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March 27, 2006 - Vol. 7, Issue 34

Into The Homestretch: With Israeli voters casting ballots tomorrow, the opinion polls are generally projecting a decline in support (but still a victory) for Kadima, a strong showing for Labor and the right, and a large amount of apathy-but results vary widely between polls.

Into The Homestretch: With Israeli voters casting ballots tomorrow, the opinion polls are generally projecting a decline in support (but still a victory) for Kadima, a strong showing for Labor and the right, and a large amount of apathy-but results vary widely between polls. The Dialog/Ha'aretz/Channel 10 survey found that in the race for the 120-seat Knesset (with changes to previous results in parentheses), Kadima will win 36 seats, Labor 18 (+1), Likud 14 , Shas 11, Meretz-Yahad 6, Balad 2 (-2), Hadash 2, United Arab List-Arab Movement for Renewal (UAL/AMR) 4, Yisrael Beiteinu 7 (-2), National Union-National Religious Party (NU-NRP) 12 (+3), United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 6, and the Pensioners Party 2. People who have not yet decided which party to support rose to 28 seats (+10). According to the Smith/Jerusalem Post survey, Kadima will take 33-34 seats (-1), Labor 20-21, and Likud 14. The Teleseker/Ma'ariv poll gave Kadima 34 seats (-3), Labor 17 (-4), Likud 14, NU-NRP 11, Yisrael Beiteinu 12 (+2), Shas 12 (+3), Meretz-Yahad 5, Balad 4-5, Hadash 3-4, UAL/AMR 0-2, UTJ 5-6, and Pensioners Party 0-2. The estimated voter turnout in this survey was 65%. The Dahaf/Yedioth Ahronoth survey had Kadima at 34 (-2), Labor 21, Likud 13 (-1), NU-NRP 9, Yisrael Beiteinu 12 (+1), Shas 11, the Arab parties 7, Meretz-Yahad 5 (-1), Hadash 3, UAL/AMR 2, Balad 2, UTJ 6 (+1), and Pensioners Party 2. The estimated voter turnout in this survey was 66%. Finally, the Maagar Mochot/Mishal Cham poll put Kadima at 34 seats, Labor 19, Likud 12, Shas 8, the Arab parties 7, Meretz-Yahad 6, NU-NRP 8, Yisrael Beiteinu 15, UTJ 7, and the Pensioners Party 2.

An exception to the anticipated low voter turnout may be the Israeli Arab sector. A survey in Kul al-Arab said that 69% of Israeli Arabs will vote tomorrow, which could increase the strength of Arab parties in the next Knesset, particularly if Israeli Jews stay home as expected. Despite the feast of numbers to which Israelis have been treated over the past few months, pollsters caution that several things could skew their projections: absentee voters (most people won't admit that they don't intend to vote); floating voters (20-25 seats will be determined by these voters and experts are uncertain that they know how to project their behavior); cellphone voters (Israelis, especially young ones, who lack land lines and can only be reached on cellphones are not counted); flexible voters (up to 20% of respondents say they may change their minds on election day); and refusenik voters (only 30% of Israelis agree to answer survey questions). (Ha'aretz, 3/24 & 26/06; Jerusalem Post, 3/26/06; Ma'ariv, 3/26/06; Yedioth Ahronoth, 3/24 & 26/06; & IMRA, 3/26/06)

We Distort, You Deride: For those who care passionately about apathy, the One Voice movement held a poll among young Israelis and found that just 44% intend to cast ballots tomorrow. Israeli youth have lost confidence in the political establishment, and one of the main reasons is the way politicians are portrayed on a popular TV satire show called, A Wonderful County. A shocking number of Israeli youth (20%) say that A Wonderful Country is their main source of information about politicians. One Voice decided to fight fire with fire, and got the stars of the show, Eyal Kitzis and Tal Friedman, to tape a public service announcement encouraging Israelis to vote. "I was amazed to hear the results of the poll," said Kitzis. "There is no doubt that the young people receive a distorted picture of the whole thing. I suggest that they snap out of the daydream they are in because of the show, and go to vote." (Ma'ariv-NRG, 3/20/06)

