February 11, 2009Foreign AffairsIsrael

Bibi or Tzipi?

Martin Sherman’s lowdown of the Israeli general elections

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

General elections in Israel have thrown up what Indians know as a hung parliament. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima and Binyamin Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud have 28 and 27 Knesset seats respectively, which will require them to form a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (16 seats) or Ehud Barak’s Labour Party (13 seats), or indeed, with each other.

The Acorn asked Israeli scholar Martin Sherman to give us his opinion.

Q: Who are you in favour of? Why

Bibi (Mr Netanyahu) is by far the most talented politician presently in the system. He was a brilliant foreign minister and a very competent finance minister (although to much Friedman and too little Keynes in his mix for my personal taste) and as a prime minister was far better than was given credit for. He is however an anathema to the media who will maul him whatever he does—or doesn’t do. This will make it very difficult for him to operate as he is will be under tremendous pressure—particularly internationally. Thus I am very concerned over his resolve. In the past he has not been the free of blunders and has often snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ms Livni is all spin and no substance and a stunning example of the success of failure in Israeli politics. Her success is inexplicable in terms of any rational calculus. On a party level, the platform she was elected on in 2006 proved to be a delusional disaster. Her party was wracked by corruption scandals and led the country to two non-victories in poorly managed wars which it itself initiated. In the personal level she has shown herself to be devoid of any qualities that could conceivably justify her as a choice of leader. By abandoning her 2003 electoral pledges not to support unilateral withdrawal she proved that she has no intellectual integrity or commitment to principles. This might have been excused in the utilitarian world of politics if the policy she abandoned her principles for proved to be a stunning success. However it was a crushing failure, proving that she also has no political wisdom or judgement. Again this might have been excused in the utilitarian world of politics if she proved to be a astounding success in the sphere of practical policy implementation—but the present unprecedented assault on Israel can only be described as a diplomatic debacle, which, as foreign minister for the last three years Livni must take responsibility for. Her main asset was the aversion people have to Bibi, especially among the supposedly intellectual” elites here—for whom he is a red flag

What are the implications for Israel’s relations with India?

Very little—I expect the the external constraints and inducements will the principle factor driving the relationship together with the inherently compelling structural logic of the relationship.

I think both Bibi and Livni (perhaps more so Livni) are very Atlantic-centric (US-EU focused). Yuval Steinitz (a Likud MP) who is close to Bibi and was formerly head of the Foreign Policy and Defence committee in the parliament, is, however, very mindful of the value of India-Israel relations.

But I believe the depth and warmth of relationship will be determined more in New Delhi than in Jerusalem—hopefully not only by the career diplomats in South Block—where like their counterparts in Romema (the seat of the Israeli foreign ministry) and Foggy Bottom in Washington it not always easy to discern that drives policy decisions—national interest or politically correct diplomatic nicety.

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