According to David Hazony, Shaul Mofaz, the former hawkish Defense Minister and primary rival to Tzipi Livni, might just split from the Kadima Party and join a Likud governing coalition, displacing any chance of a rotating government:
Yesterday Tzipi Livni announced that she will not be number 2 to Netanyahu, and has cast an ultimatum: Either we share the government equally, with a rotating prime-ministership, or we’re in the opposition. (”Twenty-eight,” she correctly points out, “is greater than twenty-seven”) But there’s a real question as to whether she can survive in the opposition. Her party does not have either a tradition of loyalty or a coherent worldview, and we have already begun hearing rumblings from the camp of Shaul Mofaz, the former defense minister who lost the Kadima primary to Livni and commands the party’s hawkish side. There’s some chance that the party would split, with Mofaz taking a bunch of seats over to the Likud-led government. So she has called Bibi’s bluff, and the big question is whether Bibi will call hers.
Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, argues that Israel’s leaders appear to fail the Nixon test:
The only hope now for resuming negotiations is the old “only Nixon could open up China” argument, meaning that only a truly hard-right Israeli leader would have the credibility to make peace with the Palestinians. But it is now clear to historians that Richard Nixon was determined to make his overture to China from the moment he began his presidency. Sadly, the signs that any of Israel’s potential prime ministers are truly prepared to take so bold a step are few.
Obama officials want diplomacy — not force — to guide Mid-East policy:
“The impression in Israel is that the Obama administration has already made its preference known and that its preference is for Kadima – and that impression isn’t going anywhere,” said Georgetown University professor and Israel expert Michael Oren.
work with a centrist government than a right-wing government.”
He added that the preference of the Obama camp, with its interest in intensive diplomacy, was “legitimate,” noting that many Israelis preferred Republican presidential candidate John McCain because they observed a greater alignment of views.
When it comes to Livni, the administration sees someone who has spent the last year working with the Palestinians as part of a negotiating process and made the two-state solution an important part of her campaign, while Netanyahu has been much more circumspect on the extent of his support for that formulation, focusing his campaign on the need for security.
There are no wars of succession, but succession in Israel is nevertheless hard to come by:
What happens next seems a mixture of Lewis Carroll at his wildest and the practices of ancient Byzantium. Shimon Peres, the octogenarian president, has to decide whom to call upon to form a government, and this has to be done within time limits. Peres has the right to ask whoever he thinks has the best prospect. For Peres, peace with the Palestinians has always been just around the corner, and his heart is surely with Livni. For the minority parties, however, national security is a top consideration, and they are not eager to collaborate with Livni. Netanyahu may have his chance, after all.
The next few weeks, then, will reveal who is willing to compromise proclaimed beliefs and ideals, and what the price will be for doing so. Secret horse-trading in backrooms is inevitable in the circumstances. Informed commentators in Israel are predicting that Livni and Netanyahu may be willing to participate in a joint government, and in that case enough minority parties might be persuaded to throw their lots in, too. However, Livni has been trying to persuade Netanyahu into just such a coalition these past months and has failed to do so; hence these elections. Any attempt to make Kadima and Likud ideologically compatible is virtually certain to lead to yet another election.
Jonathan Tobin explains that conservatives have a mandate whoever leads the coalition:
Israel’s voters have rendered their verdict on their country’s political parties and the results are somewhat muddled. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party appears to have finished first by one Knesset seat over Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud (though that might yet change when the final results are tabulated). But the parties of the “right” have a clear majority over those of the “left,” which may leave Bibi in a stronger position to put together a government than Livni. The truth is no Israeli government, whether it is headed by Livni or Netanyahu, is going to give away more territory to the Palestinians under the current circumstances. The “moderates” of Fatah that run the Palestinian Authority are too weak to sign any peace agreement even if they wanted to. Any territory given away now would become, like Gaza, a new Hamasistan.
Likud could form a coalition without plural victory:
Likud MKs said that due to the six- to eight-seat victory of the Right bloc over the Left bloc, they expected President Shimon Peres to entrust Netanyahu with forming the government, even if Kadima ended up with more seats than the Likud.
They said they had no doubt that Livni would fail to form a government, because she was not able to build a coalition in October when the Left bloc had more seats.
“Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister,” the Likud said in a statement after the exit polls were released. “The election proved that the path of the Likud and the national camp won. A clear majority of the nation rejected the path of Kadima and its partners and accepted the path of Likud and the nationalist camp.”
Though Benjamin Netanyahu seemed destined to win (and predicted by pollster Dick Morris during his visit to the Nixon Library) Israel’s elections, the anti-Bibi trend in recent weeks has been unfathomable. However, Likud did gain seats in the Knesset and political opinion in Israel has shifted to the right ideologically.
David Hazony has the exit polls:
Yisrael Beitenu 14
Yisrael Beitenu 15
Yisrael Beitenu 15
Shmuel Rosner has analysis:
If there’s one lesson to be learned from Kadima’s election upset – according to exit polls, it got more mandates than the Likud party – it is this: Binyamin Netanyahu hasn’t yet overcome his reputation among fearful and apprehensive Israelis. Left-wing Meretz got only 4 mandates because Meretz voters turned to Livni in the hope that she will stop Netanyahu. If Labor lost most of the mandates it gained during the Gaza war, it is because potential Labor voters also turned to Livni in the hope that she will stop Netanyahu.
