Briefing on Israeli Elections with Eyal Arad
David Halperin: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for now our second call on the upcoming Israeli elections. We are now seven days away from the Israeli elections that has everyone, of course, talking.
I will just, first, a scheduling announcement that we are slated to have a post-election call with Nahum Barnea, the Israeli columnist, on November-- I'm sorry, on January, excuse me, 23rd, at noon Eastern time, and you will all be receiving a notice regarding that call shortly.
Today's call we are thrilled to have with us Eyal Arad, a long-time Israeli political strategist. He is the Chairman of Euro RSCG Israel, Ltd. He is among the most senior political strategists inIsrael.
In recent years has managed many election campaigns on a national and local level, and among the campaigns that he has served to help manage include, really, a variety of politicians, ranging from Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign for prime minister in 1996, Ariel Sharon's election campaign for prime minister in 2001 and 2003, Ehud Olmert's campaign in 2006, Shimon Peres's presidential run in 2007, Nir Barkat's election as Mayor of Jerusalem in 2008, and Tzipi Livni's campaign for prime minister with Kadima, most recently in 2009.
This is someone with a wide range of experience in Israeli politics and the twists and turns of an election campaign cycle, and we couldn't be more thrilled to have someone with that kind of expertise to help us navigate the ins and outs with one week to go.
So, without delay, I'll turn it over to Steve Spiegel, IPF's National Scholar, and thank you all, again, for joining us on today's call, and hope to hear from you all again next week.
Again, Steve and Eyal, thank you very much for being with us.
Steve Spiegel: Eyal -- thank you, David -- I have to ask-- welcome, Eyal, and I have to ask you this big question, to me at least, and I think shared by many on the call. Here you have a series of recent polls that show that Israelis are in favor of the two-state solution, they resent the money that is being spent on settlers that they have to spend their good, hard-earned tax money in terms of taxes on, they want a peace agreement of some kind with the Palestinians, and, yet, they seem to be about to vote for parties that have exactly the opposite position. This is quite an anomaly. Why?
Eyal Arad: Well, Steve, first of all, hello, everybody. I'm pleased to be with you.
And the simple answer to your question is because we're Jewish, isn't it?
But on a more serious note, it's true that most Israelis today, most Jewish voters, would consent to a two-state solution. However, most Israelis do not feel that such an agreement is a realistic possibility. And, therefore, it seems like something more of a wishful thinking than a real policy choice.
The perception -- and I emphasize the perception -- of most Israelis who support the two-state solution is that there is no partner on the other side that is willing to take that deal. And, therefore, they say as long as the Palestinian side is not coming to the table, then there is no point in us voting on that, and we'd rather look for other interests.
When you go to the second layer of those interests, you see that most of the vote is structural. It's based on ethnic or religious considerations and (inaudible) and not on positions.
So, you have the national religious vote going to Bennett. He is not attracting so many voters that are not religious. You have a growing Haredi population that votes Shas and Yahadut Hatorah. You have the Russian vote, mostly liberal, and together these ethnic and religious groups constitute a majority, or at least a plurality feed that is enough to create a coalition that is-- I think the right wing terminology, right wing/left wing terminology is not particularly-- actually, the American political terminology of conservative versus liberal is more applicable to our political situation.
Steve Spiegel: That's a fascinating answer, not, I must admit, what I expected or what other people are saying. But, given the-- if I can pursue this a moment before turning elsewhere, given the anomaly between-- there must be some Russians, some other ethnic groups, for example, or some religious who are not pro-settlement and not-- and for the peace process, or you would not get the results from the polls on the substantive issues that we're getting, because, after all, it's the same electorate with the same ethnic background.
How do you explain that part of the anomaly, which must, what, 20%, 25% of the electorate is voting one way ethnically and voting another way ideologically, or is telling the pollsters something else ideologically?
Eyal Arad: Because, Steve, when Israelis are asked what is the single most important problem facing Israel today only 8% of the total electorate, 8%, single digits, say it's the peace process or anything related to the peace process or the relations with the Palestinians. It stands as number six or seven on the national priorities table of Israelis.
So, if you're religious, you're much more troubled by education, by religious services, by the relations between religious and seculars in Israel than you are by the issue of one state, two state relationship with the Palestinians.
