Apr 8th 2009

Netanyahu's Second Change

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

The new Israeli government led by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has raised
many conflicting feelings among those concerned about the fate of the
Arab-Israeli peace process. Will Netanyahu scuttle the little progress that was
made under his predecessor Olmert, or will he engage the Palestinians anew?
Questions about whether he will resume negotiations with Syria, how he will
tackles Iran's nuclear threat, and if he will get along with President Obama
remain unanswered. Yet given the right political environment created by the
Obama administration and supported by the leading Arab states and the
Palestinians, Netanyahu has the potential to advance the peace negotiations
significantly, and may end up surprising everyone in the process.

On the positive side, those who know him well suggest that Netanyahu has matured
considerably since he was first prime minister (1996-1999). He is well aware
that he may never be given another opportunity as prime minister and that he now
stands before an historic crossroad. Netanyahu understands the requirements for
peace from being at the negotiating table many times before. He appreciates the
Israeli public sentiments and is certainly not oblivious to what the Obama
administration expects from any Israeli prime minister at this juncture in a
region laden with multiple crises. Moreover, the eyes of the international
community are fixed on him and he is only too aware of the burden he has just
assumed and the limited time he has to demonstrate sound policies. Netanyahu has
said he wants peace with security for his country. He argues for strengthening
the Palestinian economy and engaging in the peace process, while not excluding
making progress on the Syrian front. Iran still poses the largest security
threat to Israel, and Netanyahu insists that it must be neutralized.

There is nothing from his tough campaign rhetoric that precludes the
establishment of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. While the appointment of
the right-wing Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister may have signaled to many a
shift away from any peacemaking efforts, it is likely that Netanyahu will use
Lieberman strategically for his tough rhetoric to satisfy the more hawkish
Israeli constituency. When it comes down to the bargaining table though, once
Netanyahu feels he has an honest shot at peace with security he will not let
Lieberman get in his way. Persuading Labor to join his coalition government and
Ehud Barak as his Defense Minister also shifts the balance of power toward
moderation. His coalition may well signal that the future peace process will be
anchored in tight security arrangements, and that he and Barak can offer the
toughness and leverage needed to secure such a peace. Netanyahu and Barak are
capable of negotiating simultaneously with both Syria and the Palestinians.
Though the peace negotiations with the Palestinians will be painstaking and take
much longer to conclude, a steady progress can still be made aggressively while
pursuing the Syrian track.

Alternatively, left to his own ideological convictions and without American
pressure, Netanyahu can easily retreat back to his old ways. Palestinian
disunity and internal struggle within the Arab states will make finding a
partner for peace extremely difficult. He will likely expand the settlements,
respond harshly to Hamas' violent provocations, and focus exclusively on Iranian
threats while relegating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to the back
burner. He might even ignore Syria's overtures for peace, especially because
Damascus is not in a position to regain the Golan by force. It is possible
Netanyahu will only attempt to pay lip service to the Obama's political agenda
in the Middle East, and will cooperate only on matters of national security.

These are the two sides to Netanyahu, though they are not necessarily
contradictory. He can lean either direction depending on the level, intensity
and consistency of the American involvement not only in trying to mediate an
Israeli-Palestinian peace but engaging all other regional players in conflict
resolution. To enlist Netanyahu as a partner for peace, President Obama must be
specific and clear about what must and can be done to advance the peace process
while addressing Israel's main national security concerns, starting with Iran.

The Obama administration needs to heavily cooperate with Israel over Iran's
nuclear program, and must demonstrate greater sensitivity to Israel's concerns
over this existential threat. Whereas a diplomatic course with Tehran must be
fully explored by the US, it must commence immediately so that any possible
resolution to the nuclear impasse can be found within 2009, a timeframe that is
considered safe before Israel contemplates taking matters into its own hands.

While President Obama must support Netanyahu's plan to build a strong economic
base for the Palestinians, he must at the same time insist that a political
progress is also being made especially in the West Bank. In that connection,
George Mitchell and the Obama administration must be clear with Netanyahu that
all illegal outposts are dismantled and a temporary freeze on all settlement
activity is enforced. These actions have almost no security implications for
Israel, but they create conditions that must exist for the Palestinians and Arab
states to take the negotiations seriously.

As Mr. Obama recently embraced the Arab Peace Initiative when he met with the
Saudi King Abdullah in London, he must now lean heavily on the leading Arab
states, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria as well (now that Washington
and Damascus are talking) to exert whatever pressure necessary on Hamas to
moderate and join the political process. They must resolve now to rein in Hamas
and establish a Palestinian unity government with the Palestinian Authority that
can speak in one voice. Moreover, the Obama administration must take every
measure necessary to prevent future smuggling of weapons to Gaza. Otherwise, as
long as Hamas has weapons and continues to violently resist Israel's existence,
it will provide Netanyahu with a valid excuse to freeze the Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations.

President Obama must also openly call on Netanyahu to put the Israeli-Syrian
negotiations on the fast track and be prepared to become directly involved in
the process. By engaging Syria, the Obama administration can re-contextualize
the peace process and give it the comprehensiveness that has been lacking. Peace
between Israel and Syria is within reach and could have broad regional security
implications serving both the United States' as well as Israel's national
security interests. Moreover, without Israeli-Syrian rapprochement, the task of
dealing with Iran will be simply insurmountable.

To be sure, Netanyahu knows that this is his second and likely final chance to
advance the Arab-Israeli peace process, but he is not prepared to undermine
Israel's legitimate national security concerns for the sake of claiming the
peace. As long as President Obama discerns those genuine national security
issues and addresses them effectively with Netanyahu, he may find the new
Israeli Prime Minister a willing partner for sustainable peace.

Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS "Ever since she became a prominent political figure 12 years ago, Truss has been a shapeshifter. She started as a Liberal Democrat before becoming a Conservative, and she voted to remain in the European Union before championing Brexit. As a minister, it is hard to think of anything she accomplished. She signed a few EU trade deals as Secretary of State for International Trade, but most of those were rollovers." --- "But if until recently it seemed that Truss was driven solely by political ambition, her government’s 'mini-budget' proposal sheds light on her deeper ideological affinities."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."