Though the elections results are not final yet, one can be sure that the ruling party Likud once again has reaffirmed its positions with a small advantage, and that is why now Benjamin Netanyahu is starting the process of coalition creation. In order to create a coalition he has to gain 61% of 120 members of Knesset. It is only possible in case of Netanyahu's success in attracting so called right-centrist parties. Two parties will probably become the decisive force – Yisrael Beiteinu, which has got six deputy seats, and Kulanu with 10 seats. If he manages to attract them, the qualified majority will be reached and he will be able to present a new government to the Israeli President. As far as the public opinion over the elections is concerned, first of all, the opposition block has also gained many votes, so not everybody in Israel is ready to vote only for the program of Benjamin Netanyahu which is mainly  focused on the security of Israel, many Israelis are more interested in solution of social and economic issues, and that is why they will demand the new government to pay attention right to these issues. So, that is the current situation, I believe it will remain the same and it means that the Middle Eastern policy of Israel will not change. It is possible to predict that the relations with the US will be rather tense as the personal relations between the Israeli Prime Minister and the US president are difficult enough. 

<...> Not everybody in Israel is ready to vote only for the program of Benjamin Netanyahu which is mainly  focused on the security of Israel, many Israelis are more interested in solution of social and economic issues, and that is why they will demand the new government to pay attention right to these issues. <...>

– Tatiana Karasova

As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, it is not very correct to say that Netanyahu has declared that the two state solution is impossible, as it was widely shared by the media. During the previous elections Netanyahu’s political program included the possibility of creation of an independent Palestinian state. However, it should be admitted, that it contained such preconditions from the Israeli part that it was completely unacceptable for the Palestinian administration. Secondly, I do not think that the new Israeli government is interested in the conflict escalation. I believe, the most important thing for Netanyahu now is to secure the status quo – no peace, no war, just slow negotiations, etc. And it is quite obvious. Though, as I have already mentioned, the increasing pressure from the US is expected, as well as relaunch of the negotiations. But we have been through this. The Israeli government will agree to the negotiations knowing they will be fruitless, as both parties cannot make their positions closer. In case of changes from the Palestinian side, some development may be expected. But as we do not expect important changes from the Israeli side, the Palestinians are unlikely to make such steps either.

Published in Commentaries

Netanyahu’s speech to U.S. Congress on Iran caused a stir among experts who are anxiously following the election campaign in Israel as it enters its final stage. Israeli society decides who will rule the country for the next four years and which political course will be chosen. This affects not only the life of ordinary Israelis, but also the fate of the region. Despite its small size and limited capacities, Israel influences the international agenda and is at the center of several complex relations between states. This becomes especially remarkable when one realizes Israel stands between tree major powers in the world arena: Russia, the U.S. and Iran.

Russia has strong and stable relations with Israel and Israel is among the rare countries which were absent from the U.N. General Assembly vote not to recognize Crimea’s new status. At the same time, Israel considers Iran one of its greatest enemies, while Iran has softened its rhetoric regarding Israel since the step down of Ahmadinejad. Iran still does regard Israel as the troublemaker of the Middle East, however.

Meanwhile Russia has stable relations with the Iranian government and intensifies its ties with Iran against the background of cold Russia-West relations. However, the Iranian youth is much more favorable towards the U.S. than towards Russia. The U.S. supports Israel, but hardly tolerates Netanyahu’s policy. The U.S. clashes with Russia but cooperates with it in the framework of six-party talks on the Iranian nuclear program.

To read the whole article go to Al Arabiya.


