Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Partisan politics in Israel

In April, I wrote about the Israeli electoral system. I recall seeing arguments in several places (some just silly), but The Economist in particular wrote that the dysfunctional system needed to be fixed. Further, they made what seems like an odd claim that this excess of democracy diminished the influence of the electorate on the government. I suggested that it was more important to include Arab parties in ruling coalitions. Politically, it might be difficult, but it wouldn't require any changes to the formal electoral system.

Today, Ralph Seliger at Meretz USA discusses the same issues as raised by someone else. Bernard Avishai argues that peace and security issues in Israel are so polarized that this extreme proportional system acts more like a two-party system. But:
The problem is trying to make any deal stick without precipitating violent national kulturkampf. The hard right has killed one prime minister. It owns the streets of Greater Jerusalem. Even lesser fanatics know full well that a Palestinian state will put an end, not to Israel, but to their dreams of Greater Israel, let alone most settlements across the Green Line. That is why, as I've said, the only leadership that can make a difference now is the one being elected in Washington.
That's not really a political problem, though, is it? It's about a small minority willing to abandon politics, and I think it's a bit bizarre that this pretends to be politics. Of course such people can have an impact, precisely because they're willing to abandon politics, but I think that impact is being mischaracterized. I certainly can't claim the familiarity with Israeli politics either Avishai or Seliger has, but it seems more likely to me that the focus should be on those to the right of center for whom a hawkish security attitude, absent any desire for any Greater Israel except as it would be more secure, are paramount. Though I don't think there's the need for such proof, the rise of Kadima including the defections of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert from Likud to form Kadima proves the existence of these people. But what's happened so far is that Kadima has failed to provide security or prove that they can. In such a circumstance, how is it surprising that they would side with other hawks? But that line of thinking directs back to Israeli politics and the peace process (and perhaps a need for patience, which is running out in all kinds of places), not, as Avishai suggests, outside intervention. I might be allowing a Buddhist concept to overly determine this, but I think the frustration Avishai voices comes from dividing people up into camps instead of asking, "How can we do this?" where "we" is very inclusive.

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