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Israeli Election Examined

Aired January 22, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour .

And we have breaking news from Israel, where polls have just closed in what could be the most significant election of recent times. So we're going straight to our Sara Sidner in Tel Aviv who's at the election center for the front-runner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud-Beitenu Party.

Sara, what are the exit polls telling you right now?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you can hear that noise, I can barely, barely hear you, Christiane. They're chanting. I'm going to turn around real quick, just to take a look. Now it looks like at this point in time, the polls are coming in. There is a lot of chanting and it sounds like Likud-Beitenu has done well.

All right. Here we've got it now. Likud-Beitenu, that's Netanyahu's party, they've formed a coalition with the former foreign minister, Mr. Lieberman, they have 31 seats, which means that that they are the winner of tonight's election. Second is Yesh Atid.

Now that is a huge surprise. Yesh Atid, the party was started by an anchorman here, a very popular television anchorman named Yair Lapid. And he has been going after Netanyahu on very specific issues, namely wanting the ultraorthodox to serve in the military. He just started the party just last year. And he now has 19 seats. That is a big upset.

People were expecting him to get somewhere between 12 and 15. Nineteen is a big number. Labor, which was expected to be the party that ended up being the opposition, being the second-largest party to Likud, has now 17 seats. We're seeing this come down just now.

This is breaking news, a big upset here, not with the Likud party necessarily, but it didn't do as well as it thought. That's Netanyahu's party. But with this party that's brand new, that's bringing all sorts of ideas to the table, mainly they are focusing on the middle class here and they want to see the ultraorthodox serve in the military, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

And we will talk about all of this with my next guest. As we've said, this election comes at a time when Israel ponders its very identity as a Jewish state. It comes as it shifts towards the right and towards religious parties in a country that's been essentially secular.

The election falls at a time of unprecedented tension over Iran's nuclear program and at an uncomfortable time in its relationship with its staunchest ally, the United States of America.

Israel appears to be increasingly alienated from its friends in Europe and from its regional neighbors over Palestine. And that was starkly evident during the recent U.N. vote to upgrade Palestinian status.

Into this vacuum, as we've said, have stepped politicians, even further right than Benjamin Netanyahu. And their entire platform is about never having a Palestinian state with Israel simply annexing most of the West Bank. We're going to talk about that with my guest, David Remnick, who's editor of "The New Yorker" magazine, and whose extraordinary interview with the fast-rising right-wing politician, Naftali Bennett, highlights the growing influence of the so-called annexationists.

But first, a quick look at what's coming up later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Is the Israeli peace camp dead? We talked to an architect of the Oslo Accords 20 years later.

And this Oscar nod: a Palestinian's home movie that documents the settlers' growing footprint with five broken cameras.



AMANPOUR: Welcome now to David Remnick of "The New Yorker," and we were going to talk -- and we are -- about the rising right. But this vote for Yair Lapid, 19 seats, is really wow.

DAVID REMNICK, "THE NEW YORKER": It's huge. Yesh Atid, coming in second, comes completely out of the blue.

The last polls showed across Israel, even as recently as a day or two ago, Likud and Labor then Jewish Home headed by Naftali Bennett, clearly ,clearly secular Israelis, people in the center left, were fronted by this, were alarmed by this, were alarmed by Likud itself going -- itself going farther to the right. And Yesh Atid benefited in the polls today.

AMANPOUR: And Yesh Atid, just to be clear, in English, means "there is a future." So perhaps people were very concerned about some of the issues we just raised in my introduction.

REMNICK: But I should say --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) future.

REMNICK: I should say the issues are not the issues that we concentrate on here.

AMANPOUR: Exactly.

REMNICK: The issues that we concentrate on here tend to be Israel- Palestine, Israel-Palestine, all the time, and maybe Iran and foreign policy.

AMANPOUR: And yet none of that came up.

REMNICK: Very slightly. Very slightly. The key statistic in Israeli politics, to understand, is the following. And it's very contradictory -- 65 percent of Israelis are for two nations, Israel and Palestine.

The same high percentage, the same high percentage do not think that anything can happen on that issue anytime soon, do not believe peace is possible because most people now are a generation not of Oslo but of the second intifada, of missiles out of Gaza, of conflict, of a sense that it's impossible to do business with and make a settlement with a bifurcated Palestinian polity.

AMANPOUR: So, David, what do these seats mean? Does Benjamin Netanyahu form an easy government? Who does he go into coalition with? What does it mean?

REMNICK: I wish I had an answer for you on election night, because he could -- he could conceivably with these numbers, form a coalition with Yesh Atid and Labor and Tzipi Livni or something. That would be good news on the Left. That's very hard to conceive because his own party, Likud, has itself moved to the right of even Benjamin Netanyahu in many instances.

