Monday, March 13, 2006

listen to what they're not saying

Pulsa denura. The whip of fire. Right-wing activists opposed to peace plans initiated over the last few years have used this halachic curse to try to slow down Israeli leaders bringing the country toward compromise with the Palestinians. The two prime ministers cursed with a pulsa denura were Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon - Rabin just a couple months before his murder, Ariel Sharon four months before his incapacitating brain hemmorhage. Both were at the prime of their careers. Both had brought Israel the closest to peace it had ever come.

I don't know how much I believe in halachic curses (or how strongly I scoff) but the 'success' of the curse on the two prime ministers it was bestowed upon is downright spooky, and as absurd as it may sound, begs the question of its possible validity. If it is possible, then my roommate's election advice should be taken with more than a grain of salt - vote for the candidate you want to die. The pattern is even spookier - every time Israel comes close to establishing peace, opponents can and do make damn sure it doesn't come into fruition.

I've had a few revelations regarding elections since my last post, not the least having to do with the pulsa denura.

I realized I've been falling into the typical constituent trap of believing what politicians tell me and having faith in their ability to fully carry out their campaign promises, despite evidence to the contrary. Olmert - a member of the old Likud guard, one of the more corrupt characters to hit Israel in its history, a man vocally opposed to Arab representation in the Knesset, a man who nearly single-handedly allowed Jerusalem to fall during his tenure as mayor - promises to bring Israel back to its '67 borders.

At first I bought it. And I still want to buy it. But it's become clear to me that in a majority Kadima government, it's more than likely that Olmert's promise to secure borders would take on a completely different form than presented now in its campaign. Olmert will not compromise on his vision for unilateral withdrawal. He has already announced his plans - first to the Americans, incidentally - of 'convergence,' meaning full separation of Palestinians and Israelis. His plan is to create solid blocs of Israeli settlements fully connected to Jerusalem, to be separated from the Palestinian Authority by the fence as an official border.

Practically speaking, this is an expected and not altogether un-intelligent plan. There is no way Israel would consider giving over the entire West Bank with patches of Israeli settlements completely annexed from Israel. Yet it is one more example of how the slogan 'forward to '67 borders' is just a slogan.

Likud leader Netanyahu said this week that Olmert was turning the election into a referendum on withdrawal. This is true, and to be perfectly honest, not at all unexpected. This disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank last summer was no small matter. It essentially separated Israelis into more clear a distinction between left and right than Israel had seen in years. It ignited a fierce counter-culture of young people ready to give their bodies to any sort of war, civil included, to prevent the operation from taking place. It employed the largest number of soldiers and security officers in an IDF operation since probably the war in Lebanon.

Could Israelis handle an election based on anything other than this particular referendum? The questions pestering Israel's existence have finally emerged in such full force, that even Israel is beginning to recognize them: Is Israel's presence in the West Bank an occupation? If so, is it perpetuating violence? And if so, what can we do about it? Now that the questions have been asked, we have no choice but to try to find an answer.

My roommate told me the other day that he plans to vote for Green Leaf. My aunt told me the same thing. Their reasoning is good. My roommate explained that he knows that none of the politicians are going to do what they say - and they're all the same anyway, he said - so at least by voting for Green Leaf he's choosing a party that talks about things that matter to him, and not just cannabis, either. My aunt's explanation wasn't so different. She essentially believes that the only way to express her citizen right to the franchise is to make sure that her vote does not go toward electing the party that will inevitably fuck up the country. She wants no responsibility in electing a government that takes away citizen freedom, that strengthens discrimination, that draws Israel even further into its smelly problems. This is an inevitable part of electing a government, she believes, and she wants no part in it.

In a parliamentary democracy like Israel, the only choice sometimes is to vote strategically to draw someone closer to power or to pull power away from someone else. Essentially, it means voting for one party with the intent of voting for a particular coalition. Strategic voting. If the polls are correct, Kadima will win by at least a 20 seat majority. Next in line is Labor. According to the rule of strategic voting, the trick to this election will be to vote to ensure Meretz and Labor come out on top with Kadima, and not Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud.

We're lucky as hell that Labor is next in line. The idea of a Kadima-Labor coalition is reassuring. What with the musical chairs Israel's parties have played in the last six months, Labor has gone through a face lift and is no longer the old boy's club it once was. If Labor secures enough votes to keep Kadima on top but with only enough support to create a minority coalition, that means bringing a fresh face - and a social-oriented one at that - into power. Peretz has repeated that if elected, he will not waive the negotiating stage of waithdrawal. If elected, Peretz would not form a coalition with Yisrael Beiteinu, a party gaining speed in the polls and calling for the annexation of Israeli-Arab towns to the Palestinian Authority ('transfer'). If elected, Peretz says he would raise minimum wage, give out mandatory pensions, and erase the poverty line. And of course, to prove just how serious he is, Labor has signed a 'contract' with the public, vowing to fulfill each of its elections promises.

Can we believe them? Does it matter, considering that no-one is going to fully carry out their promises, anyway? Maybe the anwer is to stop listening to what they're saying, and think more about what they are most likely going to do. Or maybe the answer is to throw out a pulsa denura of our own, not to kill anyone, but to weaken Kadima's strength in gaining a majority in government, throw support to either Labor and Meretz, and in a non-violent way curse Likud out of its opposition to compromise.

Olmert said last week that the results of elections are already set, and that the only question left is of who is going to form a coalition. If this is the case - and it seems that this is the case - than the clear choice for government is a Kadima-Labor coalition. With Labor in coalition, perhaps Kadima's left leanings will be strengthened. Perhaps it will reconsider unilateral withdrawal and recognize the necessary benefits of negotiation. Perhaps the social policies we've all been waiting for can come about simultaneously with setting Israel's borders.

And perhaps this is merely idealism.

Whatever the case, I have the right to vote and I am not going to let that right pass me by, no matter how depressing the choices. There is no way that Likud and Kadima could form a coalition - that's like asking Jacob and Esau to form a coalition, or Cain and Abel. But Kadima needs to be restrained, redirected. Sticking to the need for strategic voting in this election, The solution here could be as clear as voting for Labor to ensure that it gets enough seats to form a strong coalition with the already expected winner, Kadima, and to make West Bank withdrawal a reality.

But of course, there's still 15 days till elections. Plenty of time to change my mind.

1 comment:

Yoseph Leib said...

Another traditional voting foil is to vote for the part that one thinks will do the most damage to the country, in the hopes of embarrasing the enemy by letting them do all the stupid things that they think will help.

But why is voting for Labor more effective than for a smaller party bound to be part of the same coalition, like Meretz or something? I ask out of pure ignorance of how Israeli democracy works. Why is supporting the larger kinda-good party more effective than backing the smaller-even-better party?