Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bibi On the Brink

This afternoon, the Likud party chairman, Binyamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu finally received President Shimon Peres' official letter of appointment as prime minister. After the failure of his own desperate last-ditch efforts to gather Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's support for a unity government on Friday, Peres formally entrusted Netanyahu with the task of building a coalition.

Netanyahu insisted he had been willing to "go to great lengths" in order to get Kadima to join his government, but, after their meeting yesterday, Livni was in no mood for compromise. Having rejected the president's plea that she reconsider joining a coalition comprised of the three largest parties - Kadima, Likud and Beiteinu - Livni insisted that a "broad coalition is worthless if it is not governed by values."

Netanyahu is caught on the jagged horns of a distinct dilemma. Having insisted repeatedly during the campaign that not forming a national-unity government when he was prime minister from 1996-99 was his worst-ever political mistake, Bibi is desperate to bring Likud on board. How desperate? A source at the Jerusalem Post insists he has offered her five portfolios in his cabinet.

Livni, however, has made her vows to the party faithful. She rejects any notion that she could be a "fig leaf" for a right-wing government. A text message was sent out to 80,000 Kadima loyalists’ cell phones yesterday. "Today, the foundations of a right-wing extremist government under Netanyahu were set. The path of such a government is not our own and we have nothing to look for there. You didn't vote for us in order to provide a kosher certificate for a right-wing government, and we need to provide an alternative of hope from the opposition. We were not elected to legitimize an extreme right government and we must be an alternative of hope and go to opposition"

Livni is not playing coy here. She refuses to sacrifice her ideology, which is far removed from that of the Likud. Netanyahu's Likud came a close second in the elections but was given the opportunity to form a cabinet because of the strong performance in general of right-wing parties in general. He has six weeks to put together a majority coalition. Having failed to seduce Livni, the Likud leader promptly called on his other major rival, Ehud Barak, of Labour to join him in a broad national unity government. Yet, despite his anemic showing in the polls, Barak says he is tired of serving in unity coalitions and insists that he, too, wants to be part of the opposition. Without Livni and Barak, Bibi can put together a coalition of extremists, but it will only have a slim majority and will run into a tidal wave of international criticism.

Netanyahu's platform has nothing to say concerning the world economic crisis. Obsessed with Iran's nuclear ambitions, and "Iranian terrorism surrounding us from the south and the north" – a reference to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. His high-pitched rhetoric ratchets up the stakes in middle eastern politics just as Hillary Clinton starts taking baby steps as the U.S. Secretary of State. Cynics say that Bibi's hysteria is for the benefit of Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right party, having won 15 seats, has turned him into the king maker of these elections.

Goodman and Netanyahu are very different people, but their most extreme positions are mutually shared. Goodman is a religious zealot. He wants to take away all rights for Israeli Arabs and expel them all to some heretofore unnamed place. As the Palestinians of Gaza refuse to reject Hamas, Goodman wants to empty Gaza of all Palestinians. This insane political position is mutually agreed upon by Bibi. The reality of a genocidal war costing tens of thousands of lives seems to touch no ethical nerve in either politician. On the other hand, after participating in a Ma'Ariv poll concerning levels of 'preventitive measures' as well as various other doomsday scenarios, it is a deep cause of concern to me that at least one-third of the Israeli public are so concerned with the intransigence of Iran and its terrorist acolytes that genocide is actually considered a viable alternative.

At the same time, playing into the hands of Goodman and Netanyahu while embarrassing the former foreign minister, Livni, Hamas flatly rejects Israel's demand that it free a captive soldier in return for lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy leader of Hamas, accuses Israel of backtracking over a truce agreement, insisting that Corporal Gilad Shalit will only be released in return for hundreds of Hamas prisoners locked up in Israeli jails. "We will not change our position," he told The Guardian in Damascus yesterday. "This is a moral judgment against Israel. Israel has had moral support and legitimacy since the second world war and its propaganda has described Hamas as a terrorist group. There's been a real change on those two points - but this mass support has not managed to break the blockade of Gaza."

