"Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations."
Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanhyu on election day in Israel.
"I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel. There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders."
Netanyahu just before the election, abandoning his lip service to Israel's longstanding commitment to allowing a Palestinian state.
For connoisseurs of chaos in world politics, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's big, dramatic come-from-behind win in the otherwise tiny Israeli national elections is hard to beat. It carries big ramifications for American politics, the Middle East, and relations between the Islamic world and the West. Most everything will be more inflamed, not least the Iranian nuclear controversy and the future of Palestine. And of course American politics.
After some slight early signs in Israeli election polling that Netanyahu's chutzpah-laden March 3rd lecture to the U.S. Congress on Iran and related matters had improved his position a bit, the big speech ended up falling flat. In Israel, that is, not in the US, where it galvanized most of the right and the Republican Party, demonstrating how important it has become to follow the internal politics of what is in many objective respects a small American client state.
In Israel, longtime former Mossad spymaster General Meir Dagan repeatedly attacked Netanyahu's speech, which he described as "bullshit." (Netanyahu's PR minions counterattacked, characterizing Dagan as a soft-headed lefty. In reality, he was one of the oldest Army running mates of Ariel Sharon, whose retaliatory raids against Arabs, dating back to the early days of the Jewish State, were legendarily hard core.) And moderate liberal opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni succeeded in reminding voters of glaring economic problems in a once egalitarian society that, under Netanyahu, has become one of the most unequal in the world.
Last Friday morning, the closing public polls, as well as private polls, showed Netanyahu's Likud Party trailing the Zionist Union (mostly the old Labor Party, which ran the country in its formative decades) by a projected four parliamentary seats in the multi-party race. Then Netanyahu and company went negative, big time.
Redoubling his attacks on what he called the "anti-Zionist Union," he forced Herzog and Lipni to clarify whether they would switch off the premiership between them if they won, as earlier statements seemed to indicate. No, they would not share the job. Herzog, a soft-spoken former intelligence officer from a famous founding family, would be PM throughout the term.
With his opponents amazingly focused on last minute process stuff, Netanyahu then delivered his first bombshell. Reneging on years of his own statements, he rescinded Israel's longstanding commitment to allow the creation of a Palestinian state.
(He's just reversed himself on that, but the cat is out of the bag. As if it were not before.)
In a sense, Netanyahu's statement was not a surprise, since he has for years allowed religious fundamentalists to settle in large numbers in disputed lands, thus wrecking any potential negotiation with Palestinians, his deceitful lip service notwithstanding.
But in another sense, Netanyahu's stance is a shock. Because there simply will never be peace for Israel absent a Palestinian state.
I support the creation and existence, not to mention the protection, of Israel both for reasons of horrible historical debt and Israel's continuing promise for the future. But the invocation of legendary religious happenings millennia in the past does not obscure the far more recent reality that Israel seized its state by force of arms. Having traveled in the region, I have no doubt that, unless and until the situation is redressed, Israel can never know peace. And considering what a tiny and geographically hard to defend place -- lacking any real strategic depth -- that Israel is, Netanyahu has presented the nation and people he is supposed to defend with a distinctly unpleasant and perhaps untenable future prospect.
Having done this the day before the election, Netanyahu doubled down on election day by playing another big card in the politics of fear. Racism. Arab voters, he cried to his right-wing supporters, were "streaming" to the polls to vote out Likud.
Quite a one-two punch from the pudgy pol: No state ever for Palestinians. They're the enemy. And Arab citizens within Israel? They're the enemy, too.
Against Netanyahu's ruthlessly reckless moves, the Israeli opposition leaders seemed stunned, simply too nice to deal with a character like Netanyahu. So perhaps they are too nice to defend Israel.
Yet even Israel's most famous generals -- Moshe Dayan (a boyhood hero of mine), Yitzhak Rabin, even the frequently brutal Ariel Sharon -- came to the conclusion that Israel's terrible swift sword must always be accompanied by a prospect of prudent accommodation and peace.
In the meantime, Netanyahu and his allies here and in Israel stand triumphant and, as always, triumphalist today, his party's projected four-seat deficit going into the last weekend of campaigning turned to a six-seat margin of victory over the moderate liberals. The reality that Netanyahu in large measure converted seats which would have gone to right-wing parties allied anyway with Likud does little to distract from the dramatic turnaround in his favor. So his 30 Likud seats in parliament will join with about three dozen others from smaller right-wing and religious parties to form a clear majority in the Knesset. And of course the most right-wing government in Israeli history.
Thus further inflaming critical situations around the world.
** In the US, right-wing Republicans are over the moon and American politics will become even more divisive. Commentator William Kristol hailed the "big win over Barack Obama." Before the vote, there had been plenty of nervousness. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby compared Netanyahu to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who lost an election shortly after helping defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. Which is a deranged analogy on several counts.
Now Netanyahu is even more firmly entrenched as a direct player in American domestic politics, to an absolutely unprecedented degree for a foreign politician. And his status as a cut-rate Churchill is enhanced, at least for those who make preposterous historical analogies and forget how wrong Netanyahu was in pushing the Iraq War and falsely claiming for more than 20 years that Iran was just about to get the bomb.
** Look for some aggressive moves from Palestinians now that Netanyahu has dropped the pose on a Palestinian state. The Israeli occupation may become grist for the International Criminal Court, and the Palestinian Authority may at last use its relatively recent status as a United Nations observer state to pursue UN action against Israel.
** The Iranian nuclear crisis will become further inflamed. Most Republican senators had already sent an unprecedented letter to the Iranian leadership warning that the deal being negotiated to stave off its becoming nuclear weapons-capable being negotiated with the Obama administration will be essentially worthless. They will hardly back away now.
Since Iran has already stood up to strong sanctions, Tehran won't back down, either.
What's left when diplomacy is removed?
** The heightened confrontations with Palestinians and Iranians increase the prospect of a larger regional conflagration down the line.
** They also present potential young jihadists around the world with plenty of new material to become angry about.
** All of which leads to the further isolation of Israel. And the more isolated a nation becomes, the more likely it is to indulge in imprudent actions.
The sad fact is that Netanyahu has already been one of the prime destabilizing actors both in the Middle East and with respect to relations between the West and Islam around the world.
His strong advocacy of the US invasion of Iraq led to multiple disasters, including the empowering of Iran which he himself finds so threatening. His years of blocking any Palestinian peace process already inflamed one of the main causes of Arab and Islamic anger.
Now he has doubled down.
If Israel had a prudent government, American could place it under our nuclear umbrella and very definitively deter any potential Iranian nuclear strike against it in the future. (Assuming that Tehran wasn't already deterred by Israel's own fearsome nuclear arsenal.)
But with someone like Netanyahu in power, such a guarantee would only encourage him to create more mischief and mayhem.
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