Steve Spiegel: Now, what are some of the-- so, the six or seven issues must be budgetary or taxes or cost of living, these kind of issues? Education? These are the kind of issues that compose the higher ranking six or seven?
Eyal Arad: Yes. First and foremost is, of course, security, still, is the number one topic. Security. Remember, just a month ago, Israel was at war with missiles aimed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. So, there's Iran looming in the background. So, security is the number one issue, and the right wing is always stronger on security than the left wing.
Then you have cost of living, mostly housing and food, the sharp rise in social inequality, dissatisfaction with the level of social services, mostly education and healthcare, only then you have peace with the Palestinians as an issue.
Steve Spiegel: But yet Iran has played almost no role in the election campaign, from what I see?
Eyal Arad: That's not true. Just last weekend there was a big debate between Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu about the ILS 11 billion spent on preparations for a possible Iran-related military activities and whether it was necessary or not.
Iran, even if it is not talked about a lot, certainly in the back mind of many Israelis, and it's not just Iran. It's Iran, it's the situation in Syria, it's the growing armament race in Lebanon, it's Egyp tand the instability in Egypt that reflects on both Gaza and the Sinai. All of it together creates a situation that Israel will-- might be faced with a security crisis in the next three years, and so the first consideration is who can handle security better.
Steve Spiegel: All right--
Eyal Arad: And the liberals don't--
Steve Spiegel: --but there's not much talk about it, and one wonders why. But you've confirmed and explained, I think, the reason.
I'm in Washington. I had breakfast with several Israelis this morning and I heard what I keep hearing everywhere, which is something like the following, and can you explain it for us?
"Look, I cannot stand Netanyahu. He's horrible; he's impossible." "Who you voting for?" "Netanyahu." "Why?" "Well, the competition. There's no one else. And besides, look, we had two wars, significant wars under Olmert and under Netanyahu, you know, we had the eight-day Gaza war. It was over quick. We did well, tiny casualties by comparison to usual, not a real war. Netanyahu keeps the stability. I can't stand him, but I have to vote for him."
Why? Why do so many Israelis who are not Likud and never have voted Likud, why do they say that?
Eyal Arad: Well, I think that assumption that people who did not vote Likud in the past are now voting Likud is not founded by any polling data that I am aware of. It's true, even last elections, when I ran the opposition, the Tzipi Livni campaign, that about half of the Likud voters voted Likud in spite of Netanyahu. They didn't like Netanyahu. They didn't trust Netanyahu, but they felt that the Olmert-Livni government failed in dealing with security issues in Lebanon and in Gaza, and handled the two military operations, respectively, in an unsuccessful way. And, therefore, they said that the liberals cannot-- are not tough enough on security issues, we have to go to the conservative alternative, even though we don't like Netanyahu.
And it certainly still is the situation today. You have about-- as of today about 30-odd seats that Likud is getting in the polls. About a third of Likud voters are not happy with Netanyahu leadership. They would rather have another leader at the head of Likud, but they still identify more with the positions of Likud on security than the liberal.
And on the other side, on the liberal side, there is no leader with strong security credentials that has come forth. The ILP and Shelly Yachimovich lack any credentials at all of any experience in managing state affairs, and Livni is not seen as strong enough on security.
So, without clear leadership on the other side, the two times that the liberal bloc won in recent years were with either Rabin or Barak at the head of Labor, who were generals, who had strong security credentials. A leader from the left who wishes to win needs to, one, unify as many political powers around him, and two, have very strong credential on security, which is a threshold to even be considered as a possible national leader.
Steve Spiegel: Yeah, I've talked to several people in Labor and around. What you've just said, I think, is highly significant. Everybody talks about the importance of security, and yet the three center-left parties, the prominent parties, the three of them, not only can't agree with each other, but they have not provided a strong security position. This would seem to be the obvious point in Israeli politics and since there are plenty, I would argue, people like, for example, Ephraim Sneh, who happens to be a friend of IPF, but he's not involved and one could go on and one with prominent-- Barak himself is not involved.
Why is it that there has been this gulf? That you would think that Shelly Yachimovich, who had been so effective inside the Labor Party, would have realized this. You think Lapid, who has made some effort, would have realized this, Tzipi realize this, and yet they haven't. Why?
