2.16.2009

High drama in Israeli affairs


THE TRAILER

Who is this man and why does he wield power in Israel?

THE CRITIC

Arguably, no other country currently affects U.S. foreign policy as does Israel. With new leadership in Washington, it is imperative that Americans follow closely what’s going on in that country.

When researching and distilling information, my general rule-of-thumb is KISS: keep it simple, stupid. There is no way, however, to simplify all that is currently going on in Israeli politics. The deeper one digs, the more complex and intriguing that country’s pending government transition becomes.

I will give it my best shot, though, and offer you, dear reader, a crash course in Israeli affairs. I encourage both clarifications and viewpoints in the “comments” zone accessible at the end of this post.

THE STAGE

While Egypt attempts to broker a peace deal with Israel and Hamas, sporadic rocket fire continues into Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will continue in that position until the new government takes shape following recent elections.

The Associated Press (LINK) reports that Olmert says no border crossings will be opened and there will be no shipment of goods into Gaza until an Israeli prisoner, held two years, is released. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Bulletin (LINK) reports that “on Feb. 5, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered 170 million shekels, the equivalent of $43 million, to be transferred to Gaza,” and these funds are being misused by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and ending up in the paychecks of high Hamas officials. This leaves the Israeli government caught on a U.S. double fork, which on the one hand says Israel should provide such aid and on the other says no country should fund terrorists.

Olmert himself is alleged to be involved in a number of corruption scandals and faces criminat investigation.

THE PLAYERS

With recent Israel elections called “a stalemate” (LINK) two candidates to replace Olmert as prime minister have emerged. Benjamin “Bebe” Netanyahu, head of the right-wing (some say far-right – think neoconservatives) Likud party, won more popular votes and says he should be PM because he controls “the largest bloc.” The centrist Kadima’s Tzipi (pronounced zippy) Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, with hopes of becoming Israel's second-ever female PM, claims she leads “the largest party” and democratically deserves the post. With all the votes counted Livni’s Kadima has won 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, one more than Netanyahu’s Likud.

Both candidates are haggling to build coalitions within the body (LINK).

The choice of who forms Israel’s next government will rest with one man — President Shimon Peres.

Who then could most influence the chances of either candidate and thus influence Peres?

THE DIRECTOR

Now, wielding perhaps the most influence in the country is a man international human rights groups have called “an extremist” and “a racist,” and an opinion piece in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper (LINK) calls “a fascist.” A man who is so anti-Arab that he wants to redraw Israel’s border to push out areas heavily populated by Arabs.

Avigdor Lieberman (pictured above), whose ultranationalist party received 15 seats and emerged as the third-largest force in parliament, has emerged as the “kingmaker.” By throwing his support to either candidate, he can force Peres’ choice.

With Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s combined 42 seats, plus a few others in the Knesset, the right-wing has emerged victorious in Israel.

Flexing such muscles, Lieberman is a threat to the U.S. and EU call for peace in the region, and a direct threat to developing U.S. foreign policy under President Barack Obama.

He, therefore, demands our attention. Here are two essential articles:

"Key to who will govern Israel: Avigdor Lieberman," Christian Science Monitor, 12 February 2009: LINK

"Unite to block Lieberman's march on Jerusalem," Ha’aretz, 1 February 2009: LINK

THE CAST OF THOUSANDS

To measure political attitudes of both Israeli and Palestinian citizens immediately following the election of Obama, a poll was conducted in November and December by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, RESULTS OF THE POLL

COMING ATTRACTION

As a counter to the political power of the right-wing and to the extremism of an Avigdor Lieberman, there is a growing progressive movement in Israel, and groups such as moveon.org and the international AVAAZ.org are raising money to foster projects that would teach these progressives to use the Internet to raise both grassroots support and funds.

THE SEQUEL

Informed readers will now want to pay closer attention to this developing story.
UPDATE: Avigdor Lieberman has thrown his support behind Benjamin Netanyahu - with concerssions. Read story HERE.
UPDATE: Peres picks Bebe; delegates demand 'broad government.' Read official press release.

2 comments:

Frodo of Arabia said...

There is no way to make any of this simple, despite the excellent effort herein. What is important is that Americans, who portray many roles, recognize that they are first of all, Americans. All of the other roles we share are subordinate. We should always do what is in the interest of America.

Despite the rigidity of acting only in the interest of America, the United States cannot be Pontius Pilate. America purged herself of "Manifest Destiny," and she will be well-served by the end of Zionism. When the path is taken to "one state" or to the alternative of "two states," the struggle will not end. The political players are the merest of pawns.

There will someday be an incentive for "one state" to recognize the other, and to work with them in improving their own quality of life. Concomitantly, the other "one state" will recognize that their borders can only extend so far, and that beyond is a path which they travese, alone.

Ideologues, with terrible weapons, and a pathological belief in their own righteousness. Some things, as they say, do not change, the stage is just the same, and all that differs are the actors upon it.

airth10 said...

We shouldn't forget how much worse the Bush administration made the situation with its hand-off policy.

In 2004, I remember Bush saying that he was personally going to 'ride-herd' to help broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Again, in that instance, as he often was in the saddle, he was 'all hat and no cattle'.