Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's New Right-Wing Government

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's New Right-Wing Government

Article excerpt

Bouncer in Jerusalem

Though hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu came in second in Israel's last elections, he was tapped by Israel's president to form a new government. With his coalition now in place, he is off and running. But where is he running to? Netanyahu is no newcomer to Israeli politics. He has even been prime minister before, at a rather pivotal point in history. He led the government from 1996 to 1999, after a Jewish/extremist assassinated Yitzhak Rabin for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Many see Netanyahu as culpable in the collapse of the Oslo peace accords, since he had rejected them from the outset. Some even found Netanyahu culpable in Rabin's death by inciting public fears that the peace process left Israel at risk. This time around, post-Oslo, he is making history again by joining forces with another Israeli party leader who did well in Israel's latest elections, Moldova-born Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's David Duke.

Lieberman has many problems with the Palestinians of the occupied territory, but is most conspicuously known for his desire to offload the Palestinians still residing inside Israel (one-fifth of Israel's citizenry, albeit third- or fourth-class). In the pure Jewish state of Lieberman's fantasy, these people contribute no added value whatever.

This is the man who will be the lynchpin of Netanyahu's coalition.

For anyone yearning for an Israeli government with the courage and the will to end Israel's 41-year rnilitary occupation of Palestinians, the long-anticipated appointment of Lieberman to minister of foreign affairs leaves much to be desired. The former nightclub bouncer is referred to, only half in jest, by an Israeli friend of mine as "Doberman."

For Western onlookers, it was undoubtedly odd that the top vote-getter, Tzipi Livni, was marginalized in favor of the runner-up, said to be in a stronger position to form a governing coalition.

Livni rather quickly conceded, opting to join the opposition. She made a smart move, as much of the world repudiates Israel's dangerous drift to the right. Livni, at best, would have been a mere fig leaf for an extremist government. For Palestinians, meantime, none of the political acrobatics means much. Livni's entire political history is just as violent toward Palestinians as Netanyahu's, despite her peace-lexicon façade.

Palestinians find themselves in a familiar posture, waiting - or more like Waiting for Godot. I daresay even Beckett would have balked at this one. Palestinians have been dispossessed, occupied and brutalized year in, year out since 1948 by an Israel that continues to talk peace while waging war. The roster of political players changes, but Israeli intransigence remains.

One thing Palestinians are not waiting for is some enlightened Israeli prime minister who will step forward and end their misery; they've already seen all kinds: from Israel's first prime minister, Polish-born David Ben-Gurion, who candidly said, "We must expel the Arabs and take their places"; to Israel's first woman prime minister, Ukrainian-born Golda Meir, acclaimed for her infamous remark that "There is no such thing as Palestinians"; to Israel's first native-born prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who, during the first intifada, ordered his military to "break the [Palestinian demonstrators'] bones" and then went on several years later to sign the historic Oslo peace agreement - which was inordinately date-driven - only to announce a few days after signing it that there are no sacred dates. Palestinians have also been around the track once before with Netanyahu's overly-sleek, propaganda-driven personality.

Now Netanyahu seems to have a new gambit: diverting our attention from the ever-more- entrenched military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with an "economy first" approach to peace.

The message, today, is clearer than ever before: Israel's new government will let the occupied Palestinians five, but just barely, and ina political headlock. …

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