Under Netanyahu, Israel is stronger than ever

While incumbents around the world are struggling to hold on, one is thriving. By bringing rival Kadima party into his ruling coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu has become “king of Israel,” in Aaron David Miller’s phrase. He has an unusual, perhaps unique, opportunity to use his new power to secure Israel’s future. Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition commands the largest parliamentary majority in Israeli history. He faces no plausible rival as prime minister. When pushed on Palestinian issue, Netanyahu has often cited the constraints of his coalition to explain why he had not taken bolder steps toward resolution. Perhaps he liked being constrained: He refused to form a national unity government in 1996 (with Shimon Peres) and refused again in 2009 (with Tzipi Livni). But now he has a broad enough base of support, with many moderates, that could move toward a peace settlement without endangering his hold on power. (source: by Fareed Zakaria – The Washington Post – 10/05/2012)

Look beneath recent war fears, and Israel is in a stronger position than ever. Its per capita gross domestic product rivals Italy’s (at $31,000). The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index ranks Israel sixth in innovation capacity, just after United States. It is behind only the United States and China in the number of companies listed on Nasdaq. Militarily, Israel is the region’s superpower, with an armed force that could easily defeat any of its neighbors. U.S. aid (Congress recently moved to add $1 billion for Israel’s missile defense program to the president’s budget) enhances its military edge. It also has one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, estimated at more than 200 missiles. At home, the wall along West Bank has essentially solved the problem of Palestinian suicide bombing, rendering Israel safer than at any point in its history. While Iran does pose a threat, it has been systematically exaggerated over the past few years. Many serious Israeli leaders, including several senior members of its military and intelligence establishment, have spoken up about this in an unprecedented manner. Tamir Pardo of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, has said that Iran is not an existential threat. Last month, Army Chief Benny Gantz described Iranian regime as rational. Mossad’s Meir Dagan has said that an attack on Iran would be “stupid”. Kadima party head Shaul Mofaz, new vice prime minister and a former army chief, has said that an Israeli attack on Iran would produce a regional war and accelerate Iran’s nuclear program. He argues that “the threat that Israel will become a binational state is far more serious than Iranian nuclear issue.” In his passionate and intelligent book “The Crisis of Zionism,” Peter Beinart observes a distinction between the ethics of weakness and power. If you see yourself as weak, besieged by the world, and as a victim, Beinart argues, you will embrace any policy that allows you to survive, regardless of its impact on others. On the other hand, an ethic of power recognizes that you are strong and must promote your own interests but with some concept of responsibility as well. Worse, Beinart argues, the obsession with victimhood has prevented people in Israel and United States from focusing on the gravest threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state: demography. If there is no progress toward a two-state solution, at some point Israel will not to be able to continue to rule over millions of Palestinians without giving them the right to vote, at which point it will cease to be a Jewish state.

In the past, Netanyahu has fiercely embraced the ethic of survival. For decades he has argued that Israel was in imminent danger of extinction, making comparisons to Nazi threat to Jews in 1938. Long opposed to a Palestinian state, he railed in 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin and Peres signed the Oslo accords, that Peres, then foreign minister, was “worse than [Neville] Chamberlain.” In the book Netanyahu published that year, he argued dismantling Jewish settlements would produce a “Judenrein” West Bank (“free of Jews,” a phrase the Nazis used). When he reissued his book in 2009, those phrases were still in the text. Since then, perhaps recognizing the demographic dangers to Israel, he has said he now supports a two-state solution, but he has done nothing to move toward it. Israel faces real dangers. It sits in a hostile neighborhood, with anti-Semitism rising. Obstacles to Israel-Palestinian peace include weakness of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and radicalism from the terror group Hamas. A politician of Netanyahu’s skill can find ways to navigate this terrain. Larger questions are: Does he see an opportunity to become a truly great figure in Israeli history? Can he use his power for a purpose other than his own survival? 


