It’s becoming clearer and clearer that far from aiding their election prospects as they had calculated, the Gaza adventure has torpedoed the chances of Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak. In Livni’s case she has lost the job of prime minister and sentenced Kadima to the opposition and possibly oblivion if her colleagues abandon her for their former roles in the pre-Sharon Likud. In Barak’s case, he not only hasn’t a hope in hell of being prime minister, he may’ve sentenced his party to the ignominy of being the fourth or fifth largest party in Knesset. This may be an outcome that will also consign Labor to an oblivion it so richly deserves.
Thanks to Sol Salbe for pointing to an Australian TV interview (WMP video stream) with Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, which bravely faces this depressing electoral outcome, yet offers some hope if the American president can muster the type of tough love shown by George Bush toward Yitzhak Shamir in 1992. It’s an eye-opening interview (the transcript is riddled with errors which I’ve tried to correct):
Interviewer: Mr Eldar, given that the Israeli election seems to turn on one question, which is who is more hardline on national security, does it really make a difference to the peace process who wins?
AKIVA ELDAR: Well, I think that what really means is how tough the American President is going to be.
…There is no question that the next government is not going to put the peace process on top of its agenda, it’s more likely that the settlements will be on top of the agenda, deterring Iran and so forth.
And I am wondering what is President Obama going to say about all this, and so he made it very clear that he’s mostly interested in pursuing the peace process, putting an end to the occupation, to the settlements, and trying even to engage Iran and Syria in a kind of dialogue.
So my big question is not who is going to be the next Prime Minister of Israel, but what is President Obama…going to tell him.
Here Eldar goes back in Israeli history to remind his listeners of the political price George Bush forced Yitzhak Shamir to pay when the latter embraced settlements over a strong relationship with the U.S.:
…If you look back to ’92…when President Bush senior decided to send a clear message to Prime Minister Shamir, that he has to decide what’s more important, peace or the relationship with the United States.
The special relationship that Israel has with the United States or settlements and occupation. And he made it very clear; if you decide the settlements are more important you can forget about American aid.
…The message to the Israel was clear; that the Likud is jeopardising the relationship with the United States and in the next election, the same year – ’92, Shamir lost, and Prime Minister Rabeen [sic] took over.
So it depends if the United States is willing to use its leverage because, you know, the most important thing to the Israelis, and if there is any consensus on anything, this is the significance of our special relationship with the United States, and that’s something that people would not let the Government undermine.
So if there will be a clear message from Washington, like the one in ’92, I think that Netanyahu will have to decide whether he wants to take the risk of being the second Prime Minister from the Likud who is undermining the relationship with the United States.
So the question becomes–does Obama have the cajones that Bush had in 1992? Can he withstand the onslaught of opprobrium that might emanate from Aipac and the pro-Israel lobby? Personally, I think it’s doubtful, but I’d like to be optimistic and say it’s still a possibility. So much of the most recent presidential campaign surprised the hell out of me in positive ways. So to write Obama off before he’s even had a chance to show his true colors is a mistake. I’d love to be surprised once again by him.
Eldar bears deeply depressing news about a Haaretz poll showing Avigdor Lieberman’s racist Yisrael Beitenu party becoming third largest in the Knesset ahead of Labor. This means (GAG!) that Lieberman will be in line for the portfolios of either defense, foreign affairs or interior. What a horrifying thought. Keep in mind this is the same man who, as a newly arrived Russian immigrant, joined Meir Kahane’s far-right Kach party, which was later ruled by Israel a terrorist entity. This is the same man who the Israeli police are investigating (along with close family members) for potential charges of moneylaundering.
For the first time in its history, Labor will be either fourth or (depending on Shas’ performance) fifth largest party:
…In the poll that my paper ‘Haaretz’ is going to publish tomorrow, he [Lieberman] is, and his party, is bypassing Labor.
They’re becoming the third party, with 19 seats in the Kinneset [sic], which means that, as you just mentioned, they’re going to be the king or queen makers.
And even Labour Party Chairman Barack [sic] indicated that he doesn’t rule out partnership with Lieberman sitting with him in the same Government, the same Coalition…
Now, Lieberman is clearly…a racist politician who is riding on…hatred [of] the Israeli Arabs. His slogan is there is no citizenship without loyalty…He expects the Israeli Arab minority…to sing an anthem that has clearly a Jewish motives [ed., motif?], and salute to Zionist flag, and put their loyalty to the test.
…I’m afraid that the next Israeli Government will be under much greater influence of this camp that is sending a very negative message not only to the Israeli Arabs, but to the Jewish community, which is a minority in other countries, including Australia, that will legitimise anti-Semitism on top of a very immoral message to the Arab citizens of Israel.
Eldar closes with a deeply pessimistic assessment of the potential rise of a radical right Israeli government, farther right than any previous one in Israeli history. And yet somehow he attempts to see a silver lining in even this prospect:
I started thinking in Lennonistic [ed., Leninist] terms, that perhaps we need to… somebody to remind us what happens once the radical right will take over, and the world see.
Maybe we should… it’s time to remove the mask and show the real face of Israel, and the real face is ugly. Perhaps we need some shock treatment before it gets better.
Maybe it has to get worse, and we will not hide behind a kind of negotiations that are actually going nowhere but giving us the credit that we want peace.
This tells you just how horrific the political situation is in Israel when the best that a decent, humane journalist can hope for is a government so completely beyond the norms of western civilization that the U.S. president will recognize his obligation to bring it to heel.
I should add that the Haaretz poll Eldar refers to actually shows the gap narrowing between Likud and Kadima with the latter picking up seats. So it’s conceivable if Kadima continues to close the gap that Kadima could win as many seats as Likud or perhaps one or so more. In that case, Kadima might still have a chance to form a government. But given that the right wing parties like Lieberman’s stand to do so well, it may be much harder for Kadima to form a governing coalition than for Likud.