Elections

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By Joshua Shinbrot

Benjamin Netanyahu (Left) and Isaac Herzog (Right) Source: Facebook

A Close Race

On March 17, the Israeli people will choose their new government in an election with an outcome that is not yet predictable. After averaging polling data from 12 different sources, the Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slightly trails the Zionist Union Party led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. Yet, which party will overtake the other is currently unclear.

Likud? Zionist Union?  What’s the difference?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Source: Facebook
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Source: Facebook

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) leads Israel’s Likud party. Along the political spectrum, Likud sits to the right of center. Throughout this campaign season, Netanyahu has sought to position himself as a man capable of securing Israel from threats as varied as Iran, Palestinian Terrorism, ISIL, and the international delegitimation effort. In one comical campaign ad, Netanyahu arrives at a family’s home in place of a babysitter and refers to himself as the “Bibisitter.” He proceeds to tell Israelis that this election is a choice about who will look after their children.

Regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Netanyahu government does not currently see the Palestinian Authority as a capable partner. Moreover, Netanyahu believes that the current security situation significantly limits his ability to engage in unilateral withdrawals similar to those executed by Ariel Sharon. The disastrous result of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and its subsequent fall into the control of Hamas terrorists provides support for Netanyahu’s view. Certain members of Netanyahu’s coalition have supported settlement activity in recent years and they are likely to continue to back settlement activity if they remain in power.

The Netanyahu family is well known throughout Israel. During his military service, Benjamin Netanyahu served in an elite commando unit. His older brother, Yonatan was killed in action during Operation Entebbe, a famous rescue of Israeli hostages. This perception certainly does not harm the Netanyahu team’s desire to portray Bibi as a man truly capable of maintaining Israel’s security.

Tzipi Livni – Zionist Union Party Leader. Source: Facebook
Tzipi Livni – Zionist Union Party Leader. Source: Facebook
Isaac Herzog – Zionist Union Party Leader. Source: Facebook
Isaac Herzog – Zionist Union Party Leader. Source: Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zionist Union is a joint ticket comprised of Israel’s Labor party (currently led by Herzog) and Tzipi Livni’s Hatenua party. Along the political spectrum, the Zionist Union sits to the left of center.

If elected, Herzog and Livni intend to rotate the post of Prime Minister, with Herzog serving the first two years and Livni serving the last two. One of the party’s more ambitious goals is to set the final borders of Israel. They hope to achieve this through a diplomatic solution reached in bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, but they are willing to pursue other avenues if negotiations with the Palestinians do not bear fruit. According to the party platform:

“The arrangement shall be designed with the support of moderate Arab states and the international         community, and based on the following principles: demilitarization of the Palestinian state; keeping the West Bank settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty; strengthening Jerusalem and its status as the eternal capital of Israel; and guaranteeing religious freedom and access to the holy places of all religions while maintaining Israeli sovereignty.”

Who will win?

While most polls show the Herzog and Livni’s center-left Zionist Union party narrowly beating Netanyahu’s center-right Likud, there is no guarantee that Herzog will assume the post of Prime Minister. In fact, even if Likud does not win the election, there is still a chance that Netanyahu and his party may remain at the helm of power. In Israel, the ability to form a government is often more important than the ability to win elections. Forming a government requires building a coalition of parties that consists of at least 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. As the world saw in 2009, Tzipi Livni’s party won the greatest number of seats in Knesset.  Yet, Livni was unable to form a majority coalition. Netanyahu’s Likud technically lost the 2009 election: that year, Likud won the second greatest number of seats. However, unlike Livni, Netanyahu was able to form a majority coalition, enabling him to take power. Due to the number of small religious and right wing parties in Israel, many doubt Herzog and Livni’s ability to form a government even if they do win the election. Despite this challenge, new dynamics that are unique to this election have the potential to work in favor of the Zionist Union.

Israel’s Arabs Join Together

Traditionally, several Arab parties attain a small number of seats in Knesset each Israeli election cycle. This year, for the first time in Israel’s history, the various Arab parties have joined together with Hadash, Israel’s communist party, and will run on one ticket. Approximately twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arab Muslims, Christians, Bedouins, and Druze. In the past, voter turnout has been lower among Israeli Arabs than among Jewish Israelis. The unity of Arab political parties with Hadash could have transformative implications in the Israeli political process that may inspire greater Israeli Arab participation in elections. My average of twelve polls predicts that the Joint List between the Arab parties and Hadash will win approximately 12 seats in Knesset.  That is likely the same number of seats that will be won by centrist party Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s modern orthodox, nationalist party, The Jewish Home. Currently, The Jewish Home is in coalition with Likud and it is unlikely that the party would form a government with the Zionist Union. The Joint List is expected to win more seats in Knesset than the powerful, ultra-orthodox Shas party, which has been a part of every governing coalition since the party’s creation except for three (including the present government).