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6 Responses to Under Netanyahu, Israel is stronger than ever

  1. The restarting of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group opens the way to new ↑ steps to halt the danger of war in the Persian Gulf. The talks, involving the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, were held ↑ in Istanbul on 14 April 2012, and will resume in late May. The replacement of the language of ultimatum by that of diplomacy is good news, though the underlying perils remain. In particular, many in Israel and the United States persist in seeing Iran as a potential threat. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that economic sanctions on Iran have not deterred its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and warns (in an interview with CNN): “If the sanctions are going to work, they better work soon.” He and his supporters, in the US as well as Israel itself, remain adamant that Israel should take pre-emptive action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. This context makes it important to ask whether the issue of nuclear weapons, so dominant in media and public discussions of Iran, is as significant as often portrayed – or, rather, overhyped. After all, Iran is not known to be developing a bomb and, even if it were, is still years away from creating one (as both the United States and Israeli governments well know). But just as important as the facts of the matter is the larger question of diplomacy, and to answer the question: how best to deal with the Iranian regime and the Iranian people in the long run? Those negotiating with Iran must be clear about which Iran they are dealing with (…..) Beyond the current round of negotiations, the best option the United States, Israel and the European Union have to secure their long-term interests is to enable Iranian civil-society actors to work toward democratisation from within. This means dealing with the Iranian regime and the IRGC for the present, but with an eye toward later engagement with the Iranian people themselves. It also means working to incorporate Iran into the international community by removing its status as a pariah state. Those taking part in the negotiations should remember that in the long run they are dealing with the Iranian people, the heart and soul of their country’s future.


  2. Pingback: Good Job Bibi

  3. In May 1967, in brazen violation of previous truce agreements, Egypt ordered U.N. peacekeepers out of the Sinai, marched 120,000 troops to the Israeli border, blockaded the Straits of Tiran (Israel’s southern outlet to the world’s oceans), abruptly signed a military pact with Jordan and, together with Syria, pledged war for the final destruction of Israel. May ’67 was Israel’s most fearful, desperate month. The country was surrounded and alone. Previous great-power guarantees proved worthless. A plan to test the blockade with a Western flotilla failed for lack of participants. Time was running out. Forced into mass mobilization in order to protect against invasion — and with a military consisting overwhelmingly of civilian reservists — life ground to a halt. The country was dying. On June 5, Israel launched a preemptive strike on the Egyptian air force, then proceeded to lightning victories on three fronts. The Six-Day War is legend, but less remembered is that, four days earlier, the nationalist opposition (Mena­chem Begin’s Likud precursor) was for the first time ever brought into the government, creating an emergency national-unity coalition. Everyone understood why. You do not undertake a supremely risky preemptive war without the full participation of a broad coalition representing a national consensus. Forty-five years later, in the middle of the night of May 7-8, 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shocked his country by bringing the main opposition party, Kadima, into a national unity government. Shocking because just hours earlier, the Knesset was expediting a bill to call early elections in September. Why did the high-flying Netanyahu call off elections he was sure to win? (…..)


  4. THE FORMATION by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a new coalition comprising a parliamentary supermajority prompted hawks to conclude that he was laying the groundwork for a military strike against Iran. Doves speculated that the new cabinet was well positioned to reopen peace talks with Palestinians. In reality both considerations were secondary for Mr. Netanyahu and his new ally, Shaul Mofaz of the centrist Kadima party. Like democratic politicians everywhere, they were moved first of all by local politics. Mr. Netanyahu preferred to extend his current tenure by 18 months rather than endure an election this fall. Mr. Mofaz dodged the likely devastation of his party in that vote. As relatively large secular parties, Kadima and Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud largely agree on domestic reforms they are committed to passing in the coming months, including a national service requirement for religious youth and a reform of the political system that would reduce the power of small parties. It’s true that a more stable and centrist Israeli government may take action on Iran or Palestinian statehood. Mr. Netanyahu is positioned to move aggressively in either area. But whether he does is likely to depend more on developments outside than inside Israel (…..)