Eyal Arad: Well, it's definitely a question. You know, I'm not privy to the negotiations, so I don't know why. The fact is that they tried and failed to attract leaders with strong credentials, and when you're running from the left, it's always a problem.
If I can quote here what I heard from Sandy Greenberg in 1999, he said that in Israel, if you want to compete for the top job, for national leadership from the left, you're always suspect that you'll be too soft on security, and, therefore, you have to show strong security credentials as a threshold to even be considered as a candidate. And it's not enough that you have good security people on your staff, which all these three parties lack, you have to be that leader. It has to be the number one guy, and not the number three or number four, number five guy.
Steve Spiegel: If-- you seem to be-- apparently, you're out of the elections this time, despite your illustrious career and mostly with wins, but if you were advising one or more of these parties on the left, what would you have told them? You know, it's late now, with a week to go. What would you have told them to do differently than they've done?
Eyal Arad: First of all, I think they should have united, to begin with. I think that leaving Mofaz out of the block by kind of tacit agreement by the three of them was a mistake. He is the strongest center-left politician with strong, successful security credentials.
By the way, if he passes and gains a place in the next Knesset, it's because of his security background, because his campaign is centered around security.
I think that they have failed to put a realistic platform on those issues that, you know, you have the- Tzipi Livni talks about a political settlement, but she does not mention security at all, as if, you know, there are no security problems. It scares people on the right, on the soft right, more than it attracts them.
So, I would tell them, first of all, you have to unify. You have to bring in people that you had inside the camp already, such as Mofaz, Uri Sagi, who was driven away by Shelly Yachimovich, Mitzna, put them in the front, in the forefront, even if they're not in the number one position, and establish a very strong security platform in order to even gain the podium to compete for national leadership.
I think if they'd done that, the level of disappointment from the Netanyahu leadership in the right wing camp, in soft Likud, and the drive to the extreme right, both inside Likud and by such parties as Lieberman and Bennett, and to a degree, even Shas, could have made a difference of those six or seven seats that should have shifted from right to left in order to allow for a change of our government.
Steve Spiegel: Now, one of the anomalies of this election is the collapse of Kadima, which, after all, was the leading party under Livni last time with 28 seats, more than any other party by one over Likud. And just because, seemingly, Mofaz left the government after 70 days trying to work with Netanyahu, the party collapsed. How do you explain that?
Eyal Arad: If you look at the facts when Mofaz won Livni in the primaries, by the polls Kadima has already collapsed from 28 that she gained in the elections to about 13 seats in the polls. So, the majority of it was lost even before the change of leadership inside Kadima.
And then, the split inside Kadima, plus the more attractive alternatives, fresh alternatives, of Shelly Yachimovich and Yair Lapid made those votes prefer them.
Remember, Kadima was formed as a new party. It's not-- it doesn't have a base, really. It's a party of switchers, of people who switched from either Labor or Likud or any other party. And once you switch, you can easily switch to another party when this divided house did not look attractive any more.
Steve Spiegel: Now, if you look to the future, Netanyahu wins, and let's say he has 32, 33 seats, the-- Netanyahu and Lieberman. Naftali Bennett we haven't talked about, and should, and this is the time to talk about it, gets about 15, and, you know, the-- let's say for the purpose of argument Livni 10, Lapid 11, and Labor gets around 16, 17.
So, does Netanyahu go with Bennett, the exciting rightist figure who has emerged from this campaign? Or does he try to get one of the-- one or more of the big three on the center-left? What does he do? What do you think he should do? What do you think he will do?
Eyal Arad: Okay. First of all, I'm sure all of you know what one said once that it's-- politics, it's very hard to predict, especially the future. And even more so in Israeli politics.
So, I think that Netanyahu would face, assuming that the results would be around what you said, very difficult choices. Remember, that the core Likud, under this scenario, is around 20, 22 seats, which means that his party lost power in the election to the right.
This-- the only coalition that he can easily form is a more right-wing, more extreme, more religious coalition than he already had-- has today. If he turns to the center-left, he would find some problems, because there are-- it's difficult to pair Shas and Lapid over the issue of military service for Yeshiva students. It's difficult to pair Bennett and Livni on the peace issue. It's difficult to pair Lieberman and Shelly Yachimovich on both economic issues and clean politics, corruption, clean government issues.
