Permalink | Date posted: May 14, 2012
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to absorb the opposition Kadima Party into a gargantuan ruling coalition was probably not about foreign policy. With a growing rift between Israel’s secular and religious communities, the contentious issue of military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox students was already threatening Netanyahu’s conservative coalition. Instead of constantly covering his right flank, frequently under assault from his natural yet troublesome religious and nationalist allies, Netanyahu could have just as easily called new elections and strengthened the position of his own Likud Party, which was likely to gain seats.
Instead, in a political masterstroke that has impressed the prime minister’s critics and admirers alike, Netanyahu reached out to the centrist Kadima Party—composed largely of former Likudniks—and captured a parliamentary supermajority of 94 seats in the 120-seat body. In the process, the conservative leader cemented his grip on power and neutralized the right-wing gadflies that were poised to bring down his government.
The move does more to ensure Netanyahu’s continued survival as prime minister than anything else. But given the prominent role Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet—particularly the settler bloc—has ostensibly played in staying the prime minister’s hand on the Palestinian peace process, the new arrangement should give Netanyahu plenty of political space to chart a more moderate course with respect to the Palestinians, should he be so inclined.
The neoconservative right in the United Statesseems unconcerned by Bibi’s gambit. Netanyahu and his partners, writes Jonathan Tobin at Commentary, “have much more in common on the question of dealing with the Palestinians than they differ. All support in principle a two-state solution and all understand that the only real obstacle to such a deal is the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.” Tobin also took the opportunity to “remind liberal American critics of Netanyahu just how far out of step they are with political reality in Israel.”
The move could also give Netanyahu a freer hand to launch a strike against Iran. However dimly his right-wing coalition partners may have regarded the Palestinians, they remained skeptical about an Israeli war with the Islamic Republic. His new partners may prove more easily persuaded.
On the one hand, notes J.J. Goldberg at the Forward, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz has taken a more cautious line on Iranthan Netanyahu, deferring to former intelligence officials like Meir Dagan who oppose a unilateral Israeli strike. On the other, according to one Israeli military commentator, Netanyahu “can do whatever he wants. He just has to convince Mofaz to agree with him.” Jeffrey Golderg (who argues that the left “doesn’t matter very much in Israel these days”) noted that Netanyahu “would want to lead as broad a coalition as possible should the Iran issue come to a head,” adding that Netanyahu would no longer be pressured to launch an attack on Iran in the interim between an Israeli election in September and the U.S. election in November.
The new coalition also preserves the role of the unpopular defense minister Ehud Barak, a stringent Iran hawk who has slowly nudged Netanyahu into the hawkish camp. Unlike the most militant anti-Palestinian elements of Netanyahu’s cabinet, the most fervid anti-Iranian elements are staying on.
It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will leverage his supermajority toward an ambitious policy agenda or simply toward his own political survival. But whatever he decides to do, he appears to have created sufficient political space to accomplish it comfortably. When it comes to Palestine and Iran, two issues of tension between Washington and Jerusalem on which Netanyahu has hidden behind his coalition, Washington should take note: they are negotiating with a man who controls his own political destiny. And they should hold him accountable for it.
A writer for The Atlantic who served in the Israeli military, Jeffrey Goldberg is a liberal hawk who has supported confrontational U.S. policies towards Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
Inter Press Service What led the Middle East hit parade last week was less the chords struck harmoniously at the…
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Ben Wattenberg is an author and demographer who was based at the American Enterprise Institute for many years. He was also the host of Think Tank, a PBS talk show that aired during 1994-2010. A veteran of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger, Wattenberg was part of a vanguard of neoconservative figures who in the 1970s drifted from the Democratic Party to the hawkish right. Alongside his foreign policy advocacy, Wattenberg has written numerous alarmist tracts on social issues, including worrying about declining birth rates in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and warning that “Divorce, legalized abortion, and easy-to-use contraceptives have all contributed to the numbers of ‘never-born babies,’” creating a “social deficit’ that plagues nations across the world.”
Brigette Gabriel, a Lebanese-born anti-Islamic activist and founder of the right-wing group ACT! for America, is notorious for making fear-mongering claims about terrorism and Islam. She has called the Islamic faith “not compatible with Western civilization” and insisted that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” At a Heritage Foundation event earlier this year, Gabriel drew scrutiny after she verbally attacked a Muslim American law student, questioning whether the student was an American. More recently, capitalizing on right-wing hysteria over immigration and extremist groups in the Middle East, Gabriel alleged that ISIS members were crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, citing reports from unnamed “members of the Department of Homeland Security.”
As a director of the Project for the New American Century in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gary Schmitt helped spread inaccurate information about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction and promote the invasion of Iraq. Schmitt subsequently supported U.S. intervention in Syria, whose own civil war was directly linked to the fallout from Iraq. Schmitt has also been a vocal advocate of NATO expansion, which many observers think has contributed to the current tensions between the West and Russia. Schmitt has also advocated revoking U.S. security guarantees for Western European countries unless they increase their military budgets and adopt a more controversial approach to Russia.
AIPAC’s failed efforts to force U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war and to scuttle U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, along with its increasing alienation from younger Jewish Americans on the Palestinian issue, have led many critics of the lobby to conclude that its formidable influence is slowly eroding. “Today, a growing number of American Jews, though still devoted to Israel, struggle with the lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians. Many feel that AIPAC does not speak for them,” reported The New Yorker in a lengthy profile last August. On the other hand, the group was still able to push through emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, prompting one GOP Senate aide to complain, “The worst part was having to vote for this at a time we are all so upset by the killing in Gaza. It's as if AIPAC knows how angry we are so the whole Senate has to take their test. They will make us cast a totally symbolic vote, just to show who's in charge.”
Despite the origins of the terrorist group ISIS in the fallout of the Iraq War, leading Iraq hawk Bill Kristol has no qualms about potential blowback from sending U.S. troops back to the country. “Intellectuals overthink things,” he said in August. “We got involved in Afghanistan to bring down the Soviet Union and probably helped create, indirectly, some of what came about in Afghanistan and ideas that led to 9/11. That’s life. Maybe we could have been cleverer in all these cases, but often, when you mess around in the real world, you have unintended effects and some of them are bad.” Seeming to forget his previous point, Kristol concluded by wondering, “What’s the harm of bombing [ISIS] at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens? I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that could be bad there. We could kill a lot of very bad guys.”