The Triumph of the Right

In reality, there is nothing unusual about a political landscape in which several parties with minute ideological-programmatical differences to distinguish them share the bulk of the electorate. That's how it is in most of Western Europe, except Spain; in the UK since the rise of New Labour virtually erased the differences between the major parties; and such is the case in the United States and Canada. To see a real clash of ideologies and policies you need to venture further - in Bolivia, Venzuela, Ecuador, for example, the lines are quite sharply drawn.

Back to Israel. The international media have dubbed Kadima - created by Ariel Sharon and led since his collapse by Tzipi Livni - a centrist party; Likud - the party founded by Menahem Begin - a Rightwing party, while 'Israel Baitenu', which began as a roost for disgruntled Russian immigrants, has been described as Far Right. Labour is described as Left, although it is led by a super-hawk, Israel's most decorated soldier, the man who wrecked President Clinton's peace initiative and provoked the second Intifada. If Barak harbours any leftish social-economic ideas, it is a well-kept secret.

In fact, the anaemic Zionist Left has been slowly dissolving and vanishing from the scene. Even Meretz, that apology for a peace camp, with a tendency to utter little cries of dismay at the worst actions of the Israeli armed forces, has shrunk further, losing a couple of its more assertive MKs, Zehava Galon and Avshalom Vilan. This movement has served as a fig-leaf for some of Israel's leading writers and intellectuals - e.g., Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman - who always approve of the current assault on an Arab population, then express moral displeasure at some of the war-crimes committed in the course of it. These people are highly conscious of the history books, and hope to be vindicated whoever writes them.

There are a number of small parties clustered around the four leading blocs. There are the Arab parties, two of which had had to petition the High Court of Justice to stop a Rightwing attempt to disqualify them, and the Communist Party, which is mixed Jewish and Arab (it is holding its own with four seats). Bigger than these are the Jewish religious and ultra-orthodox parties, notably Shas, led by rabbis from the various Jewish communities. Most of them are extreme nationalists, and are quite happy to egg on the Right. They have their own stakes in the West Bank, settlements populated by their religious flocks, and will fight tooth and nail to hold on to them and, indeed, to keep enlarging them. There is something sad about these people, who are far from well-off, who often depend on handouts from generous supporters abroad and on government family subsidies, yet ally themselves firmly with the Right and the Far Right, which are led by fat-cats and cater to the top economic and financial strata. There are also non-Zionist Ultra-Orthodox parties, strange chimeras who are content to enjoy the handouts without accepting the Zionist ideology underpinning them. They make nice with the Arab world and even applaud Iran's Ahmadinejad, who has made a speciality of predicting the demise of Israel. Politically, though, they are a negligible quantity.

The haggling is already in full spate. Kadima, Likud, Israel Baitenu and Labour are all trading. It's a numbers game. We've been here before - we've even had a rotating Cabinet in the 1980s, when Labour and Likud came up roughly even and ended by forming a 'national' government, with Yitzhak Shamir (Likud) and Shimon Peres (Labour) taking turns as Premiers. It was under Peres' watch that Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician turned whistleblower, was abducted from Europe and taken secretly to Israel, where he was convicted of treason and espionage. Peres, as the father of Israel's nuclear arsenal, handled the situation with great cunning - the trial (held entirely behind closed doors) validated Vanunu's revelations, while appearing to harden the secrecy lid over the Dimona reactor and its products. This same old fox, now aged 85, as the President of Israel, will manoeuvre the new set of players on the board as they jockey for position in the new government.

It is widely assumed that the Prime Minister will be Netanyahu ('Bibi'), with Livni and Liberman holding important ministries. Some speculate that Liberman will get the Ministry of Defence, an idea which terrifies even Rightwingers. It's an awful thought that this man might have his finger on the red button that would unleash the nuclear arsenal - hence, probably, World War Three. He has already touted such ideas as 'flattening' Tehran and bombing Egypt's great Aswan Dam, thereby inundating Cairo and much more. The fervent hope is that even Netanyahu would be wary of giving the former nightclub bouncer such apocalyptic power.

What everyone is wondering, is how Binyamin Netanyahu will get on with President Obama. Netanyahu, according to insider tales, got on Bill Clinton's nerves and infuriated leading members of his Administration. Though the new Administration includes some known pro-Israel figures (notably, Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff), it is not so deeply in hock to the Zionist lobby as were some former administrations. Thus Obama may not be willing to dance to Israel's tune as did his predecessor, who actually called Ariel Sharon a 'man of peace'.

Watch this space.