A House Divided: In a sad note about Jewish-Arab relations and the elections, Kadima opted not to place an Arab candidate in a realistic slot on its Knesset list after a poll found that such a move would cost it 5-7 Knesset seats, and any Arab votes it gained as a result would not make up the loss. Given the general attitudes of Israeli Jews towards their Arab brethren, no one should be surprised. According to a Geocartographia survey conducted for the Center for the Struggle Against Racism that was released last week, 68% of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same apartment building as an Israeli Arab, while 26% would do so. 46% of Israeli Jews would refuse to allow an Arab to visit their home, while 50% would welcome an Arab visitor. 41% of Israeli Jews support the segregation of Jews and Arabs in places of recreation, compared with 52% who would oppose such a move. Support for segregation was higher with lower income and religiously observant Israeli Jews, as well as with Jews of Middle Eastern origin. 40% of Israeli Jews believe "the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens," while 52% do not. 34% of Israeli Jews agree that "Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture," but 57% do not agree with the statement.

The Jewish-Arab divide isn't the only sign that some Israelis have lost that lovin' feeling on the eve of elections. A new survey of settlers from the Benjamin Regional Council indicates that two-thirds of settlers are disappointed and angry with the state, the army, and the police. 71% of settler teens declared that there is no one they will obey in time of struggle. 56% of respondents gave failing or severely failing grades to the National Union and National Religious Parties for their performance in opposing disengagement, while 49% think settler leaders have also failed. 88% of settlers expressed a lack of confidence in the Supreme Court, 80% do not believe in the police, and 29% have no confidence in the army. Over a third of settlers describe their attitude towards Israelis in cities inside the Green Line as "complete lack of confidence" or "lack of confidence." Just a quarter of them trust Israelis inside the Green Line, and another third define their attitude as "so so." (Ha'aretz, 3/22/06 & Yedioth Ahronoth, 3/20/06)

Political Parfait: Yaron London offered a few pre-election observations on what the current campaign says about Israeli politics in 2006, writing, "In a conversation with Nahum Barnea, Amir Peretz took credit for shattering the tribal patterns of voting. He said that the `second Israel'-which, judging by its economic interests, would be best served by voting for the Labor Party, but used to give its votes to its right-wing rival-is streaming into its `natural place,' and coming to his party. It will only be possible to carry out precise analyses after the elections, but it appears that Peretz is correct to say that he has made a change. The problem is that those who have joined his party are balanced out by those who have left it: while many from the `second Israel' have joined his party's supporters, about seven seats worth of supporters have left it. Those who have left belong to the affluent, mainly Ashkenazi socioeconomic sector. The detraction of their votes explains the fact that the Labor Party only receives one or two seats more than in the previous elections in the polls. The result is that the sectarian affiliation is slightly different from in the past, but the politics of identity have not disappeared.

"This fact is also indicated by an examination of all the other parties where the supporters are defined by an ethnic characteristic, a particular area of residence, a certain level of income, a similar level of education, or a similar type of religious belief. The distinctiveness is particularly evident in the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties, in Shas, in Meretz and in the three parties that are mostly supported by Arabs. The National Union is a party of a clear national-religious nature, whereas Yisrael Beiteinu hopes to obtain only one quarter of its votes from people who are not Russian-speaking new immigrants. Moreover, if Kadima has taken ten seats from Shinui and seven from the Labor Party, then even this party is marked by a tribal imprint. Those who join it from the left and center sectors of the political spectrum are mainly middle class Ashkenazim, and it can be conjectured that most of those who have joined Kadima from Likud are also characterized by these traits. In the socioeconomic sense, Kadima is an expanded and toned-down Shinui.

"It can be presumed that these voting patterns will accompany us for many years to come. Since Israeli society has disassociated itself from the idea of the `melting pot,' established separate education systems, and adopted diversity and distinctiveness, not only in practice but also as a guiding principle-it has accepted the fact that it is a federation of tribes. We can derive comfort from the fact that in these elections, the tribes are acting with heartening moderation. The parties' campaign managers are refraining from fueling ethnic and religious rivalries. It is possible we have learned to live alongside one another, while accepting our diversity.