A lot of the Likud delegates, a lot of the people that you'll see in the parliament are not just conservative but annexationists, just like people in Jewish Home, who are more religious and who are annexationists. So very complicated political --


AMANPOUR: And that was the focus of your recent amazing in-depth report from Israel just before the elections. And you interviewed Naftali Bennett, of Jewish Home, and perhaps this is a result, as you say, of the fear factor. But he said things like, to you, like, you know, the platform. I will do everything in my power to make sure they, the Palestinians, never get a state, no more illusions.

You know, it is something --

REMNICK: And that's not just the rhetoric of a tiny fringe Right. This is the rhetoric of a big core on the Right, center Right. And it represents a lot of the politics of the settlers and people who are sympathetic with the settlers, who see the settlers as themselves a kind of vanguard of Israeli politics, the way people on the Left from the kibbutzim decades ago used to be.

AMANPOUR: So Yair Lapid has a completely different view of this. I mean, he obviously believes in Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But he believes in withdrawing from the West Bank mostly, except for key Israeli settlements.

REMNICK: He does, but that's not his key issue. And Yair Lapid is the son of a man who had a party called Shinui, which was a completely hardline secularist party. It was all about being secular; the insistence on a secular definition of Zionism.

And now you see an election where there's a real reaction to the attempt to redefine Zionism as a religious -- something that's infused with Jewish values as Naftali Bennett (inaudible).

What you're seeing here is a real domestic cultural political battle.

AMANPOUR: And on this program, we've been exploring that quite a lot. We've explored, you know, the rise of the orthodox, the issue of the draft and of Haredim in the military, the issue of women in public life when it comes to the orthodox.

So what -- again, what does this mean? Does it mean that Yesh Atid will push the agenda further to the center? I mean, as we said, it's kind of a battle for the soul of the Jewish state.

REMNICK: I think on domestic issues, absolutely. Remember, the Haredim, the ultraorthodox are different from the religious nationalists, sorry to make it so complicated, religious nationals wearing a knit kippot or yarmulke, the Haredim in black hats and payis and all the rest.

A lot of the Haredim didn't take part in politics at all for decades. They kept to themselves. Some of them were even anti-Zionist, believing that you should not have redemption mix in with politics.

So all this is extraordinarily complicated. And Netanyahu has been afraid to push the Haredim into military service and into work and all the rest. But obviously, Yesh Atid is the party bringing this issue much more to the fore that it had been even yesterday.

AMANPOUR: Now we've said that Iran wasn't a factor in the election. Palestine may not have been, but it is something that the neighbors, Europe, the United States, looks at very, very --

REMNICK: It can't -- it can never be invisible.

AMANPOUR: Exactly.

REMNICK: After all, Palestine is right there.

AMANPOUR: So what does --

REMNICK: It's right there.

AMANPOUR: -- what does this result say to the United States or to Europeans? Does it say, wow, perhaps we can revive the idea of negotiations? Perhaps it's going to force Prime Minister Netanyahu to a different place than he's been for the last several years of his prime ministership?

REMNICK: No, I don't think -- I don't think Bibi Netanyahu, on his own, is going to make a great gesture toward the Palestinians.

Everybody on the Left, center Left, feels that the only way that Israel is going to make this motion, let alone the Palestinians, which is another issue, is with enormous -- with an enormous push from the United States, particularly the United States, not Europe. (Inaudible) United States.

AMANPOUR: You were at the inauguration. You've written a book about President Obama and you know very well their policy. Do the optimists have anything to be optimistic about? Will President Obama make this the centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda?

REMNICK: A centerpiece of the foreign policy agenda?


REMNICK: Well --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible).

REMNICK: -- I think, in the short term, no. First of all, this is a very confusing picture. This is a highly confused picture. It's not clear that Israel knows what it wants on this issue or that Netanyahu , what kind of government he'll form. All that has to shake out and that could take weeks.

As far as Obama is concerned, the speech that he gave at the inauguration yesterday made very short mention of foreign policy. And when it did it had to do with receding into a time of peace and hopeful stability and the concentration was on a range of domestic policy issues.

AMANPOUR: Now President Obama, you probably read an articulate by Jeffrey Goldberg --


AMANPOUR: -- who's very well known in the Middle East and in Israel, of course, who said that he had heard that President Obama had said that some of Prime Minister Netanyahu's policies were self-defeating. And he was not acting in Israel's best interest.

REMNICK: With the -- Jeff's sources were good sources in the White House. (Inaudible) we're basically saying that Netanyahu is saying that Netanyahu's not acting in the best interests of his -- of his own country.

Well, that's all Netanyahu had to hear. After being accused of meddling in our elections, he kind of brought this up in his own elections. The relationship between Netanyahu -- I mean personal relationship between Netanyahu and Obama has been fraught from the start. That has got to improve.