  5. US Envoy to Israel Says Nation Is Ready on Iran (…..) Ambassador Shapiro, who spoke about Iran during a question-and-answer session with about 150 lawyers that was first reported by the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon, declined to discuss the issue on Thursday. Spokesmen for the prime minister and the defense minister — both of whom were traveling abroad — also had no response. But one top official in the Netanyahu administration, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do so publicly, called Mr. Shapiro’s comments “a significant contribution to making the American military threat credible,” though he noted that they were made in a low-profile forum. “Quite clearly he didn’t mean this to be public,” the official said. “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they have to hear it publicly and clearly.” Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya, said that Ambassador Shapiro’s statement was not just “a warning to Khamenei’s government in Tehran to take the upcoming negotiations seriously.” A second audience, he said, was “Republicans in the U.S. who have tried to hurt Obama’s credibility on Iran by saying that the president has been too soft on Iran and that Iran’s leadership don’t take his warnings regarding the existence of a possibly military option seriously.” Mr. Javedanfar’s colleague Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy in Herzilya, was unmoved by Mr. Shapiro’s statement. “Saying it is not enough,” Mr. Bar said. What would have more significant effect, he said, is to show actual preparations for a military option by, for example, increasing deployment in the Persian Gulf. “What actually the U.S. administration is doing is blowing hot and cold,” said Mr. Bar, who previously worked as an intelligence officer in the Israel Defense Force and in the prime minister’s bureau. “Actions do speak louder than words. The actions say the U.S. has a very strong aversion to any kind of military action.” Mr. Bar pointed to a recent post on the Web site of the Iranian supreme leader that he described as “an analysis of why the U.S. cannot and will not go to war.” “That is their candid evaluation of the situation,” he said. “When the Iranians see this, they say the Americans are doing everything they can to prevent Israel from attacking.”


  6. (…..) The exception to all of this is Iran’s nuclear program, but Bibi — either through brilliant bluffing that he will bomb Iran or a sincere willingness to do so — has managed to make stopping Iran’s nuclear program a top U.S. and global priority. Whenever a nation or leader amasses this much power, with no checks coming from anywhere, the probability of misreading events grows exponentially. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinians in the West Bank can be pacified simply with better economic conditions. Don’t count on it. Humiliation remains the single most powerful human emotion. It trumps economic well-being every time. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinian security services will indefinitely act as Israel’s forward police force in the West Bank — absent any hopes of Palestinian statehood. Not likely — eventually they will be viewed as “traitors.” Bibi could be assuming that Israel could strike Iran — and upend the world economy — and still continue to build settlements in the West Bank. I would not bet on that; the global backlash could be severe. Bibi could be assuming that the West Bank Palestinian leadership will always be moderate, secular and pro-Western. If only … At the same time, Bibi is prime minister for a reason. He was elected because many Israelis lost faith in the peace process and see chaos all around them. So what to do? Here I think Ayalon has the best new idea: “constructive unilateralism.” In an essay in this newspaper on April 24, Ayalon and two colleagues argued that Israel should first declare its willingness to return to negotiations anytime and that it has no claims of sovereignty on any West Bank lands east of its security barrier. It should then end all settlement construction east of that barrier and in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and establish an attractive housing and relocation plan to help the 100,000 Jewish settlers who live east of the barrier to relocate within Israel’s recognized borders. The Israeli Army would remain in the West Bank until the conflict was resolved with a final-status agreement. And Israel would not physically force any citizens to leave until an agreement was reached, even though relocations could begin well before then. Such an initiative would radically change Israel’s image in the world, dramatically increase Palestinian incentives to negotiate and create a pathway for securing Israel as a Jewish democracy. And Bibi could initiate it tomorrow. “Heroic peacemaking is over,” says Ayalon. It is time for “coordinated” and “constructive” unilateralism. The way is there. Does Bibi have the will?



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