"Two parties have surprised the political experts with their strength: Yisrael Beiteinu and Green Leaf. The first is predicted to be the fourth largest faction in the Knesset, and the second is expected to approach the electoral threshold. Yisrael Beiteinu is similar, to some degree, to Shinui, as this party appeared in the previous election campaign. Like Shinui, Yisrael Beiteinu is also based on a charismatic leader and arousing fear against another sector of the population. Shinui was based on the fear of the Mizrahi Haredim, and Yisrael Beiteinu is based on the dread of Israel's Arab citizens. Lieberman proposes a formula to reduce their number, and his tidings fall on the attentive ears of new immigrants, who are not familiar with Israel and believe Umm el-Fahm to be a kind of Chechnya. The relative success of Green Leaf is even more worrying, for it attests to the fact that tens of thousands of young people are detached from the main issues of society, and are willing to support a party whose platform is mainly based on a permit to smoke pot. It is sad to see that fear, ignorance, admiration of a `strong man,' and escapism can win about 12 seats." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 3/22/06)

Peace Now Forces State To Explain Settlement Policies: The Israeli High Court of Justice gave the state 30 days to explain why houses built illegally in the Matityahu East neighborhood of the Modi'in Illit settlement should not be demolished. Justices Aharon Barak, Eliezer Rivlin, and Ayala Procaccia also ordered the state to explain why a criminal investigation should not be opened against those responsible for issuing the illegal building permits. The order was issued against Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, West Bank district police chief Yisrael Yitzhak, the Civil Administration, the planning commission for the territories, and the local council of Modi'in Illit. It was issued in response to a petition from the Israeli Peace Now movement, demanding a halt to illegal construction in the neighborhood, which was built on lands belonging to the Palestinian villagers of Bilin to the east.

The court also upheld an interim injunction barring continued construction both on houses built without permits and on those built with illegal permits. In addition, it rejected the state's proposal that tenants whose houses have been completed be allowed to occupy them. At an earlier hearing, the justices suggested that the construction companies reimburse any tenants who had purchased the illicit apartments in the project. About 750 housing units are currently under various stages of construction, out of about 3,000 units planned. "The Matityahu East affair is the most extensive violation of planning laws in the West Bank that has been discovered to date," Peace Now's attorney, Michael Sfard, said. "At Amona, we asked that nine houses be demolished. Here, we're talking about close to 500. This will be a test of whether the State of Israel is capable of dealing with its offenders." (Ha'aretz, 3/21/06)

Koshering The Swine: There is increasing speculation about what Israel may or may not do in the occupied territories after the elections, assuming that Kadima wins. For example, senior Israeli officials told the Jerusalem Post that a discussion is underway of a plan to "legalize" some illegal settlement outposts if they fall inside the settlement blocs that Israel wants to keep and if the outposts themselves meet certain criteria. According to the officials, these criteria include that the outposts serve a clear security need, that they were built on state land and not private Arab land, that they fall within the mother settlement's master plan, and that they are in areas that Israel intends to retain. The "outpost plan" was first brought to the Defense Ministry by the IDF in an attempt to appease the settlers and to strengthen the official settler leadership, which has been weakened by the recent demolition of nine illegal homes in the unauthorized outpost of Amona and the failure to stop last summer's disengagement. The plan entails evacuating close to 15 illegal outposts, but providing retroactive kashrut certificates for another ten.

Outposts that are today considered illegal which could fall under the plan include Nof Kana and Alonei Shilo near the settlement of Karnei Shomron, along with outposts near the settlements of Ofra and Beit El (depending on the future of their mother settlements). Israeli diplomatic officials said no consultations on this matter have been held with the U.S., which wants that the outposts set up after Ariel Sharon formed his first government be dismantled, as required under the Road Map. Israel says that 24 outposts fall into this category, while the Israeli Peace Now movement puts the number at over 50. The assumption, however, is that there would be room to talk to the U.S. about this if some of the other illegal outposts established prior to March 2001 and are not in areas considered major settlement blocs were to be dismantled.

In related news, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said it is still unclear how Israel would handle its military presence in the West Bank after another round of settlement evacuation. He said it was still undecided whether Israel would leave bases in the evacuated areas, but whatever the decision is, Israel would continue to operate in those areas. "The plan is based on holding on to the settlement blocs and keeping the right to operate militarily anywhere we want," he said. "How we do that and whether it will include one or two bases or no bases at all, we don't yet know." (Jerusalem Post, 3/21/06)

