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.

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