AMANPOUR: But it's also much more than just about a personal relationship. It's about the character of the state of Israel. People say that if there is no negotiations -- which there haven't been with the Palestinians -- the whole idea of a Jewish state is potentially at risk if there's no two- state solution.

REMNICK: Or a democratic state.

AMANPOUR: Or a democratic state.

REMNICK: Or you become a binational state that's not democratic --

AMANPOUR: Yes, which is an apartheid.

REMNICK: -- an apartheid state. These are terrible dilemmas and I -- and I think that -- as I said, a vast majority of Israelis recognize now ruinous the occupation is, not just to the Palestinians and the cruelty to the Palestinians, but to the erosion of the national character of Israel. This is now 40-odd years, this occasion has gone on.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, are not a completely holistic and organized political entity themselves. You have Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, which is an eliminationist policy. It makes no pretense of what it wants to do, which is not just to have a two-state solution, but to rule from the Jordan to the sea, which overlaps with the fondest hopes of their greatest enemies on the Israeli right.

And then you have an increasingly weak Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

AMANPOUR: And hold that thought, because we're going to ask one of the architects of the Oslo Accords right after a break. And you're going to stay with me, because when we come back, the view from inside Israel. We will ask Yossi Beilin, is there a chance of reviving the Oslo Accords?

But while politicians may be far apart, children, it seems, often know how to play nicely. Take a look. Palestinian and Israeli youngsters playing football together in the Israeli town of Holon. It's part of a football for peace program. Now if they can just get the grownups to learn by example. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: (Inaudible). Welcome back to the program and our ongoing coverage of the Israeli elections. Here are the latest numbers from those elections. Likud, the party of Prime Minister Netanyahu, is projected to win 31 seats. And in a big surprise, Yesh Atid is in second, projected to win 19 seats.

And here in New York with David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker" magazine and Yossi Beilin joins me from Tel Aviv. He is Israel's former deputy foreign minister and one of the chief architects of the Oslo Accords.

Yossi Beilin, thank you very much for joining me. Let me first ask you on your issue, the peace camp and negotiations with the Palestinians, should anybody take great comfort in Yesh Atid's 19 seats?

YOSSI BEILIN, FORMER ISRAELI DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: The main issue is not necessarily the 19 seats for (inaudible) right.

But the fact that there is a huge blow for Netanyahu and his government and his coalition, if his coalition is only 62 seats out of 120, which might even change during the night, because we only have the polls, then I think that it should be a very important message that the center Left in Israel is alive and kicking and it is almost a majority or half and half.

And that, for Netanyahu, it will be, I believe, almost impossible if not impossible to form his own government. He has a bloc, but he doesn't have a coalition. And I hope that none of the center Left parties, including Yesh Atid, will join him.

AMANPOUR: So what does it mean? You've just said alive and kicking, very confidently. Just two seconds ago -- well, before the exit polls, we were bemoaning the fact that the peace camp had practically expired.

Do you think there's hope now for your project?

BEILIN: Yes. No question. I mean, first of all, you have the numbers, which are always there, 65 percent of the Israelis are ready for the (inaudible) parameters. Many of them are ready for the Geneva initiative. But they don't believe that it is realistic. If there is a government, which does it, there will be a support. So this is very, very important.

But if you take the numbers, I mean, Meretz, my party, which more than doubled itself now and other parties, like the rebel (ph) party, which is much bigger than before, including the new (inaudible). I mean, we don't know whether the members of -- the 19 members of Yesh Atid, it is a party which made it a principle that none of them will be (inaudible) politicians.

So none of themselves, neither on the government nor in the Knesset, and it will be a new thing. But there are center Left for sure, (inaudible), you have a very promising group which might change the Israeli polity in the very near future.

REMNICK: Yes, Yossi, it seems to me that the center Left parties, with the exception of Meretz, campaigned not on the Palestinian issue at all, but rather on domestic economic issues ,which suggests to me that even if -- even if they stick to their guns and stick to their own bloc, they're not going to have a big impact on that issue vis-a-vis Likud.

BEILIN: Well, I believe that if none of them joins the Likud government and they keep their only bloc, especially if there is no coalition on the right and eventually perhaps one of them will have to form a new government, this government will have to go for peace.

I mean, the rebel -- you are right about the campaign, which means nothing about real life, because they all said, of course, I mean, we are going to try our best in order to have peace with the Palestinians.

This is the very important target, very difficult. But we want to speak now about the equality in the Israeli society, about the economy and other things, knowing that speaking about the Palestinian issue is not exactly a vote-getter.

AMANPOUR: Oh, exactly.

BEILIN: Now that they are elected, I have no doubt, knowing many of them, that they will go for it. I mean, they understand the connection between the economy and peace. It is very clear for all of them.

