With most of the vote in, the Israeli elections appear to have confirmed the much-expected mandate for Ariel Sharon’s creation, the Kadima Party, to lead the next government, though with fewer Knesset seats than expected. The real shocker, however, was the collapse of Likud under Bibi Netanyahu, who wrested control of the party from Sharon: it will apparently be the fifth-ranking party in the next Knesset, behind Kadima, Labor, the Sephardic party Shas, and the Russian-immigrant dominated Yisreal Beiteinu. Indeed, Likud, the dominant right-wing party in Israel for decades, barely finished ahead of the Pensioner’s Party, a purely domestic- oriented political group that surprised everybody with its straightforward representation of the interests of the elderly.The scattered partisan results, and the remaining uncertainty regarding the imminent negotiations over the shape and size of a Kadima-led governing coalition, make all sorts of interpretations of the election possible, as evidenced by insta-reactions in the Israeli press and the blogosphere. Some will emphasize Kadima’s emergence, and note the vindication of Ariel Sharon, who, as Haaretz’s Robert Rosenberg noted, spent his last night as Prime Minister of Israel in a coma. Others will focus on Labor’s relatively strong showing under its new leader Amir Peretz, an Algerian-born union leader who represents a break with his party’s long identification with an Ashkenazi, kibbutz-centered elite. Still others will send up alarms about the rise of Yisreal Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, who could wind up being the leader of the official opposition. And the Pensioner’s Party, whose performance was so unexpected in a country long obsessed with security issues, will get attention as well.But the most compelling analysis I’ve read was actually written yesterday, by The New Republic’s Yossi Klein Halevi, which predicted low turnout and an inconclusive result, and suggested it was “Israel’s saddest election,” based on widespread despair. The “Greater Israel” ideology that once enlivened Likud and other right-wing parties is dead, said Halevi; it’s really an academic question as to whether Sharon was a lot or just slightly ahead of the curve in recognizing that and adjusting his policies accordingly. And just as importantly, the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections confirmed the experience of the Second Intifada in largely extinguishing the “peace party” in Labor and on the Israeli left generally. Nearly all Israelis, said Halevi, have endorsed Sharon’s “separation strategy,” with the arguments being over time, place and manner of that separation. Even Lieberman’s right-wing party has distinguished itself by arguing for a strictly ethnic-based “separation” in which Jewish settlements would remain in Israel while Israeli Arab enclaves would be ceded to the proto-Palestinian state. Invidious as that idea is, it’s a far cry from “Greater Israel” and a permanent occupation of Palestine as a whole.Halevi’s hypothesis helps explain the historically low turnout in today’s elections (63 percent, which is robust by American standards, but is well below the traditional Israeli benchmark of 80 percent), and also the emergence of domestic-policy-only focused parties like the Pensioners. But he’s right: it’s very sad. Israelis are largely united on a “separation strategy” that every major faction in Palestinian politics rejects, most notably the hyper-rejectionist Hamas, which can’t bring itself to even accept the legitimacy of Israel according to any configuration. Perhaps the most important question about today’s Israeli elections is whether anyone on the Palestinian side recognizes and acts upon the challenge and the opportunity of the new Israeli consensus for a two-state solution, which is becoming a reality beyond all the past rhetoric on both sides.
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.