Which Unity Government?

It took 24 hrs for PM Netanyahu to do the math, before he went from predicting a “right-wing Zionist” government to a National Unity Government (NUG).  That’s because he cannot form such a right-wing government without the 9 votes of  Yisrael Beitanu, the party of Avigdor Lieberman, who has ruled out joining a coalition that includes the religious parties (Shas and UTJ).  Now all three parties, Yisrael Beitanu, Likud and Blue and White have called for a NUG.  But, its not that easy.

Benny Gantz of B&W wants a Union with Likud, but only without Bibi as its head.  Bibi wants to be PM first in any rotation, but wants the B&W to split into its component parts,. excluding the liberal party of Yair Lapid, and only wants to form a NUG with Gantz.  And Lieberman will no doubt insist on his haredi IDF conscription bill as a condition to join a NUG.  So now the coalition negotiations start.

The Arab Joint List scored a great victory, getting 12 seats.  The thought is that this resulted from the prediction by Netanyahu that the Arabs will vote “in droves” in order to activate his base.  But, instead it activated the Arabs.  Now the Arab Joint List is the third largest party in the Knesset and its leader Ayman Odeh may become the leader of the Opposition for the first time.  How’s that for a clear repudiation of the so-called apartheid label ridiculously applied to Israel!

The Knesset this time contains only 9 parties, which is less than previously due to the higher threshold for inclusion (3.25%).  Both the far right and the far left suffered in losses of smaller parties.  It should be easier for three of these parties to unite in a NUG, but let’s see what comes out of this process.  For sure, no-one wants a third election!


Impasse or Opportunity?

Exit polls published the morning after the latest Israeli election show that very little has changed since the last election 5 months ago.  Once again there is an impasse,  with both major parties, center-right Likud of PM Netanyahu and centrist Blue & White of Benny Gantz achieving the same number of seats, 32-34.  In principle, if all the right wing parties combined to form a coalition government as in the past, including UTJ (8), Shas (8), Yamina (8) and Yisrael Beitanu (8), that would give a majority of 65 (over the 61 threshold out of a total of 120 seats).  But, Avigdor Lieberman, Head of Yisrael Beitanu, has broken with Bibi and will not form a coalition that includes the religious parties, he will only join a secular coalition, leaving Bibi hanging once again with ca. 54-57 seats, not enough to form a right-wing coalition.

B&W with the left also can achieve a maximum of 63 seats, but that includes the ca. 11 seats of the Arab Join List, which Gantz said he will not include, leaving only 52 seats.  Note that the Arab Joint list reformed after a poor showing when they ran as three separate parties (Communist, Nationalist and Islamic) in the last election and several did not pass the minimum threshold (of 3.25% of the vote) so this time they realized their mistake and ran a Join list.  Also, note that Labour, the former leading party in Israel has been reduced to 5-6 seats, showing that apart from their mistakes (in bringing back an old leader, Amir Peretz) the Israeli electorate continues to move rightwards.

The most likely outcome, in order to avoid another election, is that Likud and B&W will have to form a National Unity Government, with Yisrael Beitanu as the linchpin between them, thus achieving a majority with 75 seats.  Hopefully this will be the choice of Pres. Reuven Rivlin, and that Netanyahu, Gantz and Lieberman can come to a mutually amicable coalition agreement with probable PM rotation.  This will be good for the country, since it will be the first government without any religious parties in the government, resulting in a law requiring all religious young men to be drafted into the Army.

It will have a good working majority and if the threats of Iran and Hezbollah come to actual combat, there will be a former IDF commander-in-chief Gantz and his many generals. such as Gaby Ashkenazi, from his party in the Government.  Such an outcome will be a net loss for Bibi, since he will no longer be the reigning king of Israel, but, as part of the coalition agreement he might demand immunity from prosecution for his alleged crimes.  Overall a Natl. Unity Govt. would be a satisfactory outcome of the election.

An Act of War

Anyone seeing the huge conflagration caused by 10 drones firing rockets into oil storage tanks at two Saudi oil facilities could not avoid the comparison with the oil fires set by the Iraqi army when they were forced to withdraw from Kuwait.  The attack a few days ago on the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia was an act of war.  Not only did it do tremendous damage, but it wiped out about 5% of the world’s oil supplies and caused the price of oil to rise precipitously.  Luckily, as both the Saudis and the US stated, they have enough in stock not to cause a panic.

The big question is who was behind it?  The obvious answer is Iran.  Although Iran denies this, we know they routinely lie. Also, the claim by the Houthi rebels in Yemen that they sent the 10 drones is not believable, because first they don’t have the capability to send drones over such a long distance, second they don’t possess such weapons and thirdly they are a proxy controlled by the Iranians.  So Iran is behind it for sure, and most likely Iran sent the drones and fired the rockets.  We are waiting for definitive confirmation from Saudi and American sources that they have definite evidence of this.  If so it could trigger a war between the Saudis and their allies (the Gulf States, and the USA) against Iran.

Only a few days ago Pres. Trump was saying that he could meet with Pres. Rouhani, but not only have the Iranians scuttled that possibility, but we are now much closer to the brink of war.  Not only have the Iranians probably done this deed, but they have also stopped another tanker in the Gulf and this after several previous illegal seizures, as well as their support for terrorist activities throughout the Middle East.

Where does Israel fit into this picture.  Israel has been attacking Iranian facilities in Syria for some time, and this has had the tacit support of Pres. Trump and Pres. Putin of Russia.  Today Putin is meeting with Rouhani in Ankara at the invitation of Pres. Erdogan of Turkey, in order to discuss the Syrian situation.  Maybe Rouhani will ask Putin why he doesn’t stop the Israeli attacks.  So far Iran has not tried to do so itself, fearing no doubt a direct confrontation with Israel.  That is why Iran continues to carry out these attacks but denies them.  At some point the reality will catch up with them.

Note: The Israeli election is today, but predictions won’t be available until after 10 pm tonite and actual results some days later.

The Jordan Valley Issue

Tomorrow is the voting for Israel’s latest election, and the main issue being fought out on the right is the Jordan Valley Issue.  As PM Netanyahu seeks to draw support away from his far-right opponents, principally the Yamina (Right) Party that is a coalition of smaller right-wing parties, he has high-lighted the Jordan Valley as an issue in the campaign.  He has held a cabinet meeting there for the first time, had the cabinet vote to legalize a new Jordan Valley settlement there named Mevo’ot Yericho, and has stated that Israel will annex the Jordan Valley if he is elected PM.  One might ask why he has not done all of these things before while he has been PM?  That is what the Yamina Party leader Ayelet Shaked is doing, saying that his promises can’t be trusted.  But, nevertheless, Netanyahu is in the best position to deliver on his promises.

The Jordan Valley is a good place to start Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, that should have been part of Israel from its beginning (only Labor Party leaders such as Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan thought they could do a deal with the Arabs over this, but they were mistaken).  The Jordan Valley is a good place to choose for several reasons: 1. It delineates the eastern border of Israel; 2. It is an important defensive line against attacks from the east, given that it protects the heights of the hills of Samaria (Shomron) and the few passes that would allow an enemy to go through them; 3. It is very sparsely populated given the very hot, humid climate there. so that there are very few Palestinian Arabs living there

Apart from the issue of the Jordan Valley and the more general issue of annexation of Jewish centers in the West Bank, there are many other issues at stake.  The most significant is the ultra-orthodox parties (UTJ and Shas) that make voting for them a matter of religious conviction for their supporters, and the opposition to them by the militant secular parties such as Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitanu.  Who will get enough votes and who will form coalitions with whom we will know tomorrow or the day after.  Let’s hope there is not another stalemate.

What Israeli Election?

Visitors to Israel could be excused for asking “what election?”  For apart from a few election posters, you would be hard put to tell that an election is due to take place in less than a week (on Sept 17).   There is little or no enthusiasm or excitement as there normally is for an election in Israel, as elsewhere.  The reason of course is that this is a repeat election, the last one, only 5 months ago, produced no clear-cut result, neither the right (with a slight majority) nor the left could form a  government.  The main reason the right could not form a government is that Avigdor Lieberman, Head of the Israel Beitanu (Israel Our Homeland) Party refused to join a coalition with the ultra-orthodox parties, that PM Netanyahu needed to include to form a government.

A poll conducted by the Smith organization for the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv (Evening) indicates that the results will be essentially the same as last time, resulting in another stalemate.  One difference is that Lieberman, who is expected to receive 8 seats this time, has indicated a willingness to join a coalition with the centrist Blue and White Party rather than Likud.  Note that the left has gradually been losing support in Israel, and the formerly powerful Labor Party is now down to a few (perhaps 5) seats.

Although Netanyahu has been characterized as extreme  right in the Western liberal press, he is not in fact extreme. To his right are several parties, Yamina (Right), Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) and Zehut.  Netanyahu has carried out a campaign to get them not to run in order to garner more votes for Likud.  But, only Moshe Feiglin of  Zehut took his bait and decided not to run.  In order to attract their voters, Netanyahu has come out in favor of a policy of annexing the areas of the West Bank where there are large numbers of Jewish settlers into Israel, namely the cities of Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Etzion bloc (that was settled by Jews in the 1920’s, but who were expelled by the Arabs in 1948). I personally agree with this policy, its time to take steps to incorporate these Jewish areas into Israel.  But, unlike the far right, I don’t think it would be wise to annex the whole of the West Bank in one step and in any way to expel the Arab inhabitants.

