FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Will the Israeli Left Finally Awaken?

Israelis barely had time to absorb the news that they were heading into a summer election when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday pulled the rug from underneath the charade. Rancourous early electioneering had provided cover for a secret agreement between Netanyahu and the main opposition party, Kadima, to form a new, expanded coalition government.

Rather than facing the electorate in September, Netanyahu and his hardline rightwing government are expected to comfortably see out the remaining 18 months of his term of office. Not only that, but he will now have the backing of more than three-quarters of the 120-seat Israeli parliament, leading one commentator to crown him the “King of Israel”.

The announcement may have taken Israelis by surprise but it fully accorded with the logic of an increasingly dysfunctional Israeli political culture.

Shaul Mofaz, who a few weeks ago ousted Tzipi Livni as head of the centre-right Kadima party, had been vitriolic in denouncing Netanyahu. He called the prime minister a “liar” and went to the trouble of posting on his Facebook page a pledge that he would never make a deal with this “weak, incompetent and deaf government”.

He also boasted in a recent interview that he would topple Netanyahu by leading the revival of mass social protests expected in the summer.

Last year hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand an end to the rocketing cost of living, much of it caused by business cartels that were empowered by Netanyahu and his Likud party in privatisation programmes years ago.

But the reality was that Mofaz, a hawkish former army chief of staff who is seen as a lacklustre, power-hungry and slippery politician, had no credibility with either the demonstrators or the wider electorate.

Kadima, which has never strayed far from its ideological roots in the Likud, from which it split several years ago, is currently the largest faction in the parliament. But polls suggested Mofaz would lead it to electoral oblivion.

The deal will win him a temporary reprieve, with a seat in the inner circle alongside Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the long-time defence minister whose own party was expected to vanish if the September election had taken place.

Kadima will get no ministries but Mofaz will have a say in the biggest issues facing Israel: its dealings with Iran and the Palestinians.

This may be good for Mofaz personally but most likely his act of supreme duplicity will finish off Kadima as an independent party. The next year and a half may see him try to return to the Likud fold.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, has created a national unity government that more precisely reflects the majority mood: an unalloyed, aggressive and xenophobic rightwing consensus.

There was little need for Netanyahu to bring Kadima into the coalition. He was racing ahead in the polls, his popularity outstripping that of all the other major party leaders combined. And he had won this scale of support even as senior security officials, including the former heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet, questioned his rationality on the issue of whether to attack Iran.

But there are advantages to Netanyahu in postponing an election he was expected to win.

Not least, it gives him time to entrench moves towards authoritarianism. Netanyahu has been behind a series of measures to weaken the media, human rights groups, and the courts. At the moment his government is defying a series of Supreme Court rulings to dismantle several small Jewish settlements on Palestinian land that are illegal even under Israeli law.

An uninterrupted 18 months will allow him to further undermine these rival centres of power. One of the promises he and Mofaz made yesterday was to overhaul the system of government. Netanyahu now has enough MPs to overturn even the most sacrosanct of Israel’s Basic Laws.

In addition, the new coalition will face an all but non-existent parliamentary opposition: a shrivelled centre-left of the Labor and Meretz parties, with only a handful of seats; a few noisy ultra-nationalists who would be more trouble in government than Netanyahu needs; and the Arab parties, who are reviled by Jewish public and politicians alike.

Labor’s new leader, Shelly Yacimovich, was expected to partially revive her party’s fortunes on the back of the social protests and might have been joined in a potentially confrontational opposition by a new centrist party, headed by TV news anchor and heart-throb Yair Lapid. Now both are relegated to the political margins.

Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, whom Netanyahu fears most as a potential challenger, has also been defanged. His current, pivotal role in the coalition will be savagely diminished by the bulky presence of Kadima.

Another bonus for Netayahu is that he is now better situated to see off the potentially dangerous early days of a Barack Obama second term, if the US president is re-elected in November. This is when some observers believed the US president, serially humiliated by Netanyahu over the settlements and the peace process, might seek his revenge.

But should Obama choose a fight on the Palestinian issue, he will be facing a prime minister whose position in Israel is unassailable.

What does all this mean for Iran and the Palestinians?

Regarding the former, several commentators and some of his own ministers have argued that Netanyahu now has a free hand to launch a go-it-alone attack on Iran and destroy what he claims is a nuclear weapons programme that might one day rival Israel’s own secret arsenal.

More likely, the expanded coalition will make little difference to Israeli calculations over Iran, one way or the other. Mofaz, like most of the security establishment, opposes an attack unless it is headed by the US.

But Netanyahu will doubtless exploit his strengthened position to up the rhetoric against Tehran and add to the pressure for intensified action from the US and Europe.

As for the Palestinians, it can mean only more of the same — or worse. Mofaz, who tried to distinguish himself in opposition by proposing a miserly peace plan that would see the Palestinians holed up in a series of enclaves, lacks the political weight to deflect Netanyahu from his even more intransigent approach.

But at least for Netanyahu, the Kadima leader will cut a more presentable figure in Washington than Lieberman as an advocate for Israel’s hard line.

The Israeli prime minister’s claim yesterday that he was about to unveil a “responsible peace process” should be taken no more seriously than his professed commitment, abandoned the same day, to submit himself to the judgment of the Israeli electorate.

The one small sliver of light is that what remains of the Israeli left, so long in hibernation or denial, may finally be stirred into a response by the antics of this ugly ruling cabal.

Last year’s social protests remained, in a great Israeli tradition, studiously “apolitical”, unlike their counterparts, the Occupy movements, in the United States and Europe.

The demonstrators refused to draw any connection between the rapidly polarised economic situation — the gap between Israel’s rich and poor is now as bad as in the US — and either the right’s self-serving neoliberal policies or the occupation that has channelled endless resources to the settlers and the security establishment.

This summer Israel may finally get its own Occupy movement — one prepared to tackle the real occupation.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

 

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

September 20, 2018
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail