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, Goldberg’s publications have often appeared to bolster hawkish U.S. policies in the Middle East, particularly with respect to Iran and Iraq.
Inter Press Service What led the Middle East hit parade last week was less the chords struck harmoniously at the…
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Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal columnist who has long trumpeted a hawkish “pro-Israel” line on Mideast policy, recently penned a satirical op-ed calling on Republicans to vote for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in the next presidential primary, because—he explained—what Republicans need as a “nominee in 2016 is a man of … glaring disqualifications. Someone so nakedly unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of sane Americans that only the GOP could think of nominating him.” Among the issues that mark Paul as a right-wing crazy, according to Stephens, is his insistence that Vice President Dick Cheney helped manufacture a “war in Iraq” for his friends in business and politics. But, asks Stephens, “Cui bono—to whose benefit? It's the signature question of every conspiracy theorist with an unhinged mind. Cheney. Halliburton. Big Oil. The military-industrial complex. Neocons. 9/11. Soldiers electrocuted in the shower. It all makes perfect sense, doesn't it?”
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Concerned Women for America (CWA), a Christian Right advocacy group founded to combat the influence of “anti-God” feminists, recently made “support for Israel” one of its core issues. As part of its newfound mission, the group lobbied in support of the Kirk-Menendez “insurance policy” sanctions on Iran, which critics said were designed to scuttle the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The group has also drawn controversy in recent years for supporting anti-gay legislation in Russia and for publishing a host of anti-Islamic statements.
Michael Hayden, the former top U.S. intelligence official who presided over the Bush administration's controversial warrantless wiretapping program, has been a staunch defender of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques championed by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks. When Sen. Diane Feinstein recently argued that a Senate-approved report on the CIA’s torture programs should be publicly released in order to help prevent such practices from being used again, Hayden claimed on Fox News that the senator was showing ”deep emotional feeling” but not objectivity, prompting a sharp backlash from critics who called the remark sexist and inaccurate.
Billionaire investor and GOP super-donor Paul Singer has attracted some positive press lately for his role as a leading Republican funder of gay rights groups, with the Washington Post describing him as "one of the foremost backers of LGBT rights on the right." But Singer is also a leading funder of neoconservative foreign policy outfits—including the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, among several others—that have promoted U.S. military action against Iran. Singer, who has millions of dollars at stake in the ongoing dispute over Argentina's 2001 debt default, has also directed his largesse toward efforts to link Argentina to Iran, directing millions to right-wing think tanks and politicians that have accused Argentina of abetting an Iranian cover-up of Hezbollah's alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.