Little Secrets– “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

“Don’t look,” said my friend Alon. “But the former Shin Bet chief just sat down at the table to our right.”

I gazed intently into my soy latte and then, without moving my head, squinted over in the direction of said table.

illustration by Avi Katz

“All I see is a blur,” I said. “I think I need to get my peripheral vision checked.”

“No, that’s really the way he looks,” said Alon.

Alon is a correspondent for one of the major dailies. I’d called him in desperation on Saturday night because I had a column to prepare and had no idea what to write. Alon knows everyone and everything and I figured he’d be able to slip me a scoop.

“Meet me at 10 a.m. in the Aroma Café on Arlosoroff Street,” he told me. “We’ll brainstorm. And it’s a good place to pick up a tidbit or two.”

The cafe was buzzing at mid-morning. Nearly every table was taken, and at least one person at each table was a familiar face. Over the bar hung a large sign with large letters: “Aroma Arlosoroff: A Quiet Spot For Intimate Encounters.” The morning sun flooded in through the plate glass windows that made up three of the café’s four sides.

“It’s where I meet my most confidential sources,” Alon whispered as we walked through the door. “If you come here, you gotta know how to keep a secret.”

“I see there’s free WiFi,” I said.

“Hey, stop staring,” Alon hissed.

“But that guy over there, surrounded by the paparazzi,”

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Cold Feet–Why Israeli Voters Shouldn’t Get Their Fantasy Government

Haim Watzman The talk in the locker room at the Jerusalem Pool has been surprisingly conciliatory since the election last week. Dani, who voted Meretz (after seriously considering Hadash) and Siman, who voted Likud, agree that the next coalition should consist of the Likud, Kadima, and Labor, under Bibi Netanyahu’s leadership. When I pointed out … Read more

The Election Results–First Thoughts

Haim Watzman

The exit polls show Tzipi Livni and the Kadima party slightly ahead of the Netanyahu and the Likud, but the right-wing nationalist block with a small majority. The Green Movement-Meimad did not achieve the two percent threshold.

So was my vote wasted?

There are two possible answers. Had the Green Movement-Meimad’s votes gone to Livni directly, she’d be in a stronger position, with a clearer lead over the Likud. And had they gone to Labor or Meretz, the left-wing block just might barely have tied the right wing block, meaning that Netanyahu could not form a government of the right alone. (Probably not, but maybe just.) From this point of view, my vote was wasted and in fact gave Bibi a boost into power.

On the other hand, even if such a tie between right and left had been achieved, the only government that Livni could form would be one much like the one she might just be able to form with the current results. That means a government that will be dependent on the support of at least two of the right wing and/or ultra-religious parties. And that means a government that would be unable to pursue the peace process or make significant progress on the other pressing issues facing the country. In that case, the votes cast for the Green Movement-Meimad would not have made much difference anyway.

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Drawing the Line

Haim Watzman The sad story about the election Israel will hold tomorrow is that, no matter what the precise results, the balance of power will be held by a group of legislators contemptuous of the principles of democracy. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party seems almost certain to become the country’s third largest parliamentary faction and, … Read more

Go Green!

Haim Watzman Two months ago, I announced that I’d decided to vote for the Green Movement. I urged the Greens to form a joint slate with MK Michael Melchior’s Meimad slate—and they did. And since then, silence. Where the hell have I been? Skeptical journalist that I am, I’ve been doubting my decision. I’ve been … Read more

Left Behind: Why a New Party Won’t Save Social Democracy in Israel

Haim Watzman Ha’aretz has been going ga-ga over the impending new left-wing party that will incorporate Meretz, a few old Labor hands, and some literary figures who have long acted as the collective conscience of the Israeli left. The newspaper also devoted several pages of its Friday opinion supplement to the age-old question of whither … Read more

I Swear It’s Not Too Late (But It Could Be Soon)

When Pete Seeger rewrote chapter 3 of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as a song, he changed just a few words at the end, making it, “A time for peace – I swear it’s not too late.”