AMANPOUR: Yossi, you probably read David's great article in "The New Yorker," but, again, very much focused on Naftali Bennett and the annexationists.

And all the things that these people told him about how there will be no peace for the Palestinians, they won't have their independent states, forget about it, "The Sopranos" aren't coming back, was his campaign ad, and there will be no peace camp with the Palestinians.

What about this, you know, now the new normal talk, these settlements which have been cemented, the idea of annexationists becoming a normal word in Israeli politics? How far has this settlement project gone? And can it be reversed in order to have some kind of viable two-state solution?

BEILIN: Well, Bennett was the star until half an hour ago. He's over. I mean, what they have is 12 seats. It's not unimportant. But this is not a very important party in Israel, with all due respect. None of the parties -- I mean, speaking about the Likud itself, or the ultra-religious parties, are thinking about annexation.

I mean, they understand it, speaking about annexation is a slogan for elections nothing more than that. This is the last thing that Netanyahu has to do in order to mend fences with American president. To annex now their territories. So it was a nice slogan for them. It's over today.

What you have is a smaller Likud; you have the ultra-religious parties which are not, extremely speaking, about a peace and a war. And you have a very significant bloc of center Left. It is another Israel from today. All the talks about the minds (ph) of the Left are over for the time being. And perhaps more than that. And the picture might be very, very interesting.

Now there is also another option. If Netanyahu does not get the support of the Left, informs his own government, then he will be much more vulnerable to any pressure or seemed pressure from without. And he will be very, very careful.


BEILIN: This is why I believe that if we leave him to form his government, this should be the best option for those who believe in peace.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me just go to David quickly.

Do you share Yossi's optimism from his point of view, that it's over for Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home party?

REMNICK: I share Yossi Beilin's principles. I share Yossi Beilin's desires for peace and I think he had the right idea.

AMANPOUR: But is he right about it being over?

REMNICK: Even if Oslo turned out to be flawed in some ways, because Beilin could not get Yitzhak Rabin to have final settlement in (inaudible) for the politics of the time, I think this is an extremely unclear picture.

I don't doubt that Naftali Bennett could end up being a kind of flare, a signal of something that scared the Left into action. This is a very, very high turnout for an Israel election. And I think the reason was is because the right was doing so well for a while. But those tendencies don't disappear. This is a very, very mixed and split decision as Yossi makes clear.

AMANPOUR: And I must say, in the last half-hour to an hour before the polls closed, there were unprecedented calls from religious leaders, Christian religious leaders and others, calling on Arabs and the others not to boycott, go and vote. I mean, it was quite sort of dramatic towards the end before the polls closed. And I think Likud also calling on its people to go to the polls.

Yossi, you mentioned President Obama and the United States, the closest friend and ally of Israel. You have penned a memo to the new secretary of state, John Kerry.

Do you really believe, realistically, knowing the Obama administration, that they're going to make the kind of 100 percent effort that's required to get this process back on track? Because as David said, without the U.S., it's simply not going to happen.

BEILIN: I'm not sure about it. I'm aware of the gap between the right ideas and the wrong implementation, if I may say so. I know Senator Kerry; I believe that he can do this job. I hope that he will not nominate an envoy and come himself (ph).

I think that it is possible -- and if we are speaking about Netanyahu as the next prime minister, I think that it is possible at least to get with him and Mahmoud Abbas and enter an agreement. I think that the Americans did not probe enough into this option which is the second phase of the famous road map, a Palestinian state and provisional borders.

And speaking today, protagonists in our play, I think that it is possible and it is not so difficult as perhaps his new assistants will tell him.

AMANPOUR: Yossi Beilin, David Remnick, thank you so much for joining me on this quite amazing, interesting day. We'll see how it falls out and how it plays out.

And when we come back, a final thought.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, on this dramatic day of elections in Israel, imagine a home movie that became a remarkable documentary and now a nominee for this year's Academy Award.

It's called "Five Broken Cameras," and it takes place over a period of five years in a small Palestinian village on the occupied West Bank. Emad Burnat, a farmer's son, got his first video camera to record the birth of his son.

But when the Israelis put up a fence in the shadow of ever-expanding settlements, Burnat used his camera to record the protests and the inevitable military crackdown. And as he became more involved in the struggle to bring down that fence, a struggle that nearly cost him his life, each of his five cameras was broken. It's a simple story of family joys and of daily acts of resistance.


EMAD BURNAT, VIDEOGRAPHER: (Speaking foreign language).


AMANPOUR: And perhaps most remarkable of all, Burnat partnered with an Israeli filmmaker, Guy Davidi, to bring this documentary to the screen. And that's it for tonight's program. There will be continuing coverage of the Israeli election results. And meantime, you can always contact us at Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.