So, it's very difficult to see which of the center-left parties can join a coalition that is based on Likud, ultra-religious parties, and Bennett. And even-- even if he can make one of those parties join his coalition, it would be a narrow coalition, unstable.
Remember that inside Likud itself, the core Likud without Lieberman, there are five or six new members-- or actually not new members, some of them new, some of them veterans, that are closer in ideology to Bennett than to Netanyahu. So, we can, I'm afraid, look at an unstable coalition with no clear position, kind of trying to navigate among all those pressures.
Remember, that we're going also-- that coalition will have, first and foremost, to deal with our own budgetary cliff, cutting some ILS 15 billion to ILS 20 billion from the national budget, raising taxes and what-not. So, if you ask today political pundits in Israel, they do not give this government more than two years of survival.
We're in kind of an Italian situation where we have a multi-party coalition with no clear, strong center in it that's, you know, trying to get safely from one day to another.
Steve Spiegel: Yeah, does--? Yeah, go ahead. Does Netanyahu have to go with Bennett? Can he go, so to speak, in quotes, left? Or does-- if he really needs Bennett, then it's very hard to conceive of any of the big three on the center-left side going into the government, isn't it?
Eyal Arad: Yeah. No, I think that, for example, Bennett-- you could create a coalition with, say, Bennett, Lapid, and Yachimovich, but A) would it be enough? B) will-- can Netanyahu really break away from the old alliance that put him in his place with the cultural religious parties, with Shas and Yahadut Hatorah? Will he do it? Will he have the courage, the political courage to do it? Will he agree to be prime minister depending on votes of parties from the center left, whose basic, primary goal is, at the end of the day, to replace him?
Bennett and Shas, at least, do not have even the aspiration to one day take over the national leadership. They're coalition-- they're, by definition, coalition government, while Yachimovich and even to a degree, of course, Livni and Lapid, have, at least, the ambition to go for the top job.
So, it's a very difficult situation, political situation, very difficult political maneuvering, and I don't think that there's anyone, including Netanyahu himself, who knows how it will play out at the end of the day.
Steve Spiegel: All right. So, you-- so, let's assume, then, it's easier, and, therefore, somewhat more likely, that he'll go right. If he has a right-wing government, pro-settler, basically antagonistic to the two-state approach, et cetera, presumably hawkish on Iran, et cetera, et cetera, this government will have a very hard time internationally, and, presumably, because of the people who have to be paid off, not such an easy time domestically, either, in terms of budgetary cliff issues, as you suggest. Therefore, a lot of people, including yourself, I gather, are saying this government lasts only a couple of years, because its policies, not to mention its membership, is unviable.
So, if you're advising the center-left, how does it get read for another election in two years so it doesn't have the disaster that this election season has turned out to be for them?
Eyal Arad: Well, I'd start with the same advice that I gave you before. First of all, try and unite. I think that the difference over the center-left parties are minimal compared to the challenge that they face in trying to, you know, take over the government.
Now, some interesting point that I would look at. One is the question of leadership. We have strong figures outside the political camp and outside the political fray. One of them is Ehud Olmert, assuming that he is acquitted in this trial. He certainly indicated his willingness to go back to head the liberal bloc, as in the background Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff, who many believe has political ambitions.
So, there's the question of leadership. Who's going to lead the bloc?
Second, the Russian vote. The Russians have the potential to be the Hispanics of Israel. Okay? The first generation Russians through their hat mostly with the right-wing Likud or Russian ethnic parties. The second-generation Russians that are coming to maturity might change. Their profile is more similar to liberal voters than to conservative voters. They're Ashkenazi. They're well educated. They have higher income and their concerns are more adaptable to liberal Israelis than to conservative Israelis. They're opposed to religious intervention in state affairs, et cetera.
So, if the liberal bloc can create-- can become attractive to young Russian-descended voters, they could tip the political balance just as young, second-generation North African voters in the '70s tipped from the Labor of their parents to Likud.
