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Woe to the Victor -latest on the Israeli elections by Uri Avneri

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  • Abe Hayeem
    Uri Avnery February 2, 2013 Woe to the Victor ³VAE VICTIS!² was the Roman cry. Woe to the vanquished. I would alter it slightly: ³Vae Victori², Woe to the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2013
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      Uri Avnery
      February 2, 2013

      Woe to the Victor

      ³VAE VICTIS!² was the Roman cry. Woe to the vanquished.

      I would alter it slightly: ³Vae Victori², Woe to the victor!

      The outstanding example is the astounding victory Israel won in June, 1967.
      After weeks of approaching doom, the Israeli army beat three Arab armies in
      six days and conquered huge stretches of Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian
      territory.

      As it turned out, this was the greatest disaster in our history. Intoxicated
      by the very size of the victory, Israel started down a road of political
      megalomania, which led to the dire consequences from which we are unable to
      free ourselves to this very day. History is full of such examples.

      Now we have witnessed the totally unexpected election success of Ya¹ir
      Lapid. It may turn out to be the same story in miniature.


      LAPID WON 19 seats. His is the second largest faction in the 120-seat
      Knesset, after Likud-Beitenu, which has 31 seats. The composition of the
      House is such that it is almost impossible for Binyamin Netanyahu to form a
      coalition without him.

      The former TV star is in the position of a child in a candy store, who can
      take whatever he desires. He can pick and choose any government post he
      fancies for himself and his minions. He can impose on the Prime Minister
      almost any policy.

      That¹s where his troubles start.

      Put yourself in his place, and see what that must mean.


      FIRST OF ALL, what job should you choose?

      As the major partner in the coalition, you have the right to choose one of
      the three major ministries: defense, foreign affairs or treasury.

      Seems easy? Well, think again.

      You can take defense. But you have no defense experience whatsoever. You
      have not even served in a combat unit, since your father got you a job on
      the army¹s weekly paper (a lousy paper, by the way.)

      As defense minister, you would in practice be the superior of the Chief of
      Staff, almost a Commander in Chief. (Under Israeli law, the entire
      government is the Commander in Chief, but the Minister of Defense represents
      the government vis-à-vis the armed services.)

      So defense is not for you.


      YOU CAN take foreign affairs. It¹s really the ideal job for you.

      Since you want to become Prime Minister next time, you need public exposure,
      and the Foreign Minister gets plenty of that. You will appear in photos
      alongside President Obama, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and a host of other
      world celebrities. The public will get used to seeing you in this
      distinguished international circle. Your telegenic good looks will enhance
      this advantage. Israelis will take pride in you.

      Moreover, this is the only job in which you cannot fail. Since foreign
      policy is largely determined and conducted by the Prime Minister, the
      Foreign Minister is not blamed for anything, unless he is a perfect fool ­
      and you certainly are not that.

      After four years, everybody will be convinced that you are prime ministerial
      material.

      Even better: you can dictate the immediate opening of peace talks with the
      Palestinians. Netanyahu is in no position to refuse, particularly as Barak
      Obama will demand the same. The opening ceremony of the negotiations will be
      a triumph for you. Actual progress will be neither demanded nor expected.


      SO WHY not take it?

      Because you see a big warning sign.

      The 543,289 citizens who voted for you did not vote for a foreign minister.
      They voted for making the Orthodox serve in the army, providing affordable
      housing, getting food prices down, lowering taxes on the Middle Class. They
      don¹t give a damn about foreign relations, the occupation, peace and such
      trivia.

      If you evade these domestic problems and go to the foreign office, a
      deafening cry will be taken up: Traitor! Deserter! Cheat!

      Half of your followers will leave you at once. For them, your name will be
      mud.

      Moreover, in order to follow a peace agenda, even pro forma, you must
      discard the idea of having Naftali Bennett¹s ultra-rightist party in the
      coalition, and take in the Orthodox parties instead. If so, how to compel
      the Orthodox to serve in the army, akin to feeding them pork?


      THE LOGICAL conclusion: you must choose the treasury.

      God forbid!!!

      I would not wish this fate on the worst of my enemies, and I feel no enmity
      towards the son of Tommy Lapid.

      The next Finance Minister will be compelled to do exactly the opposite of
      Ya¹ir¹s election promises.

      His first task concerns the state budget for 2013, already overdue.
      According to official figures, there is a hole of 39 billion Shekels,
      something like 10 billion dollars. Where will they come from?

      The real alternatives are few, and all are painful. There must be heavy new
      taxes, especially on the glorified Middle Class and the poor. Lapid, a
      neo-liberal like Netanyahu, will not tax the rich.

      Then there will be sweeping cuts in government services, such as education,
      health and the welfare state. At the moment, hospitals are working at 140%
      capacity, endangering the lives of patients. Many schools are falling apart.
      Lower pensions will spell misery for the old, the disabled and the
      unemployed. Everybody will curse the Finance Minister. Is this how you want
      to launch your political career?

      There is, of course, the huge military budget, but dare you touch it? When
      the Iranian nuclear bomb is dangling above our heads (at least in our
      imagination)? When Netanyahu is promoting his latest scare ­ the Syrian
      chemical weapons, which may fall into the hands of radical Islamists?

      You can, of course, reduce the pensions of army officers who retire ­ as is
      the custom in Israel ­ at the age of 45. Dare you?

      You could drastically slash the immense sums invested in the settlements.
      Are you that kind of a hero?

      As if this were not enough, the high echelon of economic officials is in
      disarray. The much respected Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley
      Fischer, an import from the US, has just resigned in mid-term. The highest
      officials in the budget department are at each other's throats.

      You would be very brave or very foolish (or both) to accept the post.


      YOU COULD, of course, be satisfied with something less elevated.

      Education, for example. True, the education ministry is considered a
      second-grade ministerial job, though it has many thousand employees and the
      second largest budget, after defense. But there is one big drawback: any
      success would take years to show.

      The outgoing minister, Gideon Sa¹ar, a Likud member (and a former employee
      of mine) has a knack for attracting public attention. At least once a week
      he had a new project, which attracted lavish publicity on TV. But serious
      achievements were rare.

      From my late wife¹s experience as a teacher I know that the frequent
      ³reforms² ordered by the ministry hardly ever reach the classrooms. Anyhow,
      to achieve anything real you would need enormous new sums of money, and
      where would you get them from?

      And will a second-grade ministry satisfy your ego after such a glorious
      election triumph? You could, of course, enlarge the ministry and demand the
      return of Culture and Sport, which were split off in order to create a job
      for another minister. Since one of your basic election promises was to
      reduce the number of ministers from 30 to 18, that may be possible.

      But will your voters be satisfied with your concentrating on education,
      instead of working for the economic reforms you promised?


      ALL THESE unenviable dilemmas boil down to a basic one: who do you prefer as
      your main coalition partner?

      The first choice is between Bennett¹s 12 seats and the 11 of Shas (which, if
      they were combined with the Torah Jewry faction, would become 18.)

      Lapid prefers Bennett, his far right mirror image, with whom he hopes to
      enforce his ³service equality² program ­ canceling the exemption of
      thousands of Torah students from military service. But Sarah Netanyahu, who
      rules the Prime Minister¹s office, has put a veto on Bennett. Nobody knows
      why, but she clearly hates his guts.

      With Bennett as a coalition member, any real move towards peace would, of
      course, be unthinkable.

      With the religious, on the other hand, movement towards peace would be
      possible, but no real progress towards getting the Orthodox to serve in the
      army. The rabbis are afraid that if they mix with ordinary Israelis,
      especially females ones, their souls will be lost forever.

      (As for me, I am ready to join a movement Against Service Equality. The last
      thing we need is a kippah-wearing army. We have quite enough kippahs in the
      army as it is.)

      THESE ARE some of the questions facing poor Lapid because of the scale of
      his electoral success. His voters expect the impossible.

      He has to make his decisions right now, and his whole future depends on
      making the right ones ­ if there are any right ones.

      As George Bernard Shaw put it: ³There are two tragedies in life. One is not
      to get your heart¹s desire. The other is to get it.





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