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November 1st, 2016 @ 4PM EST: All Eyes on US: An Israeli Expert on the U.S. Election

posted by mysababa admin 8 months ago

Mysababa 1 mysababa admin commented:
Thank you so much Herb for your fantastic contributions to the conversation. Some great answers, and we look forward to welcoming you back.

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Israel Election 2015: Herb Keinon from the Jerusalem Post returns with a Q&A

posted by herbkeinon about 2 years ago

Herb herbkeinon commented:
Read the full text of our Question & Answer session with Herb below: <br /><br /> <strong>The election seemed to bring out some real divisions in Israel. Now with the election a week gone by, how would you characterize the mood there?</strong><br /><br /> I would characterize the mood as surprise and relief. <br /><br /> Surprise, because no one thought that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would win by the margin that he did. And relief that the campaign, which was a particularly nasty one, is over, and that it will now be possible for the country to get back to regular life. Things in the country are not as bad as they were portrayed during the elections, and there is a sense of relief that now that this is all behind us it will be possible for us all to regain a sense of proportion. <br /><br /> <strong>Bush won re-election in 2004, many people were stunned and almost went through a period of mourning. I recall people posting “apology” notices on social media to the world. We’re reading that the left is particularly stung and disaffected. Is this accurate?</strong> <br /><br /> Yes, the left is extremely stung, disappointed and even disaffected. That is to be expected. Any side that loses an election anywhere is stung and disappointed. Here the disappointment and sting may be greater because of pre-election expectation -- pumped up by the media -- that the left was on the verge of victory. Those expectations, however, were detached from reality. <br /><br /> <strong>Israel is a country that to a large extent is made up of different “bubbles.” There is the Tel Aviv “bubble.” The Jerusalem “bubble.” The settlements “buble.” The periphery “bubble.” The haredi “bubble.” The Arab “bubble.” What does that mean? It means people have a tendency to live in rather insulated communities, and think that their “bubble” is reality.</strong><br /><br /> If you are living in your Tel Aviv “bubble,” and you can’t stand Netanyahu, and all you hear is your friends and co-workers screaming about Netanyahu, and you are only watching and reading that part of the media that reflects your opinions and which is also screaming at Netanyahu, then you think that is the reality: that everyone hates Netanyahu. So when you wake up in the morning and see this is not necessarily the case, then that is a rude awakening. <br /><br /> With that, I have noticed a degree of -- if not acceptance -- at least resignation to the fact that this is what the country wants. Had the race been closer, had Netanyahu won by a seat -- or even lost to the Zionist Union but been able to cobble together a coalition -- you may have seen greater disaffection, a feeling by the left that “we were robbed.” <br /><br /> But since Netanyahu won by as big a margin as he did, and six Knesset seats here is a big margin, there is a sense even among the mainstream left that this is what the people want -- and that this is the people; that you can’t replace the people. <br /><br /> There is an element on the extreme left, however, that will not accept the “will of the people,” and will try to undercut it. They will -- as they have done in the past -- go abroad and and try to get the world to force on Israeli a set of policies that the people, at the election box, firmly rejected. They will do this by speaking to world leaders, and to general audiences. They will say that they are speaking out of a concern for Israeli democracy, while at the same time not accepting the democratic verdict that the nation just handed down. <br /><br /> While they may have some success overseas, the appearance of trying to impact the Israeli public by going abroad and suggesting ways to twist Israel’s arm, not by actually trying to persuade it, will boomerang. Rather than persuading the Israeli public, these types of actions actually cause resentment among the Israeli public, which will be played out in the next election. <br /><br /> <strong>Which factions are particularly pleased with the election outcome? We haven’t heard anything about celebrations and outpouring of support for Netanyahu’s re-election.