May 17, 1999
|MARGARET WARNER: For more on today's outcome, we turn to Yitshak Ben-Horin, the Washington bureau chief for the Israeli newspaper, Maariv; Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East policy -- he just returned from a three- month visit to Israel; and Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. He covered Israel and the Middle East for the "Times" during the 1980's, winning two Pulitzer Prizes. His latest book is The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. Yitshak Ben-Horin, how do you explain these stunning results, this huge margin?|
|The second Russian revolution.|
YITSHAK BEN HORIN, Maariv Newspaper: First of all, I don't think that anybody can really right now in the middle of the Russian revolution, second Russian revolution can really estimated on what happened. And what I can say this election not like the previous ones, that basically it was about peace and security. This one was on the character of the prime minister of Israel, and the second one was the secular Russian immigrants that make this revolution happen that now they fall out of balance of power, the religious party. That's basically about it.
MARGARET WARNER: Tom Friedman, do you basically agree this is a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu and his character?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, New York Times: I think it was, but I it is something more, Margaret. I think this election is broadly about two things. I think it's a statement by the majority in Israel that they want to move on with the peace process. They want to get on with it. And they want a serious peace process, led by someone who is not going to give things away or give things away easily, but who will not go out to create obstacles. And when the process meets obstacles, he will try to solve them, not to build them. I think that's really what they want. And I think other thing is that it is about a reapportioning of the pie inside. Again, it's the majority with a key swing vote by the Russians saying that from now on we want money to be apportioned, not by some tiny majority in the West Bank or the ultra orthodox. They should get their share, but not more than their share. And there should be real proportionality for the majority secular Israelis.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it, Rob Satloff, in terms of the size of this victory?
ROBERT SATLOFF, Washington Institute for Near East Policy: I think the victory was mostly because the Israelis didn't want Netanyahu to lead them any longer. I think it was primarily a referendum on him. Netanyahu came into power in 1996 by forging a coalition of all the disparate groups, Russians, Jews from the Middle East, the underclass, the people who feel downtrodden, the anti-elite.
He couldn't keep that coalition intact while in government. It came apart. And the coalition split and splintered, precisely because they all wanted a larger piece of the pie. I would disagree slightly with Tom. For the last three months, I didn't hear a single debate really in Israel about the peace process. This wasn't over foreign issues, security issues. There really is a great legacy that Netanyahu does leave, which is a national consensus on how to make peace.
Labor and Likud today are closer than they've ever been before on the need to make peace with security; concessions, yes, but security-mind positions at the same time. This election was over the person and the leadership of Netanyahu and what he did and didn't provide.
MARGARET WARNER: Tom, would you want to respond on that point about really how important -
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I think it was about his character, what he did and didn't provide, though, I think was a sense that he was really committed to taking this peace process to its final conclusion and could put it together. I don't think you can say it was about his leadership but it wasn't about the peace process. It's about his leadership about what? I think is a sense that people want to move on with it.
I couldn't agree more that Netanyahu broke down the wall between labor and Likud on the security issue. I've written this myself. But having broken down that wall and really helped forge a sort of core in the center, a majority for Oslo, he wasn't really ready to lead that core to its final conclusion, and I think that is part of this vote.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
|The failure of Mr. Netanyahu's campaign.|
YITSHAK BEN HORIN: Netanyahu try hardly to push forward the issue of security -- try to tell the Israeli people that Barak will divide Jerusalem, try to tell them that with Barak they will give back more territories for less. The Israelis didn't buy it because eventually they know Barak. Barak is the most decorated Israeli soldier. He was the chief of staff.
He was the guy that posing to a woman in '73 went to Beirut to kill the assassination of the Israeli sportsman in the Munich Olympics. He was the one who operated the rescue of Israel in Entebbe. So nobody believed that Barak is going to give up very easily on land.
MARGARET WARNER: So Rob Satloff, is it fair so say that some of the things that worked for Netanyahu in '96 just didn't work this time?
ROBERT SATLOFF: That's right. Netanyahu ran a brilliant campaign in '96 as an opponent -- as running for from the outside.
MARGARET WARNER: And bringing together other outsiders.
ROBERT SATLOFF: Bringing together everybody on the outside. The problem is he didn't so a good record to run on as the incumbent. You can't run as an incumbent on fear. You have to run on achievement. And he tried to rehash the same campaign in '96, and it didn't work anymore because people wanted -- what have you done for me lately?
And lately unemployment is up, the peace process is stalled, the economy is stalled, and he had no record to run on in the last six to 12 months.
MARGARET WARNER: So Tom Friedman, what do you think people thought they were voting for in Ehud Barak?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I think they certainly don't think they're voting for a dove. I don't think this man, Ehud Barak, I don't think he's doing -- I think he's going to be a serious, tough, negotiator, but I think they were voting for again I would say two things, someone who really will be committed to taking this peace process as far as it can go, and who knows how much farther it can go, whether it will achieve the conclusion.
