Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Observations about Israel's new unity government

I don't usually blog about internal Israeli politics, mostly because understanding them requires total immersion.

One of my Israeli correspondents, who wants to be called Professor X, is a tenured professor in the social sciences who has a background in political sciences, economics and law. I asked him if I could post his thoughts:

Three observations:

Kadima as a party has not proved itself either centrist or pragmatic. It came into existence to pursue a leftist and utterly failed policy of unilateral withdrawal, and then moved to embrace the Labor-left policy of “peace in our time” through the imagined acceptance by the PLO of a generous Israeli peace offer.

As long as Israel keeps getting richer, the gap between rich and poor will continue to grow. It is a continuing matter of astonishment to me that people can look at statistics showing that all Israelis are getting wealthier and proclaim them proof of a broken economic system or a failure of social justice because the affluent are growing wealth faster. The Jewish principles of social justice do not embrace a return to Israel’s failed socialism, high taxes, wasteful spending, and obstructive regulation. It is unclear to me that the general population is generally “underpaid” — I would suspect quite the opposite. The working public is overpaid on average, thanks to the Histadrut, notwithstanding the fact that the labor agreements generally require underpaying the more skilled to subsidize overpaying the less skilled, while pricing many of the less skilled out of the working market altogether. Israel has several serious economic problems — monopolies established during Israel’s socialist heyday, underemployment of the workforce thanks not only to overly generous welfare benefits but also laws that require unemployment in order to enjoy state benefits like exemption from army service, excessive government ownership of land and other sectors of the economy, excessive regulation of land use and ordinary business decisions, and an overly powerful labor union that controls vast sectors of the economy (again a relic of Israel’s socialist heyday). Much of the agenda of the “social protests” was to exacerbate these problems, and, at best, the reforms adopted so far have been a mixed bag. There is little reason to celebrate if the unity government means an adoption of the destructive agenda of the “social protests.” Certainly, it’s not true that Israel has retained failed socialist policies and dirigisme due to the excessive influence of “wealthy donors” who will now be neutralized. And, incidentally, the protests were hardly “student-led.”

The idea that there is no peace with the Palestinians due to a violent fringe of Israelis is unfairly exculpatory to the Palestinians and defamatory to Israelis. Notwithstanding noisy fringes on the left and right (and the left fringe has done – so far as I can see – far more damage to Israel), they have not been players in the game in recent years. Both with and without Kadima, the government has the stability and motivation to reach a worthwhile agreement with the Palestinians. It is absolutely clear that whether Kadima is in or out of the government, Abbas has no interest in such a deal. It is true that Kadima endorses your suggested policy: that Israel should aim for a unilateral withdrawal after trying to use another round of failed negotiations to prove that that there is no realistic possibility of negotiated peace. But I hope and believe that Netanyahu has no such plans, and certainly the public will not demand such a self-destructive course after the Gaza fiasco. If this is the secret agenda of the new government, it is a cause for mourning, not celebration.
Other notable analyses from The Muqata, who looks at winners and losers, and Gerald Steinberg at the Times of Israel.

A number of people were trying to figure out why Netanyahu was calling for early elections, and a consensus of sorts was that it would give him more flexibility in deciding on a military option for Iran since Likud was well ahead in the polls. If that is true, this unity government is even more effective than any election results could have been in giving Israel internal political strength should it make that decision.