</strong> <br /><br /> I think the lack of celebration indicates a certain degree of maturity, a realization that one election is not going to fundamentally change our reality. <br /><br /> Israel’s reality is tough and complex, and the country voted in someone they think will stay strong and hang tough. Staying strong and hanging tough is not a recipe for bringing people out to the public square in celebrations. That usually happens when a country votes in someone who promised change, a different direction. <br /><br /> Netanyahu did none of that. His message was pretty much status quo. What was, is what will be; hunker down and let the waves pass without drowning the country. That message resonated with the public because of a sense that with all the problems around us -- Iran, Hamas in Gaza, ISIS on the march, a Middle East in flames (consider now the situation in Yemen as well) -- what we have is not that bad. <br /><br /> What factions are particularly pleased with the victory? First, those who think that this is not a time for israel to take risks or withdraw from territory, either unilaterally or as part of an agreement. Second, the settlers, who were concerned that a Zionist Union victory might have led to the uprooting of isolated settlements. <br /><br /> Third, the haredim. And they are pleased not as much that Netanyahu won, but that Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid lost. Lapid is the Finance Minister who was pushing for criminal penalties against haredim who refuse to serve in the army, and who significantly cut funding to yeshivot. The haredi parties are thrilled to be in the next government; and what makes their joy even greater, is that Lapid and Yesh Atid will not. <br /><br /> <strong>We spoke last week about the way forward with Washington post-election. So far, we’ve heard about a “frosty” congratulations call from President Obama and little else. Any positive signs for mending fences with the US?</strong> <br /><br /> Not yet. With the American threat now to “reassess” its Middle East policy, with statements calling into question the nature of Israel’s democracy, with high-level leaks accusing Israel of spying on the nuclear talks with Iran, the Administration has made clear that if israel wants to mend fences, it should bring a lot of board and nails, because the Administration will not be lending a hand. <br /><br /> After the elections the Obama Administration could have gone one of two ways in regards to Netanyahu’s victory: gone down the track of turning over a new leaf, or deepening the crisis. It chose to deepen the crisis, and -- as of now -- there is no indication that it intends to change course. <br /><br /> There are a number of reasons for this. First, there are fundamental and real differences between Netanyahu and Obama regarding both Iran and -- as we have seen in recent days -- the Palestinian issue. People too often think this is just a matter of personal dislike between the two leaders. It is much deeper than that -- it goes to the heart of policy. <br /><br /> Obama seems to genuinely believe that if israel just gave more, then a Palestinian state could emerge and there would be peace. Netanyahu, supported by a majority of the Israeli public, does not believe that. Obama is stuck in the Oslo paradigm -- the parties can negotiate a two state solution. After more than 20 years, Netanyahu, and the majority of the Israeli public, are not there anymore -- they feel that train has left the station. That is a major disagreement. <br /><br /> Likewise on Iran. Obama says to Israel regarding Iran: “trust me, I’ll deal with it, I have your back.” Netanyahu doesn’t have that degree of trust. It is not as if he doubts Obama’s sincerity in wanting to stop Iran from getting a bomb, it is just that he thinks the path Obama is walking down won't work. Netanyahu also believes that the US genuinely did not want North Korea to get a bomb; yet they got it because the path the US opted to prevent it was the wrong path. That is a fundamental policy difference. <br /><br /> <strong>Are Israelis confident that Netanyahu can make things better with the US? Do they care, or are we in the American Jewish community too focused on this single issue?</strong> <br /><br /> What is important in looking at the election results is to realize that the Israeli public voted for Netanyahu with Eyes Wide Open, meaning they knew full well all about the tension with Obama, and what a Netanyahu victory could mean regarding worsening ties with the US and Europe. Yet they still voted Netanyahu. <br /><br /> That says much about where the Israelis’ heads are at, and how they grasp their own reality. In this view of things, Israelis see Iran, ISIS, Syria and Hamas as much more of a danger to them, their country and their children than disagreements with the Obama Administration. <br /><br /> Israelis do care greatly about the ties with the US, but have shown that they will not sacrifice what they feel is their own interests just to ensure that there are no hiccups in those ties. I think there is also a sense that the country can tough out difficult times with Obama, given the fact that in another 20 months there will be another US president. <br /><br /> One of Obama’s mistaken calculations early in his first term was assuming that because Israelis do care so much about their ties with the US, if it looks like their government’s positions will endanger those ties, they will abandon their own prime minister and back the president. This did not hold true in 2009 when Obama forced a settlement freeze on Netanyahu -- and the public rallied around Netanyahu -- and it did not prove true in this election either. <br /><br /> <strong>Was the “no Palestinian state” declaration – recanted/further explained two days later – a “flip-flop” by Netanyahu, as it was characterized here by our national media? If not, what was lost in translation there?