Second is a turnout issue. We see that turnout among liberal voters is lower than turnout among conservative voters. So, I would say that the liberal bloc has, certainly, to consider why liberals are thinking-- young people do not turn out at all to vote. Because if they would, they would probably vote one of the center-left parties. So, that's a second issue that they will have to tackle.
And the third issue might be the Arab vote. 50% of the Israeli Arabs do not vote, but in polls that I saw, young Israeli Arabs are much more interested in integration to Israel society than in upholding the ultra-nationalist Palestinian political identity.
For example, on such questions as national service, a majority of young Israeli Arabs support national, not necessarily military, but national service, and there is no Arab party that has joined the liberal bloc. Actually, they are a bloc to themselves that does not play the political coalition game.
But if there could be an Arab party, Arab politicians that take on a liberal integrity position, they could, again, add a few seats to that bloc.
So, these are the coalition leadership, Russians, turnout, and Arabs that need to be addressed in order for the center-left bloc to have a chance at national leadership.
Steve Spiegel: Well, I must say I have not heard this kind of an analysis of the Israeli political system. Most analyses in the United States-- I want to get to Bennett in a minute -- move in the other direction and say that Israelis becoming more and more right wing. This is very different from what you get here in the United States and it's quite fascinating.
But related to what you've just said, most people, at least in this side of the world, say that no Israeli party could have a coalition with an Arab party and succeed. Now you are challenging that. You are saying it's really up to the Arabs if they want-- if they have a party that's ready to work and advocate in its election campaign, ready to work with, more likely, one or more of the center-left parties, that that would be acceptable to the Jews. Is it?
Eyal Arad: Well, let me give you an example. In 2001 when Ariel Sharon, Chairman of Likud, and then, you know, the Sabra and Shatila warmonger, was elected prime minister, he invited the Arab parties to coalition negotiations. And I remember I sat on his negotiating team and when one of the Arab parties came in and one of the members, the Knesset members, asked me this, are you playing a game with us? I mean, you know, we will join your government. I said, first, this is the first time that you are invited. The very invitation will legitimize your participation in the political game.
And then maybe we will not agree on coalition, but we might agree on other things. And behold, when four years later we needed the Arab vote on, say, issues such as disengagement from Gaza, while some of the Arab politicians voted against disengagement from Gaza, some of the Arab politicians were willing to play the coalition-- kind of a mini-coalition game with the Sharon-Likud-based government to advance policies, important policies, including budgetary issues and other issues.
So-- and it did not create any hysteria in the Jewish-- among Jewish Likud voters, let alone liberal voters. It depends on the positioning of the Arab parties.
While people like Ahmad Tibi position themselves or Haneen Zoabi position themselves as ultra-nationalists, Palestinians, who are more interested in the Palestinian interest than in the Israeli interest, of course, they cannot be considered as legitimate coalition partners. But if you take Arab politicians, if you find Arab politicians that are saying, we have our positions on the Palestinian issues, which, by the way, are not much different than the positions of many of the Jewish Knesset members on the liberal side, two-state solution, et cetera, but we're willing to, you know, cooperate and advance the interests of our voters on domestic issues, and we're willing to play the game, I think many Jewish voters would accept it willingly.
Steve Spiegel: And do you think the left can do this? Sharon was Sharon and he was Likud at the time. But do you think someone on the left, let's say Ashkenazi has united the left and now he needs four or five more seats, three or four more seats, and he goes to this kind of hypothetical Arab party. Could he do it?
Eyal Arad: I think, yes. If you look at, for example, Kadima today, even today Kadima with Mofaz, was trying to fight for soft right-wing votes, because the left is blocked for him, and number eight on his list is a mayor-- an Arab Muslim mayor from the Galilee that was elected as mayor in an Arab town. So-- and no one seems to talk about it, so it's not a big issue, anyway.
Of course, I believe it is possible. Again, that leader would have to establish strong security credentials, but you say Sharon could have done it because he had these strong security credentials. If a new liberal leader has the strong security credentials, he can definitely, at a certain point, hope to have Arab parliamentarians join his coalition. And, again, conditioned on the repositioning of those Arab politicians from Palestinian ultra-nationalism, which, by the way, is a mirror reflection of the Bennett-- of the ultra-right-wing nationalism among Jews. And if they turn to-- not from right-wing Palestinian nationalism to become part of the liberal bloc, they can certainly join in.
