An Unsealed Room

What Post-Election Bibi Netanyahu and Tsippi Livni Have In Common With Don Corleone and Tony Soprano

I’ve been struggling for the right analogy to help my American friends understand what goes on in Israel immediately following after an election like yesterday’s, in which the results are anything but conclusive?

How, I’ve been asking myself, do I accurately describe a situation in which nothing is really resolved after the polls closed, the atmosphere of rushed meetings, insider communication, and a process in which the voter feels not at all a participant, but a helpless spectator?

The best I can come up with is a Mafia War. One of those messy ones from classics where the conflicts between multiple families comes to a boil, the domination of the Godfather or bosscurrently controlling the scene is called into question, and on one fateful night, the entire underworld “takes to the mattresses” and the shooting ensues.

When that stops, as any good student of The Godfather, Goodfellas, and the Sopranos knows, it takes time to clear the dust away, bury the dead properly, and count those who are still standing and how much power remains in their hands. Then, the leaders of the remaining families have to gather around tables and over pasta and cigars, determine what the new Mafia world order will be. The new top dog must meet with all of his potential allies, determine which ones are beneficial to ally with, which are better to send off into the wilderness (Miami? Las Vegas?) – who is willing, able and likely to submit to his will and who will stab him in the back.

Right now, that man in Israeli politics appears to be Binyamin Netanyahu. With the votes nearly completely counted, it seems that he is going to be the one to call the shots.

True, technically, Tsippi Livni and the Kadima party edged him out by one vote. But the Israeli voters spoke with a clear and direct voice in the election – everyone took a step to the right. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no – or at least very few – leftists in a country attacked continually by rocket fire.

The Israeli left was decimated by voters who moved to Kadima – both because their political sentiments evolved as well as an attraction to Livni. The Likud lost votes to the further-right alternative offered by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party.

And so the face of the next Israeli government will most likely be determined by Boss Netanyahu, whose Likud family has intertwined history both with Kadima and with Lieberman, both of whom have members of their parties he considers fellow travellers.

If he chooses Kadima, he will have to weather an ego blow. Having garnered more votes than the Likud, Kadima will resist any arrangement in which they are the junior partner, and are likely to demand equality, including an agreement for a rotating premiership. At this point, Likud is ruling that out – or so they say (as in the mafia, you can’t always believe the first response to any offer)

So, wouldn’t a self-respecting macho head of the family choose to put together a further-right coalition with Lieberman and an assortment of smaller party, in which they can call the shots?

Not necessarily.

The clearest problem with this direction is the incompatibility of Lieberman’s crew and the gang from Shas on issues of religion. Shas’s spiritual leaders have spoken out against Lieberman and his Russian immigrant-heavy constituency and their shocking demands for the right to sell and eat pork and shellfish freely in a Jewish state, and allow civil marriage, which currently doesn’t exist. It would be difficult for these two parties to eat at the same table, both literally and figuratively.

Dealing with Lieberman as a government partner in international forums won’t be an easy task either. With a campaign slogan, “No loyalty, no citizenship,” – pointed at the Arab population of Israel – even at home he has been condemned as racist and fascist.

So this is the background that can help one understand the activities with which Israeli party leaders will be occupied today. The day started with Don Bibi setting a meeting with Shas’ Eli Yishai to talk coalition-building – Netanyahu isn’t wasting any time in exploring his options.

There was little sign – and seems little chance of any serious outreach by Livni to the left. In any case, the embattled Meretz and Labor Party families are busy tending to their wounds and burying their dead – and praying that perhaps, as the very last votes are counted, one more Knesset seat might be theirs. Right now, Labor leader Ehud Barak is saying he will not consider joining a Livni-led government and that his party’s proper place is in the opposition. Whether he means it or if he’s just playing hard-to-get in order to get the best deal possible remains to be scene.

The real spotlight is on the meetings the leaders of the large parties are holding with Lieberman – the potential king (or queen) maker – who was expected by the end of the day to have met with his two suitors – Netanyahu and with Livni.

The one scenario in which Netanyahu won’t call the shots is if Lieberman shows a true willingness to go into a coalition with Kadima – and if Kadima decided that keeping Netanyahu out of the government would be worth the previously-stated troubles that Lieberman in the government would cause. This is certainly possible – but seems unlikely.

Still stranger things have happened, and at this point, Avigdor “Yvette” Lieberman is still an enigma to most extrovert Israelis, with his heavy Moldovan accent and reserved manner.

A journalist friend of mine spent the last days of the campaign riding on the bus with Lieberman. At one point she asked him if he had always wanted to go into politics. No, he replied. Growing up in Moldova, he dreamed of being a writer, and even penned numerous plays and short stories.

Israeli voters will have to wait and see what kind of drama he is going to play out for them. As I said earlier, at this point, we are just sitting in the audience, watching the actors we chose put on their show.

Or to go back to my earlier analogy, we, the citizens of Israel, are merely the foot soldiers of the Mafia families.

We’ve cast our votes – shot our bullets. The barrels of our guns are empty. All we can do now is wait for the bosses to decide our fate.