If Netanyahu cannot form a center-right coalition, to avoid stalemate and another election he may be prepared to form a coalition with the centrist B&W.  But, their leader Benny Gantz has ruled this out.  However, with a show-down with Iran looming in the not-too-distant future, this might be a smart move, since Gantz was former C-in-C of the IDF and his party contains other former generals.

The AC Saga

When I moved to Beer Sheva, I did not sell my apartment in Netanya, in case I decided to move back.  But, I rented it to a  nice family, French people who actually live in Miami.  Last year I received a complaint from them that the air conditioner (ac) was not working properly, so I asked my lawyer who arranged the rental agreement to recommend an ac engineer, and he did.  The guy went to the apt. and fixed the ac, but he charged me a lot of money to do so.

Two weeks ago I received a message that the ac had stopped working.  So I called the ac engineer and asked him to fix it again.  He called me back and said the fan motor had burnt out and needed to be replaced, so I said go ahead.  He replaced the motor but charged me an enormous amount NIS 3160 ($880), but since I have no idea how much such a repair should cost I had no option but to pay him.   But, I felt that I was being taken advantage of.

However, the ac did not work correctly after his “repair,” the tenants complained that the air was not blowing hard enough and the mazgan (cooling) unit itself was frosting over. I arranged to meet the ac tech with the tenant at the apartment on Sept 1.  The tech at no point admitted that there was anything wrong with his repair, but rather suggested that the mazgan was old and needed replacing, but instead suggested to scrap the whole system and replace it with individual ac units in each room.  Obviously this would have cost me a great deal of money.

I decided to seek a second opinion.  I asked an ac technician I had used before and who was also recommended by a friend to come in and see what the problem was.  On Sept 8, he came and said that the whole unit was in a mess and wondered how anyone could leave it like that.  Water had been dripping from the fan unit into the ceiling of the bathroom and I had cleared the pipe to take the water runoff myself.  The filter to the fan unit was filthy and clogged and there were wires from the control unit of the fan lying all over the place.

The new ac engineer was cleaning up the mess, and fixing all the wires in place when he noticed something.  He said the fan is rotating in the wrong direction!  That was why the ac was not putting out enough air.  He switched the wires to the fan and made it rotate in the correct direction and immediately the ac worked fine.  He also examined the mazgan unit and said there was nothing wrong with it, the reason it had been frosting up was that it was forced to work too hard to lower the temp due to the fan not working properly.  He charged me NIS 800, to correct Baruch’s mistake, and when he left the ac was working fine and he saw no reason to replace the mazgan or do anything else.

My conclusion is that the first ac engineer is either incompetent or dishonest or both!  He certainly overcharged me for a repair that he did not do correctly.  A correct assessment of the charge for replacing the fan motor would be about NIS 1200, so he overcharged me by about NIS 2000,  I also had to have another ac person come in and correct his incredible error, that cost me NIS 800.  So he should pay me back NIS 2800.  I do not intend to go to court to recover this sum, but since the lawyer recommended him to me, I wrote to him to complain and asked that he suggest that the ac tech refund me for this overcharge and error. I’m not holding my breath. Also, I advised that he not recommend him again!


The Brexit Plot Thickens

It is hard to keep up with all the twists and turns of the Brexit saga.  The latest incredible situation is that the House of Commons passed a law requiring PM Boris Johnson to go back to the EU and request another extension to the date for Britain to leave the EU in order to give time for further negotiations to arrive at a new agreement.  But, the EU has said that they spent 3 years negotiating with the UK Government and the agreement that was arrived at is the only one available, and that was rejected by the Commons.  This forced PM Theresa May to resign, leading to her replacement with Johnson.

But, in a speech a few days ago PM Johnson stated that he would “rather die in a ditch than ask the EU for another extension.”  The predominant feeling in the UK is that the majority voted for Brexit in the referendum and its about time the Government got on with it, rather than continue all this dilly-dallying around.  As Johnson says, let’s leave, deal or no deal!   But, the Labour Party is taking advantage of the current situation to place the Government in an impossible situation, because of the “fear” of many Conservatives as well as Labour of a no-deal Brexit (NDB), they have tied the PM’s hands to prevent a NDB.

There are now legal cases being brought by both sides, the Government is saying that the Commons cannot take over the power of the Government to act in what it considers the National interest.  But, the Opposition is trying to claim that since it has passed a law to prevent a NDB, if he does not honor that, then PM Boris Johnson should be jailed.  That would be so totally ridiculous and punitive that it does not bear thinking about.  In the name of democracy the House of Commons is acting undemocratically.  It would  be as if the US House of Representatives took over the functions of the Executive Branch, i.e. the President.  This is a fault of the UK system that does not have a written constitution and does not have precedent for such over-stepping the boundaries of Parliament to act as if it were the Government.  Nothing good can come of this.