Despite the latest favorable polls, Bibi has a few problems. First, rebellious Likudniks conspired to place transferist Moshe Feiglin 20th on the party list along with allies who placed even higher. The unfortunate thing for Netanyahu is that it shows the party for what it really is: a far-right, rejectionist nationalist party with no interest in either peace or resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Second, Bibi has no peace plan or policy to speak of other than some lame verbiage about advancing Palestinian economic interests–as if this would somehow be a satisfactory substitute for real Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Likud leader has a pipe dream that a well-fed Palestinian will somehow forget that he has rights which are being denied him.
That’s why Bibi was forced to resort to a meeting with all 27 EU ministers to assure them, much as Kurt Waldheim and Jorg Haider attempted to reassure their fellow European states when they won elections, that neither he nor his party were out and out right-wing racist lunatics. You say I exaggerate? Perhaps. But by how much?
Netanyahu was the guest speaker at a lunch hosted by the European Union…He used the occasion to try to quell concerns fueled by the outcome, which delivered significant advances for a wing of Likud seeking to halt peace talks, ban minority Arab citizens of Israel from the parliament, encourage non-Jews to leave the country and pull Israel out of the United Nations.
Following the primary results, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the rival Kadima Party warned that a victory for a Likud slate peppered with die-hard opponents of concessions to the Palestinians could plunge Israel into international isolation.
All this reminds me of the old story about Norman Thomas, perennial Socialist Party candidate for president who first devised many of the programs FDR incorporated into his New Deal. When asked why he wasn’t pleased with the fact that FDR had carried out much of his political program, Thomas replied: “Carried it out? On a stretcher.” If elected, that’s pretty much what Bibi will do to the peace process. He’ll claim there is one. He’ll create some Potemkin Village-like semblance of one. There may be meetings (or may not be). But there isn’t a hope in hell of any real progress if he’s elected. The real approach will be a massive military presence and the threat of retaliation for every Palestinian act of belligerency. Not to mention an almost certain Israeli military strike against Iran and the end of the Syria-Israel negotiation track.
And don’t be fooled by Netanyahu’s promises that Moshe Feiglin and his allies will “disappear” politically. That will not appreciably alter the Party’s ideology. It will only change it from a complexion of jet black to grey in terms of its political agenda. Even without the extreme rightists, Netanyahu is capable of implementing a right-wing anti-peace agenda. Progressives like me far prefer Bibi to be yoked to Feiglin like a donkey to the plough. But even if he is not, that will not change the fact that Bibi is still a donkey.
But Netanyahu does have one large advantage over Kadima and its hapless leader, Tzipi Livni. Bibi knows who he is. The electorate knows who he is and what he stands for. If they vote him in they know what they’re getting. Not so with Kadima. What does it represent? What will it do in office? I’m not even sure Livni knows, let alone those she wants to vote for her.
That may be why the latest poll shows Likud opening a substantial lead over Kadima. While I find Livni far preferable to Netanyahu, she has none of the gravitas (in Israeli terms) or charisma of a Sharon. She is a candidate in search of a message. Unless she defines herself (and her opponent as the far rightist he is), she will lose. May she prove me wrong.