Steve Spiegel: Okay. Final question, then. It's about Bennett. I was at breakfast this morning here in Washington. Two Israelis arguing. One said, Bennett represents the new Israel. This is the way Israelis going. It's a revolution. The other Israeli said, nonsense. It's just a reshuffling within the right, and it doesn't mean anything. You, he said to the other Israeli, think the settlers are finally discovering themselves in politics. They're just playing games. Who's right?
Eyal Arad: First of all, Bennett himself is not a settler. He's from Ra'anana.
Steve Spiegel: Yeah, I know. That came up.
Eyal Arad: Yeah. He's not a settler. He is a national religious party leader, a new type of national religious leader. He is revolutionizing, first of all, the national religious sector inIsrael. Okay, that's a segment of society, about 12% strong, that is more dominant today in the military, in military service, in social responsibility, and Bennett is the new face of that sector.
Actually, it points out, on the one hand, to staunch positions against the two-state solution and pro-settlement movement, but on the other hand, it has also some benefits -- much more understanding toward the needs of secular society, secular Israel, liberal Israel, on such issues as religion and state, civil marriages -- not civil marriages, but more flexibility on marriages, on rabbinical issues, more willingness to take positions on social issues, and on other domestic issues.
So, it takes them out of the so-called national religious ghetto. I think, like everything else new there's good stuff, there's bad stuff. I don't support Bennett's position on the two-state solution, but I certainly have to recognize his leadership, his charisma with his public, and the fact that he talks modern talk and he is not tied to just some outdated concepts.
He's someone that I believe many on the liberal side can work with, even with disagreements on the peace process.
Steve Spiegel: Interesting. Well, let's more to ask, but let's open it up, operator, so people can ask their questions to this very fascinating discussion with Eyal Arad.
Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question at this time, please press the star key and then the one key on your Touch-Tone telephone. If your question has been answered, or you wish to remove yourself from the queue, please press the pound key. Again, to ask a question, please press star, one. One moment for the first question, please.
Steve Spiegel: Okay. Operator, are we ready with the first question?
Operator: Our first question comes from Joel Braunold.
Joel Braunold: Hi. Thanks very much. I found the conversation very interesting. I was wondering what you could say about the fact that Naftali Bennett is, seemingly, getting over half of his votes from people under the age of 30, and it looks like he wants the housing ministry, both for trying to create affordable housing within Israel, and additionally, to sort of satisfy the national religious bloc within the settler community? How do you think he will be able to manage those two sort of conflicting ideologies at the same time?
Eyal Arad: Thanks, Joel. First of all, it is an open question. Will he be able to move away from, you know, the very extreme agenda of some of his supporters to a more centrist position, especially in order to serve the needs, not just of his community, but of the entire Israeli population on such issues as affordable housing, as I said, religious issues of marriage and divorce, et cetera, welfare policy.
And it's something that I think that we will have to watch very carefully, because right now Naftali Bennett for us is a poster boy, right? We don't really know him. He has not been tested in any real political test, but I believe that after a couple of years of political experience, and I remind you of the Sharon immortal words that things you see from there you don't see from here. Then we'll be better positioned to judge whether Naftali Bennett is really just makeup on the national-- very nationalistic religious right ofIsrael, or is he really a new type of leader.
Steve Spiegel: Okay. Very interesting. Operator, next question?
Operator: The next question comes from Wallace Bruschweiler.
Wallace Bruschweiler: I have a question regarding the solution. What do you think of the three-state solution as a proposal suggested by Danny Danon?
Eyal Arad: Sorry, I didn't hear-- what would be the three states?
Steve Spiegel: I think it's-- am I correct, you mean Gaza, West Bank, andIsrael. Is that what you mean? Do we still have the question?
I think he refers-- if it's Danny Danon, I think he's referring to Gaza, West Bank, and Israel. Another three-state, of course, would be Palestine, Jordan, and Israel, but I think, in this case, it's the first.
Eyal Arad: Right. Well, first of all, I would be happy to hear that Danny Danon supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, even in the West Bank, let alone-- I don't think that that is his position. But if that would be his position, as one of the more right wing parliamentarians of Likud, then that's a blessing.