Published in Tribune

The recent Netanyahu’s declaration about the impossibility of the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in current conditions is not a piece of breaking news for those who have been monitoring the situation for certain amount of time. It was clear long ago that Netanyahu’s position is to delay and impede such solution by any means. The recent talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry that took place from January to April of the last year have clearly shown that the Israeli Prime Minister did not like much the situation when Israel was required to make big territorial concessions and liquidate a part of the settlements. It  was considered as unacceptable. And generally, all the proposals of the US side were in fact rejected. Of course the Israeli part is not the only one to blame for the failure of these talks, Palestinians have also done much to bring them to the impasse. But in this case we are speaking about Netanyahu and his recent comment. Why did he need to openly declare his unwillingness to accept this principle? The matter is that the elections are coming in Israel and Netanyahu is in rather difficult situation. So-called left-centrist forces have created a unitied block – it is the Israeli Labor Party and the party of Tzipi Livni. They have united into a so-called Zionist camp – this is a joint voting list with two leaders – Isaac Herzog from the Israeli Labor Party and Tzipi Livni on the first two slots.  And this list goes head to head with Likud according to all the polls, i.e. the last two months showed that Likud does not have any leading positions compared to the so-called left-centrists. And of course Netanyahu has to take steps in such situation in order to attract more votes. Particularly, of course, the votes of right electorate and those who have not decided yet, are at stake. And now, as the idea of creation of the Palestinian state is generally extremely unpopular in the Israeli society, Netanyahu uses this issue to somehow gain additional votes. I believe that the steps taken in his speech on the Iranian nuclear program in the US Congress, that unleashed a massive public outcry in the world and are still highly commented on, are also connected with the situation over the elections. Netanyahu’s main trump card is the international policy – he positions himself as Mr. Security and he can profit much from such issues to overrun his opponents during the elections campaign. That is why the declaration was made now. Moreover, just recently a big article by a well-known Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea was published in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth , telling that during the afore-mentioned negotiations of the last year Israel was supposedly  offered a number of solutions by the US administration that included the return to the lines of 1967, the solution of  Jerusalem problem by partition and, of course, the creation of the Palestinian state, dismantling of some settlements on the territories. And, allegedly, this document has arrived at the Premier’s office and even received a positive assessment. So there was such an article compromising Netanyahu, and now he and his team have to clean themselves by all the possible means from suspicions to be ready to make such colossal concessions. Though, this is to some extent a disinformation, aimed to compromise Netanyahu once again and show that generally he does not deserve the support of the right-nationalist forces that he enjoys now. So this situation has made him finally dot all the i’s and ultimately declare his  positions.

Published in Commentaries

The election campaign in Israel is attracting increasingly more attention with the approach of the election date. The elections of 17 March 2015 are early elections. The government composed of different political parties with Likud and right-wing domination has had a difficult time during the 20 months at power. The war in Gaza, the differences about budget, an attempt to pass a law about the Jewish nature of the state, and finally the recent accusations of corruption against Netanyahu and his wife, will all together influence the upcoming choice of the electorate. However, there are also rather stable factors that benefit the right. Nevertheless, the centrist-left block has started gaining points, having virtually reached Likud. Currently the right-wing Likud block led by Benjamin Netanyahu and its opponent Zionist Camp block with Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni at the head receive approximately the same amount of votes according to the preliminary estimations. For example, the survey by Haaretz newspaper made in the beginning of February 2015 shows that Likud can receive 25 seats in Knesset, just two more than the Zionist Camp. Such slight divide between the main contenders indicates that the final voting results may favor any party. The main question is who will have more chances to create a coalition in case of victory.

Much will depend on the ability of centrists and left to increase their support by attracting a part of right electorate – the name of their block (“Zionist Camp”) is definitely aimed at a more ideologized Israeli audience. Netanyahu has deliberately made his political opponents act fast by announcing the snap elections in order to seize the initiative. Both right and left forces have issues here. The case is that the programs of both blocks are rather parallel than competitive. The left focus on social aspects, what is for sure important for the electorate, though their hopes concerning security are traditionally connected with Likud. The Israeli Jews clearly distinguish between personal and state security. While the state security has increased due to the chaos and destabilization in the Arab world, the issue of personal security becomes sharper as the threat of terrorism increases. Cognitive dissonance is natural for the Jewish population of Israel and it directly influences on the political choice of the electorate. On the one hand Israel is the most powerful and efficient in the military domain state in the Middle East. On the other – lives of Jews are still threatened not only in the Middle East but also even in the calm and secure Europe. So the surprising unanimity among the electorate on the success of the previous government and their readiness to see Netanyahu as a Prime Minister again. In the end of January 65% of the respondents expressed their discontent with Netanyahu’s policy as a Prime Minister. The same people stated that he is likely to become the PM once again. However, only 30% really wish him to get into office again. It is of course not much, but Isaac Herzog has even less chances to obtain this post – only 11% consider him a suitable candidate.

Thus, both centrists and left besides the social-economic agenda have to focus much on the settlement of the Palestinian problem, some new ideas of increase of cooperation with several Arab countries, mainly with Egypt and Jordan, in the security domain.

Coalition of centrists and leftish forces, according to its partisans, could come out for the relaunch of the negotiations with the Palestinians, freezing of settlements, dialogue with Arab states on the basis of the Arab initiative, for search of decisions for Gaza together with Egypt and Jordan. When it comes to the security, both the right and the left speak about the same – Islamic terrorism, Iran, etc., but they have different means. For example the left believe that the Iranian problem should be resolved together with the US, and that the Palestinian problem should be solved in order to fight ISIS together with Arabs. The occupation is sacred for the right. And they will do anything to preserve the settlements, hence, the military presence.