Israelis Willing To Make Jerusalem Concessions: A recently released survey from the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies found that 63% of Israelis agree that concessions be made in Jerusalem in the context of a true peace with the Palestinians. According to the poll, 54% of Israelis are prepared to give up Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but not the Old City, the Jewish Quarter, or the Western Wall. However, 75% of those who are agreeable to concessions do not believe that it is possible to achieve peace with the Palestinians. 35% do not agree to any concessions regarding Jerusalem. Those who describe themselves as traditional and secular tend more to agree to concessions in the city, in contrast to those who identify themselves as religious or Haredi. The institute's director, Ora Ahimeir, said that since the 2003 elections, a substantial change has taken place in public opinion regarding Jerusalem. She said that in the past, there was almost complete consensus regarding opposition to any type of compromise in the city, and today Israelis are more disposed toward concessions and changes of borders in the city.

The Jerusalem Institute also hosted a debate of political party representatives to flesh out their views on the future of the city. Othniel Schneller-a religious dove, former secretary-general of the Settlers Council, and a Kadima candidate-told the audience that Kadima intends to maintain Israeli sovereignty over "historical" Jerusalem (which he defined as all the Jewish neighborhoods and the Old City). However, many of the outlying Arab neighborhoods would be ceded to the Palestinians and serve as a capital of their future state. He listed Kafr Akab, A-Ram, Shuafat, Hizmeh, Abu Dis, A-Zayim, and A-Tur as not being part of Jewish Jerusalem. (Ma'ariv-NRG, 3/22/06 & Jerusalem Post, 3/23/06)

Port In A Storm: Unofficially, the closing of the Karni crossing into Gaza is perceived by all sides as a punishment that Israel has imposed on the Palestinians for the Hamas victory in the elections, and as a first stage on the way to complete Israeli economic detachment from Gaza. Off the record, many senior Israeli security officials admit that they believe that in light of the reality created in Gaza after disengagement, and after the victory of Hamas, there is no choice but to create complete economic separation between Gaza and Israeli territory and the West Bank. The recommendation of the security establishment is to begin the final detachment from Gaza, including from the economic standpoint.

Not all Israelis agree with this approach. "For many years, the Palestinians have not had direct economic ties with any other country in the world, and they import or export all goods through us," explained economist Professor Jimmy Weinblatt, rector of Ben Gurion University. "It is complete economic symbiosis. The security establishment's idea of creating economic separation between Israel and the Gaza Strip is a terrible mistake, because such detachment will cause a definite strangulation of the Gaza Strip. It also does not make sense to detach from the Gaza Strip as long as they do not have a port and the ability to trade with other countries independently." A senior security official responded that it is impossible to continue to maintain a uniform customs envelope with Gaza when goods freely enter the Strip from Egypt without honoring agreements with Israel. "It is true that the meaning of economic disengagement from Gaza will be that Israel will have to permit the Palestinians to build a port so that they will be able to be an independent economic entity, but there is really no alternative," he conceded. (Ma'ariv, 3/20/06)

Minister Of Terror Coordination: Saeed Seyam, Hamas' choice to oversee three security services in the Palestinian cabinet, said he will not order the arrest of militants carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel. Not only won't militants be arrested, Hamas will try to coordinate their attacks. "Talks with the factions in the future will focus on the mechanisms, the shape, and the timing (of any attacks)," he said. "But the right to defend our people and to confront the aggression is granted and is legitimate." (Reuters, 3/23/06)

Somewhere Over The Green Line: The latest survey of Palestinian attitudes from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found that if elections were held today, Hamas would win 47% of the vote and Fatah would receive just 39%. 37% of Palestinians think that Hamas won the legislative elections primarily because voters want an Islamic Palestinian Authority (PA) that rules according to religious law, while 36% believe that Hamas won because voters primarily want a clean government that fights corruption. 52% of Palestinians think Fatah lost the elections because voters primarily wanted to punish it for the spread of corruption, 19% pointed to the party's division and lack of leadership, and 17% named its failure to prevent anarchy. 68% believe that the PA can't manage without international financial aid and 50% expect that aid to be terminated. Yet 78% believe that Hamas will find alternative Arab and Islamic sources. Despite international pressure, 59% believe Hamas shouldn't recognize Israel and 37% think it should. However, 75% say that Hamas should engage in peace negotiations with Israel, 64% identify themselves as supporters of the peace process, 53% want the new government to implement the Road Map, and 49% want it to collect arms from militant factions. (PSR Press Release, 3/20/06)