Curtain Raiser

Bibi’s Bid for Supremacy, Colltalers

As the U.S.-led world cuts its teeth trying to grasp Russia’s next move in Ukraine, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues quietly but resolutely pushing his agenda of power consolidation, with a repertoire of deft moves and elaborate games of public opinion maneuvering.
When his Likud party opens its long-delayed convention Wednesday, it will happen at the end of a two-month string of victories for Netanyahu, masterfully disguised as concessions to the party’s hard-liners, which include the repositioning of some of Israel’s most transcendental issues.
On the outside, everything seems to have fallen into place, to his ever so casual advantage: the collapse of the latest round of talks with the Palestinian Authority, dragging the Obama administration’s two-state proposal pretty much to the gutter, the president’s once-again tacit support of the Likud’s policies, even the party’s internal negotiations that delayed the convention from March to now, it all seemed unrelated and/or pure luck.
But for those who’ve been following, a bit longer than Secretary of State John Kerry’s own tenure, the quagmire of the Middle East puzzle, of which whatever happens between Israel and the Palestinian people may determine the direction of the several regional conflicts surrounding the two, almost nothing if ever that has occurred for the past two thousand years in that part of the globe has happened by chance.
And for at least four years of those millennia, no matter what happens, things seem to always improve the stability at the top and personal biography of only one person: Netanyahu. But, curiously, things have a way to hide his role, as if all else around him, his party’s radicals, Israel’s electorate, even the Palestinian Authority to some extent, are somehow conspiring to force his hand, and he’s innocently caught in the middle.
Take the collapse of the peace talks, at least for now, on the surface brought about because of an agreement signed between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, to set the stage for an interim government and general elections.
The PM took the ideological position, and let’s face, dangerous
radicalization of one of the two, Hamas, as a leverage tool against Fatah, the side that has for years bent backyards to Israeli demands, to declare their unified front, and the whole thing, an unacceptable threat to Israel.
Missing from such a B&W rhetoric, of course, was the fact that, for as long as he’s been in charge, Fatah has been the focus of a demoralizing campaign by his party, specially when it pushed for a symbolic U.N. vote for a State of Palestine, slightly a year ago. Never mind that, technically, that’s a necessary step in the much beaten path of the Roadmap for Peace, which Israel is supposed to have officially embraced.
But even if such an undermining campaign were the sole product of right-wing radicals, encased deeply in the Likud’s bowels, Netanyahu never cared to distance himself from them, or even pay lip service to Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas and his efforts to find a consensus among his constituency.
Again, on the surface, the appearances are of a leader troubled by the loose cannons within his own party, on one side, and a sect full of hatred against the State of Israel, supported by the much-vilified, and at least potentially, only other nuclear power in the region, Iran.
Looking closely, the story has been that, radicals or not, his permanence as head of Israel for four years is a testament of how well he controls his party’s internal machinations, even when it looks as if they’re having their way, as was the case of the convention’s postponement to this week.
Things couldn’t be more favorable too from the part of the American Jewish leadership, the coalition that has been instrumental in supporting his policies, and maintaining the status quo within Israel, when it voted to reject a young, progressive organization from joining in its umbrella.
J Street, a six-year old organization, ‘pro Israel and pro peace,’ as it defines itself, had its bid to be part of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations defeated, in a predictable vote this past week. Despite the democratic nature of the process, many saw the unequivocal behind-the-scene muscle of segments that oppose J Street’s independent positions in a number of critical issues affecting Israel.
Main among them, of course, is the continuous building of settlements in the West Bank territories, for instance, which along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, are expected to be part of a new land configuration in a future two-state solution. But while those claims by the Palestinians have been supported by J Street and the international community, and figure in most negotiation terms, Israel has adamantly ignored them.
Plus, the group’s opposition to the maze of walls and fences separating both nations, effectively fracturing the Palestinian territories in impossible multiple ‘islands,’ the Gaza blockade, and the increased militarization of Israel’s foreign policies, have all but sealed the deal against it.
With pesky opposition groups like that out of the way, along with scores of respected figures, including former President Carter, unable to put enough pressure on him, Netanyahu has a clear path at the convention to sell his golden idea, one that has the potential to all but bury any possibility of successful Palestinian bid in the near or far future: his proposal to enact legislation for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
What’s in a name, you may ask. Indeed, and again on the surface, the idea would be just a pro-forma way of characterizing Israel as a benevolent host to its people. But behind such a florid rhetoric, lies something more sinister: the consolidation of Israel’s claim on a land that’s historically shared by Muslims and Christians alike, besides having terrible ramifications to the increasing percentage of non-Jewish Israeli residents.
The PM is again playing his hand masterfully, throwing the ball on the Palestinian Authority’s corner, and declaring that it’s all an inevitable consequence of its neighbor’s new-found unity. Which is a disingenuous way of mischaracterizing the legitimacy of the Palestinian people’s need for a unified leadership, one that should be more concerned about improving their miserable living conditions than waging war against Israel.
One underlining question many have asked, however, is how come a democratic nation whose population’s medium age is slightly south of 30 years old, has such an anemic political presence and support to more progressive, and less militaristic agendas, for their country. Adding to this apparent apathy from young Israelis, is a new development, that has experts in Israeli politics scratching their heads for its potential implications.
Soldiers, who have always been an important demographics of Israeli society, who are now taking to social networks to express displeasure about their difficult position: thrown into an explosive and hostile environment, policing the deeply dissatisfied Palestinians, while at the same time, being threatened with court martial and jail, if they are caught brutalizing their charges, which happens often and inevitably ends up on the Internet.
An incident in Hebron this past week has marked this potentially disturbing twist, and if you’re the government of a small country, heavily dependent on its armed forces, and squeezed among suspicious neighbors, you’re now in the unenviable position of having to discipline its military.
As for the U.S., which may have picked the wrong horse, and now has to sit, hopelessly, on the sidelines, every move towards consolidation of power by Netanyahu and his Likud, has the deleterious effect of mining even more the confidence American allies have on this country’s ability to lead.
Finally, it’s tragically ironic that American Evangelicals have decided that the best way of bringing about the second-coming of Christ, or at least a civilization-ending military conflict to fit their deranged ideas of a rapture, is to boost hatred for Israel by its neighbors.
As it’s been prescribed by that ancient war manual, the bible, the radical righteous, as they’ve done in Africa, have the potential to wreck havoc in the Middle East, which for them, would be all worthwhile, since would also trigger a mass conversion of Jews into Christianity.
We can’t begin to fathom the implications of such downright insanity, but it’s all substantiated by wholesale proselytizing and massive investments in Israel by American Christians, which according to some studies, have now outspent even the contributions of U.S. Jewish organizations.
Israel has the right to exist and thrive, and the creation of that nation is still one of the greatest global humanitarian responses to the despicable cruelty of the Nazi regime and the tragedy of the Holocaust. But before it reaches its seventh decade of existence, Israel must come to terms with the needs and aspirations of its neighbors, and none more crucially than the still stateless Palestinians.
As another Israeli PM, Yitzhak Rabin, said, ‘Israel has to join the global journey toward peace, reconciliation and international cooperation.’ Let’s hope that such journey starts before we reach the 20th anniversary of his assassination in 1995, by a far-right Israeli. Happy Cinco de Mayo and remember, don’t go straight to the fifth; start off with dos, first. WC

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