How can the present Israeli society be characterized? First of all it remains fragmentized. According to Israeli researchers, there is an escalating conflict of two peoples within the Jewish population of Israel. The number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) is constantly growing. Coming from poor uneducated layers from small towns, they are very conservative. They prefer that all the life in Israel is regulated by religious norms. The post-modern society is composed of the representatives of educated class, inhabitants of large cities. These two parts of Jewish people have different priorities, views and perceptions. The Orthodox Jews do not care about the peace process and do not need it, and they stay in the reserve for right and religious parties, and what is more they benefit from their demographics.

Finally, the right can also be backed by the important part of ex-Soviet immigrants. They are pro powerful state, decisiveness and toughness in politics, and they associate it with the right. Moreover, they have preserved a genetic repulsion to socialism.

The voting activity also plays a certain role. Generally a high turnout is typical of Israel, but it is not evenly distributed. Among Haredim and religious Jews it is 95%, 85% among the settlers and is not more than 70% among the city dwellers. So, the rights have better chances.

And yet, taking into consideration that both blocks claim virtually the same amount of votes, there is a question whether a viable government can be created. In case of victory both Likud and Zionist Union will get opportunity to create a narrow coalition government, i.e. either a right narrow government or a centrist-left one. Such governments are unstable and it will be difficult for them to pass important decisions through Knesset. Moreover, creating a narrow coalition Netanyahu will also face his political opponents, primarily with Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu and Moshe Kahlon, who left Likud and created his own Kulanu party in November 2014. It can be very challenging to negotiate with them during the creation of a narrow coalition.

For Herzog and Livni a narrow coalition means even less stability and more vulnerability of the government than the right one. It is unclear whether they will be able to create such a coalition or after fruitless attempts they will have to pass this right to Likud according with the Israeli legislation.

Quite possibly, a government of wide coalition could be a decision for both blocks. As some Israeli observers believe, Netanyahu was not always a successful Prime Minister, but he can be a trustful partner. Finally, a government of wide coalition based on both blocks may allow to cut off the most uncompromising ultra-right, what would generally correspond to the Israeli national interests.

Text in Russian is available here (published by MGIMO-University)

Published in Tribune

I suppose there are several interesting aspects of the elections in Tunisia that took place last Sunday and the results of which are already known.

The first aspect to be mentioned concerns the turnout. The electoral body in Tunisia is over 8 million people and a bit more than 5 million were registered as voters.  This is 900 thousand more than in 2011 and, from my opinion, that witnesses the growth of the election committee’s (ISIE) professionalism, which did a great job this summer. At the same time the declared turnout of 61,8%, which is often praised as a very high, in reality includes only registered electors and is about 3 million people. In 2011 the number of people who attended the elections did not differ much from the registered electors lists. I believe it means that during the past three years the society got disillusioned about the institute of elections itself, in the institute of the political parties. Regardless of the composition of the parliament and of attitude towards the results of the elections, the parliament will have rather low electoral legitimacy – about 20-25% of the population. The main issue of the next several years for the parties is to gain the votes of 3-4 million people, who have not attended the polling stations. There will be a struggle for them. They will have to be attracted. It was the first important aspect.

The second one is that Ennahda has got 27,79% of the votes, i.e. 800 thousand people voted for the Islamists. 800 thousand of votes are the electorate of this Islamist party as we – me, and many of my Tunisian colleagues, estimated it. I would say that those, who voted for Ennahda now are the same people who voted for it in 2011, as they wanted the Islamists to come into power, to be elected, not because of the fact that the Islamists are those poor guys who had been severely suffering during Ben Ali rule. These 800,000 people will always vote for Ennahda. They form its loyal and stable electorate. It should be specially noted that having obtained these votes Ennahda has performed greatly as it was conducting the campaign in generally disadvantageous conditions. It is true that it had three years and that it has not shown its worth during the governments of Hamadi Jebali and Ali Larayedh. No doubt, that it has repulsed a part of electorate in 2011-2013. And during the last several months we witnessed an active Anti-Islamist campaign. The technocratic government did not support Ennahda, and the party was blamed for the deterioration of the security situation in the country.

The party, having taken the second place, will have an important say in the parliament on the one hand, and it can get much more on the future elections on the other. But in order to get more votes during the next elections, it should move from general slogans, enough populist, and talk about values to the talk about the real problems of the society: salaries, unemployment, etc. There is no problem of Islamic values either within the social-economic space of the country, or in its political space. Or, at least, the importance of this problem is much exaggerated.

