Israel went to polls yesterday for municipal elections– or more correctly– some of Israel went to the polls. Overall turnout was low. This directly parallels the state of U.S. "off-year" elections. Of course, in Israel national elections take place only once in 4 years, and local elections happen once in five years. However, much of what went on yesterday had a nearly farcical element. Three Mayors ran in this election who were under indictment for significant crimes (who had been removed from office by the High Court, and whom the High Court stated it would remove from office again-- in the event they were re-elected). All three were re-elected. In Jerusalem, the mayor (who by all accounts has been competent) was nearly defeated by a carpetbagger brought from Givaytayim by the absurd political collusion of Aryeh Deri and Avigdor Lieberman. Luckily, for reasons we do not fully understand, the Charedim failed to all support the Deri/Lieberman candidate en masse and Nir Barkat won reelection.
By and large, it is clear that it is very hard to unseat a sitting mayor– as evidenced by the fact that almost all of the sitting mayors were reelected yesterday, including the above mentioned politicians under indictment. One thing that can be said of all these elections is that they were almost never fought over issues. Furthermore, the major parties had very little to do with the elections. It was all about personality and power. The once exception was in Beit Shemesh, where a coalition of Modern Orthodox and secular residents joined together to try to oust the Charedi Shas mayor. They failed.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Kerry are scheduled to meet for an unprecedented 7 hour meeting today in Rome. It looks like when it comes to the negotiations with the Palestinians, the rubber has now hit the road. We will see soon if Netanyahu is prepared to make true concession or not.
Recently, governments seem to have become particularly good at keeping certain types of secrets. There are two sets of negotiations taking place right now from which almost no information has been leaked. Yesterday, two days of talks concluded in Geneva between the P5 and Iran over its nuclear program. As far as I have been able to tell, almost nothing has leaked relating to the substance of these talks. The only information we have received is that "the atmosphere has been good." Similarly, the same can be said for Israel's talks with the Palestinians. One day there is a rumor that talks are on the brink of breaking down. The next day there is word they are on the brink of a breakthrough. Two set of talks, both with significant impact on our future, but all we can do is sit and wait.
Today, one of the leading stories in Israel was the report by David Ignatious in today's Washington Post revealing that Turkey informed Iran last year of the identity of 12 Israeli spies who were using Turkey as a point of meeting. There obviously would not be any official confirmation of this story. Unfortunately, it has the scent of truth. The current head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, is not a friend of Israel. The previous close cooperation between the Israeli and Turkish services is clearly a thing of the past.
Earlier this week the major story focused on the report of the State Controller General reporting the total mismanagement of Israel's natural resources– for which, the state collects but a pittance. There were many examples of how those with the right connections have done very well for themselves. All of this came together with Teva, the multinational Pharmaceutical company (based in Israel) announcing its plan to layoff 800 workers. Teva has been given many billions of shekel in tax abatements these past years. However, rather than using that money to increase employment in Israel, it has invested instead in buying a large number of American and other companies worldwide. For a few brief days the issue of the connection between "hon and shilton" (wealth and governance) made it back to the public conscious. Though, since there are no truly populist Israeli politicians, I predict the subject will quickly recede from everyones' consciousness.
This was DLD week in Tel Aviv, a week filled with tech conferences and meetings. It number and variety of these meetings seems to grow from year to year. I attended a few gatherings– a meeting on Tourism and Computers that took place in the lobby of a small hotel on Rothchild, a get together of Tel Aviv's EdTech group at a bar a few blocks from the hotel, and finally, presentations to mark the end of a two day "Brainathon" that took place at Google Headquarters here. All the gatherings were enlightening and provides a small window on what is going on in the Tel Aviv area. It is expected that by the end of the 2013 foreign companies will have spent a total of $6 billion to acquire Israeli startups.