 

The Joint List. Source: Wikipedia
The Joint List. Source: Wikipedia

While the Arab parties have joined together to run on one ticket, questions still remain about the extent to which these groups have put aside their differences. One of the Joint List members is Hadash, Israel’s communist party. Hadash has a different social agenda from the United Arab List, a party that has strong support among Arab nationalist and Bedouin citizens of Israel. Ta’al, a party that normally runs jointly with United Arab List, is Islamist. It will likely find it difficult to advocate its strong religious views in a coalition that involves a communist party, given the communist tendency to suppress all religion. As a result of these internal differences, it is possible that these parties may be running together not out of ideological unity, but merely as a result of the practical consideration that Israel’s increased electoral threshold would likely lead to significant vote wastage if the parties were to run independently.

Moreover, the power of an Arab party with twelve seats would be largely linked to its ability to join a governing coalition. By helping to form a governing coalition, the Joint List would be able to negotiate key posts in the government for several of its ministers. However, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on March 3, Joint List spokesman Raja Zaatry said, “there was no chance it would join even a left-wing government at this time.”

Arab Party Will Not Join Government

Refusal to join any Israeli government has consequences that are twofold. First, it will limit the influence of the Joint List, as none of the party’s ministers will be appointed to the cabinet. Second, if Joint List chooses not to join a government, it will be practically impossible for the Zionist Union to form a form a majority coalition even if it wins more seats than Likud. Given its support of a settlement freeze and recent criticism of Israeli construction in Jerusalem, it is unlikely that the Zionist Union would form a coalition with Israel’s smaller, right wing parties. Consequently, without Joint List support, it may not be possible for the Zionist Union to capture the minimum 61 seats needed in Knesset to form a government.

Who will decide the election?

Another new party running in this election is Kulanu and it is projected to win approximately 9 seats. The party’s leader, Moshe Kahlon, used to be a member of Likud, but has formed a new party and is committed to reducing housing costs. Recently, Kahlon, working with Netanyahu, lowered cell phone costs in Israel. He has not yet determined which party he will align with and it appears that Kahlon’s party will determine whether it is the Zionist Union or Likud that can form a government. However, if the Arab Joint List truly decides not to join any government then it will be numerically impossible for the Zionist Union to form a majority coalition.

Chart created by Joshua Shinbrot
Chart created by Joshua Shinbrot

The chart above depicts my categorization of the listed parties into blocks. Likud’s block is projected to control about 50 seats and the Zionist Union block has 42. Parties that have not yet committed to supporting the Likud or the Zionist Union will control approximately 28 seats. The Arab Joint List controls twelve of those seats.  If the Arab Joint list does decide to enter into a coalition with the Zionist Union, Herzog’s chances for forming a coalition are greatly improved. A chart depicting that outcome would look like this:

Chart created by Joshua Shinbrot
Chart created by Joshua Shinbrot

It would still be possible for Netanyahu to form a government in this scenario. Yet, the requirement that Netanyahu attain the support of both Kulanu and the religious United Torah Judaism party would be a difficult threshold to cross. However, if Likud is able to win enough votes to secure at least 22-23 seats, they will likely be able to form a government even if the Joint List aligns with the Zionist Union. In that scenario, the support of Kulanu alone will probably be enough to bring Likud to the 61-seat threshold.

A National Unity Government?

Together, both Likud and the Zionist Union will receive considerably less than half of the seats in Knesset. It is at least theoretically possible that Likud and the Zionist Union may choose to come together and form a National Unity government. This move would not be unprecedented. Shimon Peres (Labor) and Yitzhak Shamir (Likud) rotated the post of Prime Minister in a unity government they formed in the 1980s. It is worth mentioning that the transition from Peres to Shamir in 1986 is often blamed for a significant deterioration in the peace process.

Today is certainly not 1986. Since 1986 Israel has signed a Peace Treaty with Jordan and the Oslo process began transforming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an existential conflict to a political conflict. However, the Zionist Union and Likud have different attitudes towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace. While both parties are skeptical of the capabilities of their Palestinian counterparts, Netanyahu believes that the security situation prevents the Israelis from significant withdrawals at this time. He also does not believe that a diplomatic solution is currently possible.