But I think he will be seriously committed to it. And I think he will be seriously committed to reslicing the Israeli pie and no longer hostaging, you know, inordinately-sized pieces for an ultra orthodox and ultra nationalist minority.
ROBERT SATLOFF: Just on this last point, it's very interesting to look at the parliamentary results, because the two parties that made the biggest jumps in their votes were the two parties at loggerheads over the issue of secular and religious. Out of nowhere, a party that had -- that stands only for anti-clericalism now has six seats.
And a party that is the most clerical party, the Sephardic Ultra Orthodox Shas Party now goes up to 15 seats, almost as many as the Likud itself. It's absolutely remarkable. The two at the loggerheads of the secular-religious divide both boost, and the Likud, the governing party virtually collapsed -- less than 20 seats. Now they're truly out in the wilderness for a period of time.
MARGARET WARNER: How important do you think this secular-religious divide was in these results, and why has it become a of growing importance?
|The secular-religious divide.|
YITSHAK BEN HORIN: Imagine all the British islands, 50 million people in ten years, in a decade coming and spreading all across America. It would change the American politics all over. That's what happened in Israel. One million Russians in one decade came to Israel, thus, they're in a way on security issues, they're more Likud guys, they're Republicans.
MARGARET WARNER: Which is why they went heavily for Netanyahu in '96.
YITSHAK BEN HORIN: Yes. And another thing, four buses explode in downtown Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That was the brilliant Netanyahu campaign. What happened now that those Russians toughen on security, but they come up with the conclusion that Barak also, as Israeli soldiers, can do the job, as well. But for the other end, there are more labor, more democrats on civic issue of secular and the religious.
That's the reason it's come out in one point of the election, one Russian party put out a slogan about the entire internal ministry -- Shas control, nyet - nash [ph]control -- which means no Shas will control - - we control the internal ministry. And that's all about the election.
MARGARET WARNER: Tom, you've been writing about this divide for a long time. Do you think it's more pronounced now?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: The secular-religious divide?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: There's no question about it for several reasons. One is simply the rise in numbers of the religious communities in Israel.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain briefly what you mean in terms of what their agenda is. I don't mean a 12-point program, but what, they want the state run as a theocracy?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I mean, I think that would be their ultimate dream maybe, but I think in realistic terms, they really want to use the state's resources to support their schools and institutions as much as possible. I don't think they have too many illusions that the state of Israel will be run as a theocracy, but they certainly want it, as I say to draw on its resources.
It's also been sharpened, Margaret, because as the walls around Israel have fallen, as Israel has integrated into the Arab world and into the Middle East, it's meant an influx of everything from 500 cable stations to smut pornography, pizza hut and McDonald's and cable television.
And as a result, there is a deep concern among the ultra orthodox not wholly without cause, that as Israel integrates into the Middle East, what if what happens to Israeli Jews is what happens to American Jews when they assimilated into America, and I think there has been a concern within other religious communities of -- you know -- when these walls fall, what's going to happen to us? And that has, I think, sharpened their own desire to put up some internal walls. So you have got both the regional and international factors as well as simply the local ones working.
MARGARET WARNER: And Rob Satloff, you got back yesterday. What was the tenor of this campaign is this there's been a lot of discussion about American political consultants were heavily involved for Mr. Netanyahu and for Ehud Barak. Did it make a difference? How?
ROBERT SATLOFF: Well, it's sort of sad to say. The two candidates succeeded in creating an issue-free campaign. It was almost totally personality driven. Two months ago they stopped talking in any serious way about Lebanon, about future relations with the Palestinians, about relations, strategic ties with the United States.
And this goes equally for Barak and Netanyahu. The last two months have been almost totally about wooing the Russian vote through appeals to Russian nationalism, through every candidate going to Moscow. It used to be you had to go to Washington to get a picture with the president. In this campaign, you went to get a picture with Primakov.
It was remarkable. And there was the Sephardic, Middle Eastern-Jew, Russian divide -- very slick media consultants. You could see very slick media campaigns every night on television, but the level of discourse had really gone down. Ironically, only the fringe candidates, the far right candidate, Benny Begin, and the far left candidate, the Arab candidate injected ideas into this campaign because Israelis are now thinking about more basic issues like apportioning the pie than big picture issues like the future relations with the Palestinians.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you agree, kind of a debased political debate?
YITSHAK BEN HORIN: Talking about --
MARGARET WARNER: This current campaign?
YITSHAK BEN HORIN: Talking about American influence, for me, in a way, maybe Netanyahu is a kind of a Richard Nixon guy, a -- guy, well-educated, but self-destructive, paranoia. He distance every talented guy from himself and a lot of lies - for my country.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you gentlemen all three very much.