As a matter of fact, there are two distinct governments, two distinct de facto states inGazaand in the West Bank that hardly talk to each other. I think, actually, the Palestinian Authority ruling the West Bank talks more to us than to Hamas. With us, they talk directly. With Hamas, they talk through the Egyptian intermediaries.
So, it's de facto these are two distinct territories with two distinct governments that do not talk to each other. One is fighting us. The Hamas government inGazais at war with Israel, even though there now is a ceasefire. The PLO-dominant government in the West Bank is still cooperating with Israel on security and is still committed to the two-state solution.
Now, I think that most Israelis would agree that, while we have to oppose Hamas as long as Hamas does not recognize Israel and is not willing to come to terms with Israel, as, you know, the Jewish sovereign state, then we do not have to talk to them, and that we have to oppose them, and that if it would be possible to topple the Hamas government in Gaza, it would be a blessing. While I think that the majority of Israelis would like to have better relations with the Palestinians on the West Bank.
But for that we need, also, the West Bank government to be willing to engage with Israel more seriously.
But, you know, when you look around at the instability in the Arab world, you see the dissolution of the entire idea of the nation-state in the Arab world. Lebanon is basically a loose confederation of tribes and religious sects. [inaudible] Syria probably will turn out divided into six or seven tribal influence areas with a shadow kind of-- shadow government in Damascus like the shadow government in Baghdad that does not control, really, Iraq, or the one in Beirut that does not control Lebanon.
And so, I think that-- and I'm a supporter of the two-state solution, but I think that we have to be realistic and see that in the entire Arab and Middle East, the idea of statehood is receding, with some loose Islamic identity, based on more tribal and religious loyalties, rather than national loyalties and I think that we have to deal with that. I think that's part of the Palestinian problem. It infiltrates the Palestinian issues, as well. The divisions there are lessGazaandWest Bankand more Hamas and Fatah, the nationalists versus the easternists.
And it makes our life much more complicated.
Steve Spiegel: Thank you. I want to go back to Bennett, if we can, and the elections. And I want to clarify something that's been under-reported here inAmerica, the fact that, apparently, he's much more flexible on civil marriages and social issues. Can I clarify that, relative to other people on the right? Do I understand that correctly?
Eyal Arad: That is the impression that he is giving the public, that he is not a religious isolation who is trying to force religious concepts. He understands the need for flexibility. He is willing to be much more flexible on, let's call it the civil issues concerning religion, such as marriage and divorce, rabbinical authority, integration of women and position of women in society. He brought in a secular woman to be his number four or five on the list, which is a precedent in the national religious parties.
Yes, he is trying to give us that impression and I say that the proof of the pudding would be in the eating.
Steve Spiegel: So, what makes him so appealing to the-- to rise to this level? He's clearly the most exciting party leader in the race.
Eyal Arad: I'll tell you. The young national religious people, who served as officers in the military, who are going into such professions as high tech and industry, and who have a long tradition of volunteering for social issues and supporting social issues, and feel that while the Tel Aviv, to take it as a symbol, has lost any semblance of Jewish values and that they're the true keepers of Jewish heritage, not in the religious sense but in the traditional sense, they have a claim for leadership of the Israeli society. They feel like the new elite.
And comes Bennett, who in his biography, officer in one of the top, selected units of the Israeli army, the same unit that Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak came from, the high-tech, you know, the startup operation come alive, the guy who made it in high-tech, young, modern, married to a secular woman.
Steve Spiegel: He's married to a secular woman?
Eyal Arad: Yes. She was secular. Of course, they live together, so she's said in interviews she observes because she does not recognize the division between secular and religious. They have a household together, so they keep kashrut, they keep Shabbat, but she comes from a secular family. And she did not, jump, you know, became religious before she met him.
So, he personifies this claim of the young nationalist religious public to a leadership position in the Israeli, in the overall Israeli society, not just representing his sector, his group, but actually offering to contribute to the entire Israeli society. And it sounds very appealing to many Israelis, even if they do not support him or going to vote for him, or identify with his positions on the Palestinian issue or the settlements, they still think that it's better to have a person like him in politics rather than the old religious leaders, who were separatists, religious separatists.
