Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rules of Engagement VI: Israel pt. 2

I normally make it a policy not to repeat the stuff that Andrew Sullivan posts simply because if you're on the web, you should be reading Andrew Sullivan, but until you read this sentence, you don't truly understand Israel today:

"Beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it’s unbearable."

That's Prime Minister Netenyahu in 2001 describing his approach to Palestine. Or how about his view on the Oslo Accords:

"Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo Accords."

Silly Netenyahu, don't you remember how it was all Arafat's fault?

(Update: in my irritation, I forgot to actually link to the article.)


Ian Thal said...

Whoa, I really hate to be mistaken like a Netanyahu apologist but these quotes are way out of context.

We have to remember that that 2001 quote was from when he was not serving in government and was in the midst of the Second Intifada-- a very different situation than currently exists.

Netanyahu was also had been out of office for over a year when the peace talks failed in 2000, Barak was the PM, Clinton the US President, and Arafat was there for the PA.

CultureFuture said...

In the latter quote, he takes credit for putting his heels down from 1997 onwards. Honestly, I think Netanyahu is overblowing his own involvement as well. But the point of the matter is he wants to take credit for the failure of the peace process.

Supposing it is true that he was out in the wilderness during the peace talk failure. Suppose right now Barack Obama invaded Iran. If Dick Cheney took credit for it, it wouldn't be a particular credit to Cheney's character to say "well he's not in government anymore."

The point is his quotations clearly indicate his strong opposition to the concept of peace. The only way the fact that those quotes came in 2001 is if you say that in 2001 he believed things that he didn't believe in the 1990s and that he doesn't believe now.

Let's also not forget that his chief of staff in the 1990s was Avigor Lieberman.

Whether or not Netanyahu is really as effective as he claims, his goals are crystal clear in those statements. I would never actually blame him for the failure of the peace process -- but he is definitely one of the failures.

Ian Thal said...

I happen to agree with you that Netanyahu is not the best man for the job precisely for the reasons you cite, but there's a tendency to assign him(self) responsibility when he wasn't in the room.

Your comparison with Dick Cheney is actually quite apt in that Cheney's reputation is that of a brilliant Professor Moriarty-like figure at the center of a web of criminality,yet in reality Cheney was quite inept at anything but bureaucratic infighting.

That said, the rift between Lieberman and Netanyahu might provide hope of a more moderate government.

CultureFuture said...

Yeah, I don't really mean to assign any responsibility to Netanyahu -- I feel as though if he didn't return to power right now, he probably would have faded from history as just another forgettable prime minister.

That being said, I haven't seen much evidence that Netanyahu has had a rift with Lieberman. Sure, Lieberman left to go run his own party, but Netanyahu did give him a rather prized seat in government, and the two have very similar policy agendas (although Lieberman sits to the right).

Historically, however, you have a situation where all three major parties (Kadima, Likud, and Yisrael Beiteinu) are all made up of people who were, twenty years ago, in the Likud and considered right wing.

The Labor party, which for forty years was the largest party in Israel fairly consistently and was the bulwark of the Israeli left, now only consists of 8 seats, 4 of which are actually part of the right wing government (the man who took those four seats with him, Barak, presided over Operation Cast Lead, which certainly doesn't put him in the "dove" column.

So what you have is a government that is dominated by an ultra-right, right, and center right parties. The "center-left" party is fringe, having only two more seats than Shas, the ultra-right religious party. It would be like if in the next election, the Republican and Libertarian parties took most of the Senate, leaving the Democratic party with two more seats than the Tea Party.

Ian Thal said...

I'm not sure how we measure Ehud Barak's "dovishness"-- obviously he's not a pacifist, but is he willing to make peace if he sees the opportunity? I'm inclined to think so based on his past behavior. I'm not sure that an absolutist "dovishness" would make for an effective cabinet minister in this case. He strikes me as as a pragmatist who "hopes for peace but prepares for war."

Lieberman, on the other hand is pretty close to being an absolutist-- to such an extent that he's a near total disaster as a diplomat and has probably made things worse for his country.

The question ultimately is "is Netanyahu enough of a pragmatist not to throw away an opportunity for peace should it avail itself?" I'm certainly not confident of it, but hope I'm wrong.

CultureFuture said...

To Barak's dovishness: one would assume that the left-wing party would be bullish on military engagement. Operation Cast Lead is one of the more controversial and least provoked of Israel's conflicts (it is not completely unprovoked but it was wildly out of proportion with the initial cause). Barak was also on board with the 2006 Lebanon conflict that wound up tearing apart the left-wing government of the time (which has led to its spectacular downfall).

This is not surprising for a man who used to be Chief of Staff of the military, but to consider that Barak should be sitting at the left end of the party.

To make a somewhat unfounded comparison to American politics, whether or not you agree with the initial cause of the Afghanistan war or our continued presence there, there's a range of opinion in Congress even on Afghanistan, ranging from the GOP's position to Ron Paul's anti-interventionism or Nancy Pelosi's demands for a time-table for withdrawal.

Neither Barak nor Livni represent any more dovish of a stance than Netanyahu. I mean, they're more dovish than Lieberman, but that is saying nothing.

As to Netanyahu's pragmatism, the question is, "what sort of pragmatism?" Are we thinking the pragmatism of long-term Israeli future? Or the pragmatism of a politician who wants to know what sits well in the polls?

Part of Yisrael Beiteinu's huge gain in the polls was the fact that they successfully passed a bill against allowing Arabs to run for office, and it was struck down by the courts. If I was a politician who was interested in staying in power and little else, I'd probably tack Conservative right now.

Netanyahu doesn't really have foreign policy "goals." My feel about him is that his goal in Israeli politics has always been privatizing the economy more than it was anything with regards to foreign policy.