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Herbert A. Opalek: Political mayhem in Israel

Herb Opalek

Israeli politicians are a harried lot. They govern a country surrounded on all sides by larger and richer Arab states and kingdoms.

The joke goes like this; a story is told of an Israeli politician who was riding on the Egged Bus in Jerusalem.

He was reading an Arab newspaper. A friend of his, who happened to be riding on the same bus, noticed this strange phenomenon. Very upset, he approached the newspaper reader.

"Moishe, have you lost your mind? Why are you reading an Arab newspaper?"

Moishe replied, "I used to read the Hebrew newspaper, but what did I find: Jews being persecuted, Israel being attacked, Jews disappearing through assimilation and intermarriage, Israelis living in poverty. So I switched to the Arab newspaper. Now what do I find? Jews own all the banks, Jews control the media, Jews are all rich and powerful, Jews rule the world. This news is so much better!"

Former Sen. George Mitchell's visit to the Middle East has been followed by that of our new secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton's visit has been occasioned, in part, by the recent results of Israel's national elections. Unlike these United States where a majority vote decides who governs; Israel's parliamentary system often confuses those of us unfamiliar with it.

The case in point is that the leftist and liberal Kadima (Forwards!) Party won 28 mandates in the new parliament and the conservative Likud (Union) Party won 27 mandates.

Yet, it was Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party who was called upon to establish the new government. The rationale was that the other conservative and religious parties that won mandates to be in parliament would coalesce around Likud and not around Kadima.

Netanyahu has benefited from an American university education and lived in Philadelphia and Ithaca, N.Y,. with his parents for many years.

He has a keen awareness of the American mind and his areas of expertise are economics and the taxonomy of terrorism -- both subject of great import to the average U.S. citizen.

Despite this background, his political philosophy is diametrically opposed to that of our new president and therein lies the rub.

It is an open secret that the Obama administration would have preferred a government led by the liberal Kadima leader, Tzipi Livni.

Kadima is an advocate of the "solution and wants the PLO government of the West Bank to succeed. The Labor Party, under the leadership of Ehud Barak, former chief of staff of ZaHaL -- the Israeli Armed Forces basically agrees with the Kadima position.

And now comes the mish-mash.

Netanyahu wants a unity government rather than one led by a narrow coalition of conservatives; especially when some of these conservative parties would expel every Palestinian in the land.

He knows that such a coalition would not find favor in the eyes of the West and does not want to be hampered by governmental decisions that give him no political room to maneuver.

The Kadima Party does not want to join a unity government that is so antithetical to its stated platforms. It prefers to sit in the opposition and wait for the conservative government put together by Netanyahu to fail.

Labor also wants to sit in the opposition, but Ehud Barak, himself, wants to join with Likud in a unity government.

The machinations undertaken by him to achieve that goal would put our craftiest U.S. politicians to shame.

Despite being brushed off by every other Labor member of the incoming parliament, Barak wants to take the vote to the rank-and-file membership. Lest that not be sufficient, he has implored the supposedly neutral president of Israel, Shimon Peres, to lobby the party for him.

I have not even mentioned Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Bateynu (Israel is our House) Party.

This Russian immigrant political party would make the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy look good.

His party will be the No. 2 party in the coalition. Most likely he will seek the finance ministry despite the fact that he, himself, is being investigated for financial shenanigans.

Eventually all of these political parties will get their acts together and a new government will rise to the fore. There will be the same challenges of yesterday for them to face and I am assured of this just as I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.

My only question is: Where is the Israeli Karl Rove to straighten all this out?

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday.