Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Israel: ‘Don’t be Right, be Clever’

‘Don’t be Right, be Clever’

Analysis by Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM, Dec 5, 2011 (IPS) - Is his reticence vis-à-vis the Palestinians justified? Has his unsympathetic view of the convulsions gripping the Middle East conquered the world's leaders? Is he right about Iran's nuclear intentions?

Could he have read correctly his own people's cry for a new social contract? The all-encompassing questions haunt Israel's analysts.

When a formidable movement of social indignation unified the country this summer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israel's polity not to succumb to demagogic passions.

The global economic downturn – with the Euro zone, Israel's first partner, on the verge of bankruptcy – confirmed his resolve to adhere to budgetary rigueur.

Many, among them Netanyahu, predicted that once security challenges would resurface, the "Israeli Summer" would melt away.

Indeed, on the eve of Sunday's cabinet meeting delving on the recommendations issued by a Netanyahu- appointed committee, barely 200 activists demonstrated for "social justice". The rallying 'talk in town' is "Egypt", and "Iran".

The dire prediction of a "diplomatic tsunami" – Netanyahu fancied the metaphor "stormy sea" and didn’t lose his balance – as a consequence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's statehood bid at the U.N. appears to have been premature.

So did the statehood drive, and Abbas's reconciliation efforts with the Islamist movement Hamas.

Sixty-four years after the U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine, voted on Nov. 29, 1947, led to the creation of Israel, Palestine remains a forlorn dream.

Abbas's Authority is cast in limbo, a hybrid regime of autonomy, occupation and dependence on, for instance, Netanyahu's willingness to release Palestinian money deducted by Israel's tax authorities, a step he authorised last week, after a two-month delay.

Precisely two months ago, the Mideast Quartet (U.S., U.N., EU and Russia) tried to revive direct Israeli- Palestinian negotiations following a hiatus of more than one year, with a new roadmap to peace.

On Dec. 13 and 14, the Quartet's representatives will meet Israeli and Palestinian envoys separately, and appraise progress made since then.

It’s clear that the international attempt to "just get (both sides) to the damn table", as urged by U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, remains as elusive as the two-state solution.

Netanyahu can always retort that Israel accepted the Quartet's proposal for "talks with no preconditions" and announce, as he did last month, the construction of 2,000 apartments in occupied East Jerusalem.

In retrospect, the insistence, first by U.S. President Barack Obama, then by Abbas, that Netanyahu implement a settlement construction freeze tested the peace intentions of its originators, not of the Israeli leader as intended.

Abbas's subsequent unilateral approach gave Netanyahu the golden opportunity to do the right thing as far as he's concerned – keep his right-wing coalition in check.

When the ten-month moratorium on settlement construction reluctantly agreed by Netanyahu expired in September 2010 – and, with it, the three-week round of talks reluctantly agreed by Abbas – Obama resorted to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution against Israel's settlement policy.

The veto was a prelude to the threat of another – this time, threatening a Security Council vote for Palestinian statehood. The threat gave not only a coup de grace to Abbas's bid, but to Obama's peace credentials.

And, if Abbas's UNESCO challenge was meant to instill urgency at solving the conflict, it actually highlighted the bickering between the U.S. and other Quartet states, and within the EU.

So, 2012 augurs a peaceful future…for Netanyahu.

The Premier exudes confidence. He'll complete his full four-year term, a first in Israel's political history – though no one's really sure whether he leads his coalition, or vice-versa, as a spate of draft laws destined to curb the power of the Supreme Court and to suppress dissent by left-wing NGOs and journalists seems to indicate,.

The U.S. election is one year away; Europe grapples with its financial woes. Netanyahu can expect that no tangible peace initiative will disturb his peace of mind.

The civil war in Syria, the tentative exercise of democracy building in Libya and Yemen, and the surge of democratically elected Islamic parties in Tunisia, Morocco and now Egypt are more burning issues, and more reasons for hope, and concern.

This allows Mister "We-told-you-so" to close the door on worldviews which don't fit his Spartan stance, "The stronger Israel is, the closer peace will be", and to indulge in truism, "For the negotiations to end, they first need to be started".

Opening the parliamentary winter session last month, Netanyahu peppered his policy address with effusive expressions of regret and misfortune – though not his. Excerpts:

See under "Peace": "Regrettably, the Palestinians continue to refuse to engage in direct negotiations with us…Unfortunately, while we support the foundation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement, the Palestinians try to reach a Palestinian state without a peace agreement."

Under "Arab Spring": "Unfortunately, the attitude (towards Israel) isn't expected to get any better in most of the new regimes, not in the foreseeable future."

Regarding Iran's nuclear quest, Netanyahu usually, prudently, let his defence minister do the talking. Yet on Sunday, context, and subtext, merged into a solemn speech delivered at the grave of Israel's founder David Ben-Gurion.

Netanyahu compared the decision he faces and the decision his legendary predecessor faced in 1948, on the eve of proclaiming Israel's independence.

Evoking "friendly" warnings that such declaration could escalate into a "grave and difficult battle" with Arab armies, Netanyahu declared: "We're here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right time. I want to believe we'll always act with responsibility and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our security."

Netanyahu clearly referred to Panetta's warning that a strike on Iran's programme could "consume the Middle East in conflict that we would regret."

All this leads columnist Akiva Eldar to conclude in the liberal daily Haaretz: "Netanyahu has defeated Abbas, Obama, the EU., and the Israeli Left," and to bemoan, "Netanyahu wins; Israel loses."

And how do the 'losers' react? Israelis like to say, "Don't be right, be clever." The maxim ought to be directed at their Prime Minister.

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS )copyright Inter Press Service (IPS)
http://www.ipsnewsasia.net/ and http://www.ipsnews.net/