Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Election Day in Israel
I'm watching the exit polls, as summarized by Allison Kaplan and Aussie Dave... and the results are disheartening, at least to me.
Mind you, this is a trying time for Israel by any standard. She needs a statesman to guide her through this period... and she hasn't got one.
We thought Sharon could do it -- he was heavy-handed at times, and his policies and reversals infuriated a lot of people. Some of his policies were good ideas, marred by blundering implementation on the ground. But he led, at a time when Israel desperately needs leadership... and took Israel in a new direction, one that put Israeli security squarely in Israeli hands for the first time in nearly fifteen years.
But Sharon is gone... and there is no one to take his place. Olmert, who inherited the head of Sharon's Kadima party, offered me some hope, before he started wooing Shimon Peres, Israel's geriatric perennial loser, the man who never saw an ivory tower he didn't want to live in. Benjamin Netanyahu, as head of Likud, could be a reasonable leader in peaceful times... but Israel has never known peaceful times, and so far it looks like there won't be much left of Likud for Netanyahu to lead. The Labor party has surged ahead of Likud, which does not encourage me in the slightest; Amir Peretz, the new head of Labor, seems determined to ignore international politics and focus on domestic issues. (An isolationist Israeli makes far less sense than even an isolationist American.)
The only Israeli politician with the spark of statesmanhood in him, that I know of, is Natan Sharansky... and he may be out of politics entirely. Keep an eye on him.
With such uninspiring choices, particularly after the dynamo that was Sharon, it's no wonder that Israelis went to the polls in low numbers -- the lowest in Israel's history. (63% nevertheless seems quite high by American standards, as many are pointing out; Americans can afford to be more apathetic about elections that Israelis can.)
I don't fear for Israel's future. But I do think Israel is in for a difficult time.
UPDATE: Israeli newspaper Hatzofeh seems to agree with me:
Hatzofeh says that the election results, "constitute a very serious blow to the Right," and warns that, "These elections are liable to bring about additional expulsions." Thus, the editors believe that, "There should be no doubts; we are heading into a difficult period."(translation thanks to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.)