I don’t think it’s too late for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace. But waiting will make it more difficult. On the other hand, strong American involvement – the kind that has been lacking for the last eight years – could move the process forward. So, since everyone else is offering advice to soon-to-be-President Obama, I’ve offered some as well in my new article in The American Prospect:

The main reason for moving quickly… is that every wasted day makes a two-state solution more difficult to reach. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has promised his people that diplomacy can bring independence. Delay eats away at his credibility. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements keep growing. Since the Annapolis conference, the number of settlers has risen from 275,000 to 290,000. (That doesn’t include Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, for which up-to-date figures aren’t available.) The more settlers, the greater the internal crisis that Israel would face in withdrawing.

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Hope Envy

For nearly all of the 31 years that I’ve lived in Jerusalem, I’ve felt that this is where history happens, that my old friends in America are merely in the bleachers. For the past few months, and especially last night, the roles were reversed. Over there, back in the old country, they were making the world new, while we could only watch, applaud, and envy the renewal of hope. Yesterday was a rare moment that I wished I was over there – standing in an unexpected line to vote, celebrating afterward with friends in the streets of Washington, New York or Chicago, getting up this morning wondering what special blessing a religious Jews should say for such an event.

Hope is in short supply here. Next week in Jerusalem, we will have a local election in which the choice of candidates is, as Yossi Sarid put it well – he puts it well so often – a choice between plague and contagion. In February, we’ll have yet another national election. They come altogether too often, offering much too little. The only candidate with the ability to give a speech is the candidate of fear, of being very afraid, Bibi Netanyahu. Tzipi Livni, the only other realistic contender, has defined the election as a decision on whether to continue the peace process. (As leader of Labor, Ehud Barak seems destined to lead the party from irrelevance to extinction.)

Livni is right,

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The One-State Dissolution

Haim Watzman

“Suicide,” said Shaya. He meant the one-state “solution” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. More and more Palestinian intellectuals are now advocating a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, this after years in which short-sighted Israeli governments pursued policies aimed at making it impossible to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Suicide? But isn’t a unitary state in which Israelis and Palestinians live peacefully and equally under the law the epitome of Western liberal values?

Let me tell you a little bit about Shaya. Like me, he’s a transplanted American. He’s got a long record of left-wing Zionist activism. He works to promote understanding between Jews and Arabs, democratic values in Israeli society, and equality and social justice. On the political scale, he’s to my left—in fact, on occasion in the past he’s gone so far as to vote in national elections for the non-Zionist Communists on the grounds that they are the Knesset’s most vociferous and effective advocates of peace and social justice (I thought he was crazy).

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“No, no, no, I won’t play on Tzipi’s team. She’s a little giirrl.”

Gershom Gorenberg

Occasionally, pop culture offers the appropriate commentary on matters of state. To understand Shaul Mofaz’s feelings about Tzipi Livni winning the Kadima primary, view a snippet of this scene from She’s the Man, a remake of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night set in high school. (Sorry, there’s a block on embedding the clip.) The relevant bit here is at 4:18-4:36, after Viola scores the winning goal in the big soccer game. Watch the goalie in the orange uniform who failed to block the kick by the girl.

Ehud Barak seems to feel the same way about serving in a cabinet with Tzipi Livni as the boss.

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Olmert Promised a Pullout, and Built Settlements

Gershom Gorenberg I have a new article up at the LA Times explaining Olmert’s legacy: broken promises, more settlements.: …At last Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Olmert chose to end his term with the same message with which he began it two years ago. “The Whole Land of Israel is done with,” he said, referring to the … Read more

Pollsters, Conservatives Flunk Math

Gershom Gorenberg

This post is really about Jews and Obama. Patience.

A Ha’aretz-Channel 10 poll a couple of days before the Kadima primary said that Tzipi Livni was ahead among the party’s voters, 47-28 percent. Exit polls last night showed Livni with about that share of the vote, with Mofaz doing better, but not better enough: 37 percent.

Earlier, Mofaz himself predicted that he’d win with precisely 43.7 percent, a number he got from his imported Republican mad dog, I mean campaign expert, Arthur Finkelstein.

Funny enough, Finkelstein’s number was pretty close to the 42 percent Mofaz actually got when the hand count of ballots was finished this morning. Only problem is that it was even closer to the 43.1 percent that Livni got to win the election. Maybe importing American experts on negative campaigning isn’t such a good idea.

Tangent: Neri Livneh at Ha’aretz points out that if Livni succeeds in forming a coalition and becoming prime minister, all three branches of Israeli government will be headed by women: Livni in the executive, Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch in the judiciary, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik in the legislature.

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