And-- but, again, he talks the talk and the question, for many, is can he walk the walk.
Steve Spiegel: Really interesting. Operator, we have time for only one more question.
Operator: The next question comes from Gil Kulick.
Gil Kulick: Thank you. Can you hear me?
Steve Spiegel: Yes, we can.
Gil Kulick: I wasn't sure. I've got (inaudible).
There's a lot of wishful thinking on the left, recalling the experience of Shamir and his confrontation with Bush, Senior, and, in fact, Bibi's first round, that for an Israeli leader to be perceived as mismanaging the relationship with the United States could cost him significantly in electoral terms. And yet, despite the fact that Netanyahu probably has the worst relationship with an American president ever hasn't affected him at all.
I'm wondering why that is. Why his, quote, failure to manage the relationship with theUnited Stateshas not hurt him? And should President Obama in his second term decide to really confront Netanyahu on the peace issue, how is that likely to affect his standing with the electorate?
Eyal Arad: That's a complicated question. Let me try and be very brief.
First of all, Ayn Rand said once, or wrote once, that if your assumptions do not correspond to reality, you had better check your assumptions rather than reality. So, the assumption that having a not great relationship with the American president would hurt electorally a right-wing leader is not necessarily true.
It depends on the background. It depends on other issues.
However, I think it is very important for bothIsraeland the United States to cement a strategic alliance, because it touches on many more issues than just the peace process. And I'm a supporter of the peace process, and I would see-- would like to see an active role of the United States in trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to sit together and to talk peace.
However, I don't think that it is my role to advise President Obama. I think that when he looks into his second term, he has larger issues than theMiddle Eastahead of him.
I wouldn't want, even in the interest of a policy that I support, to see a rift develop between Jerusalem and Washington. I think that this alliance that is based both on shared interests and shared values is important, both for Israel, for the American Jewish community, and for America itself. So, I hope that even when we have differences we can do it in a civilized manner.
There's nothing that would make the enemies ofIsrael, which are, by the way, the same enemies as the United States, there's nothing that would make them happier than a rift between Israel and the United States.
Steve Spiegel: We've concluded the questions. I'd just like to make a comment that leads to our final discourse, and that is, on the university campus where I live and elsewhere, the image-- and in the media, often, in the United States, because Netanyahu is so unpopular here, the image is, as he's about to be reelected, Israel is becoming less Jewish, less democratic, and everyone on this call knows all the implications that is discussed, that the trends in Israel are negative.
And yet, you've presented a much more nuanced, much more complex, and, in a way, much more hopeful example in terms of the rise of the youth on Russians, Arabs, et cetera. So, can you tell us, in closing, why this perspective onIsrael, which is much more complicated, never gets reported?
Eyal Arad: I wouldn't know that.
Steve Spiegel: Or, why aren't you presenting this to us?
Eyal Arad: Well, I am-- I was asked, and I am presenting it to you.
Steve Spiegel: Absolutely, and we will spread that word.
Eyal Arad: And I would like, in this closing, also, to thank you and all the listeners. I know that you are supporters of Israel and that you are lovers of Israel and that you care about us, just as we care about you, and to thank you for your support, because I think it is important that we stand together.
We might think differently on certain issues, but we're one people. So, I wish to thank you.
And listen, realities, especially political realities, are always more complicated than what is reflected through the media. So, I think that each one of you that, you know, comes, I'm sure that many of you do come very often to Israel, and get to talk not just to political leaders and, you know, political operators, but to ordinary people, would find that the complexity and the richness of Israeli society is far greater than the one reflected in Western press.
And finally, I will tell you that I believe that learning from Jewish history, and I'm a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary in biblical theology, so, I'm familiar with our history, and I think it teaches us that to be an optimist is really to be a realist. And so I'd rather be an optimist.
Steve Spiegel: On that very important note, I want to thank Eyal Arad and thank you for the call and, everyone, of course, a week from tomorrow we'll be analyzing the election results with Nahum Barnea and, of course, IPF will be in touch with you on that.
Thank you all and let me say, wherever you are and in what time zone, good day and good luck. 'Bye-bye.
Eyal Arad: Thank you.
Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude the conference for today. Again, thank you for your participation. You may all disconnect.