</strong> <br /><br /> Israelis were not surprised by what Netanyahu said about two-states before the election, nor his explanation of it afterward. It was seen here as all in an election-day’s work. <br /><br /> To jump on Netanyahu’s saying that two states will not emerge under his tenure, only to ignore the context of those remarks; or to ignore that no one realistically thinks a Palestinian state will be created in the next four years; or to ignore that the Palestinians have made clear that they are not interested in negotiating a settlement, rather only to get one imposed from the outside; is seen by many as simply looking looking for an excuse to pound the prime minister. <br /><br /> Does Bibi now need to demonstrate a willingness to return to negotiations with Palestinians? What’s the way forward to resume peace negotiations with Israel’s government and the current Palestinian leadership, since it appears neither is going away anytime soon. <br /><br /> What Netanyahu needs to do is to take the diplomatic initiative and present the world with an idea of how -- considering the regional turmoil and the still existing alignment between Fatah and Hamas -- it will be possible to move something, anything, forward. The world will not buy the idea that we are stuck, and just have to wait until things calm down to move forward. Netanyahu needs to come up with concrete moves he is willing to make to show that something is moving, that he is doing something to make life better and easier for the Palestinians. . <br /><br /> That being said, resuming negotiations will be extremely difficult right now - not only, or even principally, because of Netanyahu. The Palestinians feel that the negotiation track has worn itself out, and that after years of negotiating with various Israeli governments -- from the left and the right -- they have concluded that their “salvation” will not come from around the negotiating table. Rather, they now feel -- and the current Israeli-US tension only reinforces this idea -- that their path to statehood will come by holding out until an impatient world will impose a solution on Israel. <br /><br /> President Mahmoud Abbas turned 80 on March 26. Obama is not the only one thinking about the legacy he will leave, so is Abbas, and he is not interested in going down in the Palestinian history books as the Palestinian leader who was willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, give up on the Palestinian claims of a “right of return,” or compromise on any of the traditional minimalist Palestinian demands. Those are the things he has spent his life fighting for, and he will not abandon them at the end. Such compromises would be necessary for an agreement to be negotiated around the table, but they will not be necessary if the world steps in and imposes a solution -- and that is the path Abbas is now forging. <br /><br /> <strong>What’s wrong with pre-election and exit polling in Israel? Is the media going through some collective soul searching?</strong> <br /><br /> It’s interesting in looking at the pre-election polling to see that the pollsters got one part of the equation right: they pretty accurately predicted the size of the left-wing block -- the Zionist Union, Meretz and the Joint [Arab] List. <br /><br /> What they got wrong was the movement inside the right wing bloc -- votes going from Yahad, and Bayit Yehudi to Likud. A number of reasons for this have been given: that the movement inside the right wing bloc happened in the last days of the campaign, when Netanyahu helped create a panicky atmosphere that if people did not vote for Likud, he would lose and the left would form the government. Many Bayit Yehudi voters, very concerned about that scenario, decided as a result to vote Likud. <br /><br /> Another explanation proffered has been that because of the intensely anti-Netanyahu atmosphere created by the media, people were embarrassed to tell the pollsters the truth: that they intended to vote for him.. <br /><br /> Regarding the poor performance of the exit polls, one explanation is that for whatever reason, people just did not tell the exit-pollsters the truth. Another another explanation is that the exit polls closed at 8.00 pm, two hours before the 10:00 pm closing time for the regular polls, and that those are the key hours during which blue collar workers -- a key Likud base -- go to the polls. <br /><br /> The media is saying that it does have to do soul searching - and indeed it does. The media lost sight of its role during this campaign -- which is to reflect reality, not to create it. Now that the elections are over, one hopes that the journalists will return to their tradition job of reporting the news, not trying to make it. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for any major structural changes in the press.

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