Israel's elections not likely to change much


By Miriam Tramer in Israel

Amos Wollin, an Israeli citizen since 1939 and a foreign correspondent for Danish and German newspapers, talked to Green Left about the June 23 Israeli elections. He pointed out, however, that although his name is Amos, he is only a minor prophet.

If Labour wins the election, says Wollin, it will be on the basis of dissatisfaction with Likud rather than positive support for Labour.

Likud, with feuding between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and foreign minister David Levy, presents a divided front.

As well, there are continuing revelations of Likud incompetence. The state comptroller's report of April 27 criticised waste, mismanagement and opportunism in state administration. The report says that the appointees of housing minister Ariel Sharon squandered public funds for personal and political gain and "tossed aside" moral scruples.

To the left of Labour is a coalition of three parties: Mapam (a left Social Democratic party) and two liberal parties, Ratz and Shinuy. The coalition is called Meretz — an acronym of the names of the three parties which also means "energy" in Hebrew.

Meretz hopes to form a coalition with Labour and is therefore concentrating its attacks on Likud.

Wollin says that Labour would be willing to form a coalition with Meretz but may be forced into one with Likud.

Israeli elections are based purely on party lists, not electorates. It takes only 1.5% of the vote to win a seat in the Knesset; this is the basis of the power of the tiny, extreme right, religious parties.

An explosion of small parties — 50 so far — makes reliable prediction of the election outcome impossible.

As well, there are three parties representing immigrant interests, and it is not clear what impact these parties will have. They may have informal alliances with one of the two main parties, and additional immigrant parties may emerge.

The concerns of the immigrants, says Wollin, are jobs and security. There are so many academics and professionals among the Russian immigrants, and the economy can absorb only so many music teachers. In a classy shopping mall in Jerusalem, a musician plays a wonderful saxophone beside a sign: "I am a new immigrant from the Ukraine — please help me".

The beach front of Tel Aviv is crowded with such buskers.

Wollin says that although Labour will push economic and social issues main election issue is foreign policy.

Likud promises the chimera of "peace for peace" — that is, achieving peace without making any compromises. This fantasy persists, but the desire for peace exists; if peace fails to emerge on such terms, then reality may impinge on the Israeli psyche.

One liberal Israeli I spoke to believes that the best prospect for peace is a national coalition led by Likud, combined with George Bush in the White House. He believes, as do others, that only Likud could sign a peace without inciting serious Israeli opposition, and only Bush could apply the pressure needed to force Likud to do so.

But Palestinians I spoke to are pessimistic and believe the election result will make no difference to them. Unfortunately, they may be right.


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