Mar 25th 2013

Here We Go Again

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

At the eleventh hour, Prime Minister Netanyahu hustled to put his coalition government together only two days before President Obama’s visit to Israel. Undoubtedly, Netanyahu’s last-ditch effort was prompted by his incontrovertible desire to be the sitting, rather than the caretaker, prime minister in his meeting with President Obama.

Being the political animal that he is, Netanyahu calculated that first he needed to remind Mr. Obama that he must deal with him for the next four years, stating: “I look forward to working with you over the next four years to make the alliance between our two countries even stronger.” That is, if his coalition holds together, but then again Netanyahu is no stranger to wishful thinking.

He further calculated that since Obama wants to prevent another failure in his peace efforts, he will avoid locking horns with him again and instead settle for diplomatic niceties. Here is where Netanyahu was wrong.

President Obama bypassed him and appealed directly to the Israeli people as he addressed young students who received his words with repeated applause, even when he emphatically called for the right of the Palestinians to establish their own state and for Israel to treat the Palestinians justly.

The fact that the president linked Israel’s ultimate national security to the establishment of a Palestinian state, however, is not going to move Netanyahu to change course. He is fixated on grabbing more Palestinian land, which only serves to undermine rather than enhance Israel’s national security.

The Likud political platform is explicit in this regard: “Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes as an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu lured three other unseemly ideological parties, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, to join him in a coalition government. He promised them lots of goodies but with the intention of delivering only what suits his political agenda.

Sadly, considering Israel’s political factionalism it is necessary that top officials are appointed, perhaps with the exception of the Defense Ministry, not because of their special skills. What really matters is to which party they belong, how many Knesset members the party commands, and accordingly what portfolio they receive.

And so, here we go again. Other than Netanyahu, the three other leaders have joined this unseemly coalition partly because it serves their party’s political agenda but mainly because of their personal interests, at least for now.

To start with, Netanyahu, who proclaims that he stands for a two-state solution, is in fact doing everything in his power to prevent that very outcome from happening.

How serious can Netanyahu really be when his Likud party’s platform unambiguously states: “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values.”

To promote his so-called “two-state solution” he gave Tzipi Livni, who was the first to jump on his wagon, the Justice portfolio and put her also in charge of peace negotiations with the Palestinians – a characteristically conniving move.

Netanyahu knows her limitations–she failed in her negotiations with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Olmert, who was actually serious about a peace agreement. How successful can she be under Netanyahu, who loathes the idea of negotiating with the Palestinians?

Livni probably knows only too well that there is no hope for a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians as long as Netanyahu is in power, and that he is simply playing for time to build new and expand existing settlements.

The fact is that she has willingly become a conduit for Netanyahu’s scheme to claim that he is ready to negotiate, immersing her in a dead-end negotiating process–if and when it is resumed–without giving an inch, and will ultimately blame the Palestinians for not negotiating in good faith.

If this is not cynical enough, Netanyahu gave the Ministry of Economy and Trade to a no lesser person than Naftali Bennett, and to Naftali’s partner, Uri Ariel, the Construction and Housing Ministry no less. What a joke! Netanyahu, in his wizardry, has placed a hungry lion in charge of a herd of lambs.

Here is a guy (Bennett) who openly advocates the outright annexation of nearly 60 percent of the West Bank (Area C) and doesn’t believe that peace is possible. When asked what he expects to happen in 10-15 years, he plainly said “I don’t know.”

Bennett’s political platform speaks for itself: “[The] Palestinian leadership does not want the West Bank, but rather the entire State of Israel – so that there is no perfect solution for our generation.” Oh yes, the annexation of Area C will provide a “perfect solution” that will await him, because by then the Palestinians will simply vanish.

How pathetic to place the future of Israel in the hands of so-called “leaders” with no vision and no strategy as to where Israel should be in 10 or 15 years. Their hunger for ever more Palestinian land is plainly insatiable, never mind that they are putting Israel’s future at grave risk.

The biggest joke though is on Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”). I wonder what future Lapid is talking about. He ran on bread-and-butter issues, offering only a scant reference in his political platform about the need for peace with the Palestinians.

He now heads the Finance Ministry, though admitting that he knows little about financing. “Perhaps the finance minister’s seat,” he said, “does not need an external expert to sit on it, but a politician backed by significant political power.” Well, that says it all.

On peace with the Palestinians, here is what his platform informs us: “[We will] strive for peace according to an outline of “two states for two peoples,” while maintaining the large settlement blocs and ensuring the safety of Israel.”

How much sway will he really have to push for immediate peace negotiations when the two other main partners, Netanyahu and Bennett, are dead set against the establishment of a Palestinian state?

What is most absurd, however, is Lapid’s support of the proposed Basic Law, which was initially submitted to the previous Knesset—a law that would annul Arabic as an official language and make Jewish law the basis for legislation while barring any other interpretation.

Congratulations, Netanyahu and his cohorts are finally showing some respect by joining the club of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and Egypt’s President Morsi, who made Islam the basis for legislation.

Should it be passed by the present Knesset, the law will obliterate Israel as a democracy and subordinate it to religion while dividing the population between Israelis and Palestinians—a wonderful prospect.

If all this seem a little wacky, here is another mocking revelation: Netanyahu will keep the foreign ministry portfolio until his buddy, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is cleared of “corruption charges” so that he can resume his job.

Putting Israel to shame again in the eyes of the international community with Lieberman heading the Foreign Ministry does not matter, as long as Lieberman and his boss agree on the unilateral redrawing of Israel’s borders.

And so Israel’s political charade continues; Netanyahu and his enablers are charging ahead, making the country ever more isolated and gravely risking its Jewish national identity while destroying its democratic institutions.

As we celebrate Passover the Israelis, particularly the young, should remember that after millennia of servitude, oppression, persecution and death, their elders have come back to the promised land to be free and live with dignity. They must also remember that their freedom will not endure unless every Palestinian is also free from the bondage of occupation.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "