Wait a Minute - Another Israeli Election!

One of the many benefits that I have received through my many trips to Israel is a fascination for Israeli politics.  I am not certain that there is another country in the world that does politics like the Israelis do.  The strength of Israeli politics is the ability to compromise and to form coalitions.  For, unlike America where we basically have two political parties - yes, I know there are several so-called third parties, but they very seldom impact a national election - in Israel there are multiple parties, in fact, dozens of them.  The 120 seats in the Knesset, the Parliament of Israel, are distributed according to the percentage of popular vote each party receives.  I believe the baseline is around 4% of the vote.  That means that it is highly unlikely that no one party could govern as its own majority, needing 61 seats to do so.  The leader of the party receiving the most votes, thus the most seats, is asked to form a coalition government, achieving that goal when he or she is able to gain a commitment of 61 seats or more within the Knesset.  And, when a coalition falls apart, it means that the Knesset is dissolved and new national elections are held. 


Israel's last elections were on April 9 with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party barely squeaking into the "most seats attained" position.  Israeli President Rivlin empowered the Likud Party leaders, Prime Minister Netanyahu, to form a new government.  The Knesset was seated and the "wheeling and dealing" that is part of Israeli politics began.  Although it appeared on paper that the Prime Minister would have little difficulty in forming a center-right government, it has not happened.  The deadline for a coalition is midnight tonight.  If Netanyahu fails, then new national elections will be called - the talk right now is for elections to be held on September 17.  The Knesset will be dissolved and the politicking will begin once again.  This is the uncertainty of Israeli politics - perhaps what makes it so intriguing. 


This morning the headline on the Israelnationalnews.com website was this: "Haredi lawmakers are to blame for political crisis."  Now, the Haredi Jews are the most orthodox of the Jewish sects.  For years a battle had been waged within the Knesset about young Haredi Jewish men being drafted to serve in the Israeli military, the IDF.  In the last Knesset finally an agreement was made that would pressure haredi yeshivas to meet the military quotas imposed by the new law.  Also, as part of that agreement, it was determined that those Haredi-representative parties in the Knesset would recuse themselves from voting on the bill when presented.  This would include the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, both potential partners in a Netanyahu-led coalition.  Now, with the newly seated Knesset, these parties have vowed not to recuse themselves.  Thus the future of that bill is in doubt.  And, furthermore, the future of the present Knesset is in doubt. 


So, why should we Americans care what is happening in this intra-Knesset squabble?  Herb Keinon wrote a great article which was posted yesterday on The Jerusalem Post website.  It was titled, "'Hello' elections means 'goodbye' Trump peace plan - analysis."  Keinon writes: "If Israel says 'hello' to new elections in September, it is safe to assume it can kiss goodbye to US President Donald Trump's 'Deal of the Century.'


"Some, like the Palestinian Authority leadership, will be thrilled by that news.  They have rejected the plan without even seeing it and want to prevent it from seeing the light of day - because of a concern that it will alter once hallowed components of any eventual peace deal: a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as the capital of 'Palestine.'  Others, such as think tank wonks like Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, will also be pleased that the plan is being buried.  Among his arguments against presenting a plan that the Palestinians will clearly reject is that Trump is so toxic, that anything he proposes - even the good ideas - will be dismissed out of hand because he is the guy proposing them.  But some in Jerusalem will be disappointed, believing that the roll out of the Trump plan would be beneficial to Israel since it is unlikely to ask Israel to make concessions that it itself feels is a threat to its security, and because it would - some 20 years after the Clinton parameters set the bar for what an eventual agreement would look like - would re-set the bar, and make it more palatable for Israel.  The peace plan, according to this argument, would fundamentally change the discussion of what is and what is not necessary and possible for an agreement.  But now, because a fight over haredi (ultra-Orthodox) military service, that plan may never see the light of day."


The roll-out of the Trump plan has been delayed so many times.  Last September the President said the plan would be unveiled in January of 2019.  Then it was postponed because of the Israeli elections, with a promised unveiling after the elections and the formation of a new coalition government.  Then it was delayed until after the close of Ramadan (which is June 4).  Then delayed further until after the Feast of Shavuot or Pentecost (which is June 9).  Now with the likely failure of a coalition government, another delay can certainly be expected.  If President Trump did not want to unveil his plan during the previous election cycle, then he most probably would not want to do it during another election cycle.  Thus the plan would be delayed until late September or early October.  But, that presents a huge problem.  The plan would then be unveiled during the early critical stage of the campaign for the 2020 elections here in America. 


"Keinon explains it this way: "History has shown that the best time for American presidents to put forth a peace plan is at the start of a four year term, not toward the end.  At the start the president has political capital; everyone wants to get on his good side.  Toward the end, that capital is expended and the various parties involved are less likely to accept something they oppose because of the hope that the president may not be around that much longer. ... Why, for instance, would various Arab countries give the plan the type of hug it will need to succeed, and as a result be castigated as a traitor to the Palestinian cause, not knowing if Trump will even be around in another year to pay them back?  Another reason why the US election calendar - which as early as Labor Day on September 2 kicks off the election season - militates against presenting a plan is because politically Trump will have nothing to gain, and something to lose."


Keinon concludes his article with these words: "Finally, if Trump really wants his 'Deal of the Century' to work, it will take a great deal of time and energy.  It's not as if Washington drops the plan on the world, and then steps away.  It will necessitate intense involvement by the White House - including from the president - to shepherd it forward.  But Trump is unlikely to do that during an election campaign.  First, because he will be too busy campaigning, and second, because he will not want to get actively involved in an issue that, in the end, may fail.  No candidate wants to go to elections with such a colossal, high-profile failure so fresh on his resume.  So, if the Trump administration is indeed going to roll out the political component of its long-awaited plan, it has up until about Labor Day to do so.  But if Israel now decides to go to elections, even that window will be closed shut."


Friends, we live in a very intricately connected world.  A peace plan that promised to bring a restructuring to the Middle East dangled precariously because a vote on whether Haredi students should serve in the Israeli military threatens the collapse of the Middle East's only democracy.  The world clamors for leadership.  The Bible tells us that two world-leaders are on the horizon.  The first, known as the Antichrist, will bring a time of unprecedented chaos, destruction, and death that will last for seven years.  The second, the Lord Jesus Christ, will then usher in a time of unprecedented peace, security, and prosperity that the world has never seen.  And His reign will last forever!  Praise God for the glorious promise of the coming of the King!

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