Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, spoke at Netanya AACI on Sun night. This is my summary of his presentation. He explained that the reason for the current focus on domestic issues in Israel is partly due to the “news vacuum” in the area of war and peace. Ever since Ehud Olmert offered a tremendous secret deal to Pres. Abbas of the PA, and Abbas refused it, there has been no progress in the so-called “peace process.” Abbas is now into the 7th year of a 4 year term, and as such is an illegal President. He could not, even if he wanted to, make any deal with Israel. Furthermore, he is biding his time to see what transpires in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, including in relation to Iran. He is a man transfixed by events, like a deer caught in the headlights and cannot move either way. Thus, he refuses to be brought to the table to negotiate, and hence all attempts to tempt him are useless. Nevertheless, the chief policy of the Obama Administration and Secty of State Clinton, who is visiting Israel now, is to coerce Israel to make concessions. This idea fixee is a failed policy that the US cannot see beyond.
So in Israel there is a focus on such topics as the cost of housing, the draft, immigration and other domestic issues that have long been neglected. That there are idealistic youth in Israel is shown by the social welfare demonstrations that erupted last summer. Unfortunately by this summer they have been taken over by a smaller number of extremists who are intent on causing trouble. The top item on PM Netanyahu’s list of domestic topics to deal with is the drafting of Yeshiva students. Gil explained how he became an expert on this topic, ten years ago when he was a novice reporter at the J. Post, because the legal editor was ill, he was sent to Tel Aviv to cover the publication of the Report of the Tal Committee. When he got there he was given a copy of the 800 or so page Report in Hebrew and then looked for someone who could help him to understand it, but it was impossible. So he decided to return to Jerusalem, and saw a taxi draw up that was going there. He asked the person who got in if he could share the taxi with him and the occupant said yes. It turned out be none other than Justice Tzvi Tal himself, and so he had a 2 hour explanation of all aspects of the Report. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Tal Law is unconstitutional, so Netanyahu has to find a more equitable alternative, and this requires all his political skills to steer a course between the secularists of Kadima and the religious MKs of United Torah Judaism. In order to save his coalition Netanyahu must reconcile these irreconciliable parties. At present this looks impossible, but the deadline is Aug1 according to the Supreme court or July 25 according to the Knesset recess date, and in Israel nothing happens until the deadline.
Gil explained that he has good training for dealing with politicians because he is bringing up two small children and the skills needed for both are about the same. He interacts with all politicians including the PM and all the MKs and often the results are surprising. Recently the J. Post ran a poll that found that if Ehud Olmert is not found guilty in the upcoming “Holyland” trial, he could increase Kadima’s number of seats by a factor of two, and could therefore challenge the Likud. However, this is probably only a bubble after his recent acquittal on three of four counts of corruption. But, he was found guilty of one charge, and it is unlikely that Shaul Mofaz, current leader of Kadima, would make way for Olmert. The next election in Israel is on Oct 13, and it is unlikely that anything will happen to prevent that, although Gil warned that Kadima is serious about its demands for a new draft law and could leave the coalition any time. Also, nothing serious will happen until after the US election in November. So we will have more time to focus on domestic issues, including immigration, housing, electoral reform and the draft.