Is Bibi Netanyahu the one who can end conflict in the Middle East? I say, categorically, no!!! Once a handsome, suave, fit, sophisticated man of the world with an M.I.T. education, Netanyahu maneuvered his way into the Israeli corridors of power through his appointment as Israeli ambassador to the U.S, during the years when Menachem Begin was the Likud prime minister. Legendary for his huge penis, sexual staying power and the ability to wine, dine and screw hundreds of Washington women, especially those in the press corps, Bibi was charming on television, and, although slightly hawkish in his politics, he was always amenable to discussing hopes of a Palestinian homeland with the likes of Ted Koppel and Dan Rather on the U.S. networks.

When Menachem Begin stepped down as prime minister after the death of his wife, Netanyahu became the anointed one. Unfortunately, as prime minister, Bibi's penchant for sex and corruption multiplied out of all proportion. Bribery is not frowned upon in Israeli society. All transactions seem to be accompanied by a nod, a wink and a fistful of dollars instead of shekels. Yet, the level of overt greed during Netanyahu's administration rose to unmanageable proportions. No female was safe in the vicinity of Bibi or his hand-picked cabinet. The scandal finally broke in 1997 when Bibi's wife, tired of ever being the cuckold, broke down and contacted her journalist friends. As a result, various kiss-and-tell stories appeared in newspapers around the world, a scandal too specific and too sleazy for even an open-minded cosmopolitan Israeli public to deal with.

Disgraced, Netanyahu stayed out of the public eye and kept a low profile. The Israeli public, however, are very forgiving, particularly in Bibi's case as he was doing what my friend Eli says is "what any Israeli male would do if he was in his position." Nowadays Bibi is fat and sassy. His once conservative rhetoric now skirts the borderline of racism concerning Iran and the Palestinians. There is no doubt that he will be able to form a cabinet. It is, of course, impossible to know if he will be reckless enough to attack Iran's nuclear facilities without the tacit agreement of the new Obama administration. Should he be crazy enough to do this, all bets are off as to what happens next in the Middle East.

As for Tzipi Livni, the possibility of decades in power awaits her if she waits patiently for Netanyahu to hang himself. The vegetarian daughter of two Polish-born Irgun freedom fighters, she is a bootstrap Sabra. Educated at Bir-Zeit University, after doing her military service, Livni spent more than a decade as a Mossad officer, working underground for two years in Lebanon during the civil war. The Mossad is the ultimate boys' club in a macho country. Yet she succeeded. Consequently, to succeed in both the Mossad and the ruthless cauldron that is the Knesset before being picked out for her brilliance by the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and made foreign minister, means Tzipporah Malka Livni is made of the right stuff. Benyamin Netanyahu is intellectually overmatched by her.

At this moment, the Israeli public still refuses to accept the intransigence of Hamas and feels the last Olmert government should not have made its two short wars and subsequent truces so easily. The detritus of any new conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah will see Israel face a lose/lose scenario, no matter what. A right-wing coalition, according to some conservative fantasies, especially the likes of Elliot Abrams and Richard Perle in the U.S., might be just the ticket to intimidate Hamas to sit down at the table. Having eaten our collective humble pie after 9/11 and two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans ought to show due diligence and tread lightly in the Negev. Provided Netanyahu is not insane enough to attack Iran and turn Israel into the world's Typhoid Mary. If anyone can sit down at a table with Mousa Abu Marzook, Khaled Mashael, Ismael Haniyah and Mahmoud Zahar, the leadership of Hamas, and then, ultimately, their mullah masters in Tehran, it's her. For now Tzipi just has to out wait Bibi's fat ass.


baraka said...

I wonder if we can vote Bush back into office just for entertainment value

Unknown said...

nice commentary...i did not know Tsivi Lipsi had been Mossad...

Good stuff~

URBAN said...

So should we expect ethnic cleansing now?

You seem to feel that Livni is substantially better. She strikes me as no better than the best of a bad lot. I'd call it a sad state of affairs all the way round.

Ivor Irwin said...

Urban, a sad state of affairs indeed, but Americans have to accept that the Labour Party is finished in a leadership capacity. The notion of the Israelis or Israeli politicians as a "bad lot" is fine and dandy if it works for you, but, as in any other country, they are the sum of the nation's culture and history. The only cards the Israelis have to deal with are Judaeh and Samaria (The West BanK), the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Anyone who thinks Iran and the Syrians, along with their proxy puppets in Hezbollah and Hamas will ultimately accept any part of a pie and peace is an idiot.