The Zionist Union believes in imposing a settlement freeze, except in the major blocks, and pursuing a peace plan that uses the 1967 Green Line as its basis. A Zionist Union led government is also likely to be more amicable towards Israeli unilateral withdrawals in the West Bank. If there were to be a national unity government, Herzog and Netanyahu would likely divide their time as Prime Minister. A major ideological difference on unilateral action such as those regarding settlement building and unilateral action in the West Bank could easily make for a highly problematic transition.

By Josh Donovan

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Sean Hannity speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

In the wake of September 11, the United States was reeling from the worst attack on American soil in its history. Among the changes wrought by the tragedy was a fundamental reframing of American policy. Finally, it seemed, American foreign policy made sense again. President Bush drew clear battle lines, vowing to “win the war against terrorism.” Fourteen years later, the world is every bit as scary as it was before. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taught us something: there are limits to the long-term political changes that the American military can impose. The lines are blurred.

Recognizing this, President Obama has been treading a careful line in dealing with ISIS: tactical support and limited arms, rather than flooding the region with weapons; thousands of airstrikes, but no boots on the ground; and cautious diplomacy with Russia and Iran. To be sure, this lacks the “grand vision” many may be familiar with. But rebuilding Syria will not come solely, or even primarily, through a military solution. While some hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have specifically called for American boots on the ground, many politicians—and most Americans—are too war-weary to consider this palatable. American military leaders, too, seem skeptical about deploying troops.

Enter the prospective Republican presidential candidates. As 2016 draws closer, many Party favorites are speaking out on foreign policy issues—including ISIL. Naturally, they seek to draw contrast between themselves and President Obama. However, given the complexity of the current crisis, this has proven to be somewhat difficult (with the exception of those calling for ground troops).

Take Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), for example. When asked by Sean Hannity at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention how he would deal with the threat of global terrorism if he were president, Sen. Rubio took a page out of Obama’s book: the United States needed to send intelligence and logistical support, launch airstrikes, and build a coalition of Middle Eastern states (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc.) to combat ISIS. Despite tacitly admitting that Obama was on the right track, the Senator simultaneously accused Obama of “not putting in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS” because he is afraid of upsetting Iran—despite the fact that Iran has been heavily involved in combatting ISIS and has called on other nations to join in the fight.

In a recent interview, another likely presidential contender, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused the Obama administration of failing to adequately arm the Kurds (despite the fact that the US has sent over 3 million pounds of ammunition to the Peshmerga) and accused the President, who authorized over 2,100 airstrikes on ISIS targets, of “leading from behind.” Rand Paul, in anticipation of Hilary Clinton’s likely run for the White House in 2016, recently said he “blamed her for a lot of this”. Paul argued that the United States’ 2011 intervention in Libya created a “breeding ground for terrorists” and voiced opposition to the Obama/Clinton plan to provide arms to Syrian rebels. Remarkably, in the same interview, Paul did an about-face on arming rebels, suggesting that Obama needed to arm Kurdish militias and “do much more.” Perhaps the most embarrassing 2016-fueled response to ISIS came from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who assured Americans that his experiences in “dealing with” peaceful Wisconsin protesters made up for his lack of experience and an actual plan.

Fortunately, the GOP rank-and-file seems largely unwilling to obstruct or interfere with the President’s response to ISIS, for now. Further, many Republicans who are not running for President in 2016, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, seem ready to engage in a serious debate about what form the United States’ continuing struggle against ISIS should take. With the serious exception of sending a controversial letter to the leaders of Iran in an attempt to undermine the United States’ uneasy relationship with a now critical regional partner (like it or not), we must hope that if Republicans participate in foreign policy making (as they should), they set aside election politics and do so in a responsible and constructive way.

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By Mason Hill

Ihsanoğlu speaks at the U.S. Islamic World Forum in 2012. Source: US-Islamic World Forum

Since clenching the Turkish Presidency and enacting constitutional reforms that made the once ceremonial position the crux of Turkish political power, President Erdoğan has once again turned Turkish politics on its head. Whereas at one time all political parties in Turkey defined themselves in reference to Atatürk’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), it appears that after ten years of rule by the Justice and Peace Party (AKP), Turkish politics might be realigning. Indeed, Erdoğan’s religiously tinged populism seems to be assuming the central role that Kemalism once filled.  This is particularly evident in the electoral decline of the CHP and the nature of political opposition in Turkey today.

