Israel seems to specialize in internal domestic drama and instability. Today is no exception. Wherever you look within the government there is disarray, dysfunction and general malaise. The N. Y. Times reports that Bibi Netanyahu has failed to lure Ehud Bark and Labor into a broad based new ruling coalition. Previously, he had failed in his initial attempt to interest Tzipi Livni in joining his government.
Whether this is merely a tried and true opening political gambit on behalf of the future junior partners, or whether Barka and Livni are both expressing principled position and will indeed not join Netanyahu’s rightist coalition remains to be seen. A number of veteran Haaretz journalists believe this is merely Kabuki drama and that at least Livni and possibly Barak will join the coalition. They may be playing hard to get in order to extract the maximum concessions from the soon to be prime minister.
But if Livni does not join, then Netanyahu will have the worst of all possible political worlds: an extreme right, ultra Orthodox coalition which will be be virtually unempowered to tackle any major social or political issue impacting Israeli society, especially the Israeli-Arab conflict. Stasis may suit Israel, but it certainly won’t suit Syria or the Palestinians, nor more importantly Barack Obama, who appears to want to really get things done regarding Israeli-Arab peace–unlike his predecessor. Barak and Livni may be banking on a far-right coalition being so stagnant that it will not last long, leading to yet another set of elections.
Ehud Olmert for the past few days has been having a major temper tantrum as he contemplates leaving the prime ministership. When he bait and switched the Egyptians, Hamas and his own negotiator and changed the terms of the ceasefire proposal that awaited approval, the negotiator, Amos Gilad, had a public meltdown in the Israeli press and accused Olmert of jeopardizing Israeli security by conditioning a ceasefire on Gilad Shalit’s release. This had never been included in the initial part of the ceasefire plan. Olmert’s about-face virtually shut down the negotiation.
As a result of Gilad’s uncharacteristic public candor, Olmert had a hissy-fit, fired Gilad and accused him of everything but selling nuclear secrets to Iran (though that charge may be coming). Gilad is a defense ministry appointee and so loyal to Ehud Barak, who has stood by Gilad.
The Shalit family are dismayed by this development. Changing horses in midstream is never a good idea in such a high level negotiation. It wreaks havoc on all sides and is a recipe for accomplishing nothing.
Now negotiations are stalled, though today Olmert appointed Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin and Olmert’s political fixer, Shalom Turgeman, as new co-negotiators (I wonder why there needs to be two negotiators, does one need to watch what the other’s saying and doing and report back to Olmert?).
By comparison, Hamas looks downright responsible and stable. Imagine that: a so-called terror group looks almost statesmanslike alongside the meltdown that constitutes the current State of Israel.
In yet another unprecedented development sure to add pressure to both sides, Amnesty International accused Israel and Hamas of both misusing foreign supplied weapons to kill civilians. The group urged the UN to impose an international arms embargo on both sides. I think this is a brilliant tactical move on Amnesty’s part. It faults both sides equally. It pressures both sides equally. It enables both the UN, U.S. and Europeans to ratchet up pressure on both sides if they so choose. It tells both sides that the rest of the world is rapidly losing patience with just the type of histrionics I outlined above which stalls any forward movement toward peace.
Israel is unused to such outright criticism that hits it where it lives–in the armaments bread basket. It’s got to hurt. Given, Amnesty is not a major player on the world stage. But here it acts as a catalyst which the bigger players can use if they wish. I hope they will.