOW MS TANTALUS must choose between two bitter options: to retire to the desert where there is neither water nor fruit, or to serve as a fig-leaf for an obnoxious coalition.

Option No. 1: to refuse to join Netanyahu’s coalition and to go into opposition. That is not so simple. The Kadima party came into being when Ariel Sharon promised its members – refugees from right and left – power. It will be very hard for Livni to hold the lot together in opposition, far from the seat of power, far from the posh ministers’ offices and from luxurious official cars.

That would give us a rightist government which includes open fascists, pupils of Meir Kahane (whose party was banned because of his racist teachings), the advocates of ethnic cleansing, of the expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens and the liquidation of any chance for peace. Such a government would inevitably find itself in confrontation with the United States and in worldwide isolation.

Some people say: that’s good. Such a government will necessarily fall soon and break apart. Thus the public will be persuaded that there is no viable rightist option. Kadima, Labor and Meretz will stew in opposition, and perhaps a real center-left alternative will come into being.

Others say: Too risky. There is no limit to the disasters that a Netanyahu-Liberman-Kahanist government can bring upon the state, from the enlargement of the settlements that will torpedo any future peace, to outright war. We can’t stake everything on one card, when the chip is the State of Israel.

Livni’s option No. 2: To swallow the bitter pill, give in and join the Netanyahu government as a second, third or fourth wheel. In that case, she must decide at once, before Netanyahu establishes a fait accompli with an extreme-right coalition which Livni would then be invited to join as a junior partner.

I shall not be surprised if president Shimon Peres takes the initiative unofficially and promotes this option – before starting, in a week’s time, the official process of consulting with the Knesset factions and entrusting one of the candidates with the task of forming a government.

Could such a government move towards peace? Conduct real negotiations? Agree to the dismantling of settlements? Accept a Palestinian state? Recognize a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas?

Hard to imagine. In the best case, it will go on with the charade of meaningless negotiations, quietly enlarge the settlements, lead Barack Obama by the nose and mobilize the pro-Israel lobby in order to obstruct any real American moves towards peace. What was will be.

CAN ISRAEL change course? Can a real peace-oriented alternative arise?

The two “Zionist Left” parties have been decisively beaten. Both Labor and Meretz have collapsed. Their two leaders who called for the Gaza War and supported it – Ehud Barak of Labor and Haim Oron of Meretz – have received the punishment they richly deserve. In a normal democracy, both would have resigned the day after the elections. But our democracy is not normal, and both leaders insist on staying on and leading their party to the next disaster.

Labor is a walking corpse – the only “social-democratic” party in the world whose leader’s sole aim is to stay on as war minister. When Barak spread the mantra “there is no one to talk with” he overlooked the logical conclusion “therefore we don’t need anyone to talk with them”.

The Labor Party has no party, no members, no political program, no alternative leadership. It will fail in opposition as it failed in government. Barring a miracle, it will end up in the junkyard of history.

It will find Meretz already there. A socialist party that lost its way a long time ago: a party without any roots in the classes at the foot of the socioeconomic ladder, a party that has supported all our wars.

Some believe in easy solutions: a union of Labor and Meretz, for example. That is a union of the lame and the blind. No reason to expect that they would win the race.

THE REAL task is far more difficult. A completely new building must be erected in place of the one which has collapsed.

The need is for a new Left that will include new leaders from the sectors that have been discriminated against: the Orientals, the Russians and the Arabs. A new Left that will express the ideals of a new generation, people of peace, advocates of social change, feminists and greens, who will all understand that one cannot realize one ideal without realizing all of them. There can be no social justice in a military state; no one is interested in the environment while the cannons are roaring, feminism is incompatible with a society of machos riding on tanks, there can be no respect for Oriental Jews in a society that despises the culture of the Orient.

The Arab citizens will have to leave the ghetto in which they are confined and start to talk with the Jewish public, and the Jewish public must talk with the Arabs on equal terms. The Liberman slogan “No Citizenship Without Loyalty” must be turned around: “No Loyalty Without Real Citizenship”.

As Obama has done in the US, a new language, a new lexicon must be created, to replace the old and tired phrases.

Much, much must be changed if we want to save the state.

AS FOR Ms. Tantalus: she can contribute to this process of change, or her torture will continue.

Echoing Pyrrhus, king of Epirus and Macedon, she can well say: Another such victory and we are undone.

Published with the permission of Uri Avnery.