The 2014 Presidential election is of particular interest. Erdoğan won after beating his nearest opponent by 15 percentage points; the nature of his opposition underscored how fractured the once central Kemalist forces have become. For example, the CHP did not field its own candidate; instead, they endorsed the nationalist candidate Ekkmeledin Ihsanoğlu who is a far cry from the traditional standard bearer of secular Kemalisim. Indeed, the fact that the CHP endorsed Ekkmeledin shows how dead traditional Kemalism is in today’s Turkey. In many ways, Ihsahnoğlu’s career represents the antithesis of what it means to be a Kemalist.

Ihsahnoğlu’s own biography reads like a critique of the excess of Turkish secularism. His father, an academic, fled Turkey to teach at the al-Azhar University in Cairo. Indeed, Ihanoğlu’s father ran from Ataturk’s secularism because he was so deeply opposed to it. Furthermore, Ihsanoğlu’s own academic and diplomatic careers have had Islamist tinges to them. Not only did he make his academic career as a professional historian that specialized in the Islamic intellectual tradition, but also his highest administrative position was Secretary General of Islamic Co-operation, an organization that served somewhat as a rejection of secular and nationalist tendencies that are entailed in Kemalism.

This is not to say that Ihsonğlu has not since come to embrace elements of Kemalism. He emphasized during the campaign support for a secular state, and since losing the election he has emerged as a potential CHP candidate for parliament. Nevertheless, that he has come to be associated with the CHP shows the decay of traditional Kemalism. On the other hand, it shows that while Erdoğan has been largely successful in consolidating power, it has not been without alienating more conservative members of the cultural establishment that once supported him. Ihsanoğlu once talked about being Erdogan’s 2007 AKP Presidential candidate when the position was still largely ceremonial. Fetullah Gulen and his brand of Islam were a key part of Erdogan’s rise, but Ihsanoğlu and Gulen have since had a falling out. The sustainability of Erdogan’s coalition will be put to the test in the upcoming parliamentary elections, but his success to date has been a testament to his ability to cobble together new support as once powerful backers turn on him. Whereas the Republican People’s party was once emblematic enough of the status quo to draw ire and opposition from all who did not like the way things were in Turkey, Erdoğan’s party has now assumed that role of drawing criticism from both the left and the right. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is indicative of how much power Erdoğan has consolidated.

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By Veronica Baker

In the modern history of the Middle East, freedom has been scarce. With the advent of democracy in Tunisia, however, there is a new example by which the Arab world may follow.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report for 2015, released last week, gave Tunisia a “free” rating, the first time it has done so for any Arab country in four decades. The last was Lebanon, prior to its civil war.

Tunisia’s new “free” rating comes from a jump in its political rights score, which measures electoral processes, political participation, and functioning of government.

The other half of Tunisia’s freedom rating, the civil liberties score, did not budge. Tunisia’s civil liberties score puts it equal to Mexico, India, and Ukraine concerning freedom of expression, associational rights, individual rights, and rule of law.

For Tunisia’s political rights to have increased from the very worst possible ranking in 2011 to the best possible ranking in 2015 shows commendable strength and effort on the part of Tunisian lawmakers and the groups that helped them along the way. However, the comparatively slow change in civil liberties in the same time period poses a threat to Tunisia’s future as a free country.

In the past four years, Tunisia has seen the victory of Islamist party Ennahda, followed by the voluntaryresignation of that party two years later amidst political crisis. It witnessed the signing of a constitution praised for its compromise between secular and Islamist values and its progressive focus on human rights. Tunisians recently voted in a secular-majority parliament, and elected a president seen by many as a father figure of the country.

Tunisia has also experienced political assassinations, uncovered domestic terrorist plots, and failed to make significant economic progress. Police brutality continues as Tunisia struggles to fight terrorism while respecting the rule of law. Police officers themselves are victims of attacks, weakening the country’s security. Arrests violating freedom of speech demonstrate the need for judicial and legal reform.

Tunisia’s future will depend upon its commitment to civil liberties. Patience for slow growth and instability will not continue if the government fails to give Tunisians the rights that will enable them to feel heard.

In 1787, when asked what kind of government the U.S. Constitutional Convention had created, Benjamin Franklin famously replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.” The same can be said of Tunisia. The country now has the governmental structure to build a functioning democratic society. If the government allows its people to speak out, organize, and publish what they want without fear of arrest, Tunisia’s newfound freedom will strengthen and endure.

 

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