We do not speak about any other Arab country in terms of the complexity of parliament and the possibilities for coalitions. At long last there is an Arab country that, I hope, will be developing in conformity with democratic laws provided that everything goes well.

In general, I am glad that Ennahda has got 27,79%. It would be a catastrophe if it had got 10%. Because it would mean the Egyptian scenario and the falsification of the elections. The Arab society has a stable electorate who will always vote for Islamists.

At the same time I would be very disappointed if the party had gained 50% on the elections, though it was possible. Ennahda will always have a more disciplined electorate than the other parties. And let’s imagine that all Ennahda’s electorate comes to vote and the turnout is 30%. This would have meant an Islamist parliament. This would have also been a catastrophe. It was avoided here. But there is nothing to be excited about; the situation is very fragile and complex. The loss of Islamists is not only a loss of Ennahda – it is a result of a global situation in the region. Ennahda is an Islamist party. And its reputation is suffering of what is happening in the other countries of the region. During the last year what is happening is very disappointing. First of all this is an ominous shadow of Islamic State. Whatever is the attitude of the Ennahda memebers towards the Islamic State, and this attitude may be negative as well, they will still have to suffer the reputational costs.

Now about the Nidaa Tunès party, which took the first place. The leaders of this party had been speaking about their future victory since January. However, not only the party’s leaders had been predicting its victory, but also the analysts favorable for this party. In the result the party got 37,58%, which corresponds to approximately 1.2 million people. It is 300 thousand less than the Islamist received in 2011. At the same time, within this 1.2 million there are those who voted for this party only because it is not an Islamist one, but a kind of liberal alternative. But there is also a part of electorate who voted for this party because it is associated with Bourguiba, with the refusal from revolutionary rapid changes.

I do not agree with the pompous words that characterize the elections as a victory of the revolution. We can call whatever we like “a victory of a revolution”. But there is a considerable part of people who voted for Nidaa Tunès as for an instrument to return to the prerevolutionary stability. So, essentially, this part of Nidaa Tunès electorate sees in Nidaa Tunès a kind of collective analog of Egyptian As-Sisi. It is very hard to how many in these 37,5% those who share this aspirations and those with liberal aspirations. But it is quiet clear that if Ennahda has succeeded in structuring and consolidating its electorate, in the case of Nidaa Tunès the electorate is very heterogeneous. In general, Nidaa Tunès confront with difficulties connected with the internal friability of the party, with the multidirectional nature of different fractions within the party’s governing body  – all this is still present, though. I would even say, that there is a possibility that Nidaa Tunès may not participate in the next elections despite its present victory.

The third important aspect, which should become a very alarming sign for all the smaller parties, is that CPR and Ettakatol have received the minimal number of votes. These parties were Ennahda’s allies in the power-sharing Troika. They took second and third places on the last elections. Their failure and their de facto collapse that had been happening during these three years show that no one should become a junior partner in a coalition during such difficult periods. The junior coalition partner is always to loose. This shows that it is dangerous to create the coalitions in the current Tunisian conditions. These parties have suffered from the loss of Ennahda, from the dismissal of two governments, etc. even more than the Islamists themselves.

The 3.64% percent got by the Popular Front is also typical. This is an extreme left party, communists. 3.64% they got belong to them. It is exactly those voters who share their ideology.

The situation is just the opposite in case of the Free Patriotic Union. I would say this party took place once held by al-Aridha in 2011. This place is of a populist party with a strong leader whose personality and whose media and financial resources are a major key to the success of the party. The UPL’s leader – Slim Riahi – is the owner of the super-popular Tunisian football team Club Africain.   

Furthermore, the distribution of the votes in the regions is noteworthy either, showing that the Islamist ideas are popular in the poor, poorly modernized regions of the country (South), in the central regions the parity between the Islamists and secular forces is maintained between them and in the coastal zone and on the North the secular ideology of Nidaa Tunès is having a commanding lead.

It is also very important that, if Ennahda got 69 seats in parliament and others Nudaa Tunès got 85 seats, then the difference between them is only 16 deputy seats. It is not so much. This means that nobody will have a decisive set of voices in the parliament. And this means that the smaller parties have a chance to gain a particular importance.

Well, this will be a complex parliament.

But the main conclusion to make is that to a certain extent we can talk about the victory of democracy.

We do not speak about any other Arab country in terms of the complexity of parliament and the possibilities for coalitions. At long last there is an Arab country that, I hope, will be developing in conformity with democratic laws provided that everything goes well. And if all goes well, the next elections will be attended by 5 millions voters instead of three. That will greatly increase the legitimacy of power.

Published in Commentaries