No, not here, you can put your Sarah Palin dolls back. Actually, I'm talking about Israel, which holds elections next week amid uncertainty following the war in Gaza. There's been lots of mudslinging and no substance in the campaigns, but the Gaza assault obviously looms as the biggest issue. When Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak launched the attacks it was cynically seen as a bid to raise their hopes for the election for their respective parties, Kadima and Labor. Predictably, the war only strengthened Hamas inside Palestine, with Fatah completely discredited by its people for tacit collusion with the Israelis. In addition, the war appears to have strengthened far-right extremist Avigdor Lieberman - no relation to Joe - of the Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) Party, kind of the Israeli Pat Buchanan, who is running on loyalty oaths:
Lieberman is campaigning on the slogan "Without loyalty, there is no citizenship," promising a new bill requiring all Palestinians with Israeli passports to swear loyalty to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship. He advocates carving out part of the Galilee that is home to Arab Israeli villages and handing it over to Palestinian control.
His critics among the Israeli left and in the country's 20% Arab minority are widespread. "Here we have a racist immigrant who is fighting against the residents of the land, the natives," said Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli MP. Yossi Sarid, a former leftwing MP, said: "What's the difference between his party and all the fascist parties in Europe? It's the same message, the same technique, taking advantage of the same fears."
But among a growing number of Israelis his policies resonate. Polls today suggested he might win as many as 19 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, putting him ahead even of the Labour party.
Paradoxically, this appears to be helping Livni and the Kadima Party, as the batshit right Lieberman is taking votes from the merely far right Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party. This could mean that Kadima would be able to pick the governing coalition and not Likud, which would increase the prospects of peace exponentially, although with Fatah basically discredited and far-right populist sentiment on the rise, those prospects look bleak.
All of which re-emphasizes the point that the Gaza war was truly dumb, and distressing to anyone who wishes for peace. After 1,300 dead and thousands of buildings destroyed, extremists are taking over both sides of the divide. Hamas is so radicalized that they are confiscating UN relief supplies, and Israel is taking seriously the candidate calling for loyalty oaths, which is ironic as all get out. Time is running out for a peace deal, and that's probably true no matter who is elected. George Mitchell and Barack Obama (who offered $20 million in Gaza relief this week) have their work cut out for them.