Why do they not like him? It has a lot to do with the way he handled the office of Prime Minister back in the mid Nineties. Apparently, the Israelis that were willing to forgive and forget the earlier sins of Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon weren’t as merciful this time. Too many people refuse to forgive Netanyahu and Ehud Barak for the failures of the Nineties.
Ideologically the Netanyahu way has won. The right-wing block has more votes and more power in the next Israeli parliament. But electiond are often more about personality than about ideology.
Andrew Sullivan’s critique of neoconservatives: that they were captivated by the unbridled euphoria for Iraqi democracy but never wanted to afford the same opportunity to Palestinians. Not true says John Podhoretz, the Bush Administration (whom the label is so affectionately attached) promoted self-determination and a democracy agenda for Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza:
First: neoconservatives told Sullivan Palestinians could never have their own state. In fact, neoconservatives were and remain the most determined supporters of George W. Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech in which he said specifically that the United States would accept a Palestinian state just so long as that state was a democratic one. Indeed, some of the most violent attacks against neoconservatives have come from hard-line Israelis who do believe what Sullivan claims neoconservatives believe — and who believe COMMENTARY betrayed them and Israel because it published work supporting the Israeli disengagement from Gaza. In Israeli political terms, an American neoconservative would fall somewhere in the soft center, and would be roundly despised by the “Israeli right” he thinks has the neoconservatives in its thrall.
Aren’t the goals still the same? A rollback to pre-67 borders for Israel to be left alone? Victor Davis Hanson remains deeply pessimistic about what he calls redundancy in the Mitchell plan:
Most everywhere else in the world, wars lead to defeat for one side and victory for the other. The issue, brutally or not, is resolved on the battlefield. Look at the fate of a Saddam Hussein or a Slobodan Milosevic.
But in the Middle East nearly alone, war breaks out and immediately hysteria follows before one side can win and the other lose. “Peace” is imposed, and then we are back to the same old unresolved hatred, terrorism—and the next war.
In such a bleak landscape, what will Barack Obama do?
Probably what Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and the two Bushes tried to do—the same old so-called “land for peace” deal: Israel is supposed to go back to something approaching the pre-1967 borders, and the Palestinians, with their brand-new state on the West Bank, must promise that this time they will really let Israel be.
So, for now we watch for a new “Mitchell Plan,” another conference somewhere, more billions in aid, new names for old terrorist organizations, and more pious speechmaking at the U.N. Then soon the next administration will come in to power, with the next peace plan, the next new envoy—and the next new war.
Funny country, Turkey. The more it democratizes, the more it Islamicizes. Founded as an anti-clerical state, this secular bastion has long been preserved by the army, which sees itself as the ultimate authority, and every once in a while stages a coup to prove it. This is the part that is pro-Israel, that has turned Turkey into one of Israel’s most important military allies.
Then there is the other Turkey, the one that holds democratic elections, the one that picked the pro-Islam, openly anti-Israel Recep Erdogan as its premier.
Suddenly we have a major hiccup in Israel-Turk relations, after a decade of deepening cooperation in military, economic, and tourism spheres. Israel fought Hamas, and Erdogan launched into the crimes-against-humanity canard. In the span of a week, we hear that Israelis have basically stopped vacationing there (this, after an Israeli basketball team was run off the court by violent, anti-semitic fans). Some American Jews are more willing to discuss the Armenian genocide, which they’ve tended not to mention for fear of harming Israel-Turkey relations. Israel’s president Shimon Peres has a public spat with Erdogan at Davos, resulting in the latter’s walking off the stage. And Israel, which is not very choosy in selling arms to other countries, is considering downgrading its arms sales to Turkey, for fear of the weapons getting into the wrong hands.
Where is this going? Unclear. Fixing things with Turkey will be a crucial burden for Israel’s next government. But for now, it’s nice to see Israel standing up for itself, not just against its enemies, but especially with its allies.
Read more here.
President Obama was interviewed on Al-Arabiyah telvision yesterday to strike a more “conciliatory” and nuanced tone with the Muslim world than what was apparent during the “cowboy diplomacy” era of the Bush administration. But according to Jennifer Rubin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn’t sound that remote from the consistent, steadfast, and resolute President Bush:
Straight declarative sentences. A firm line on terrorism. An unapologetic tone about the United States’ ongoing humanitarian efforts for the Palestinian people. And an unequivocal stance in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. That sounds, well, downright reasonable.
Whether she is the lone voice in the wilderness or one of many conflicting voices emanating from the new administration (which seems to have a plethora of power centers) remains to be seen. But if she is going to maintain her influence as the President’s primary voice on foreign policy she better make sure everyone else is in sync with her. And right now that might not be a bad place to be.
Is it possible for George Mitchell to be even-handed between Israel and Gaza’s extremist government. Peter Wehner explains Obama’s Mid-East policy:
However, I find this “even-handedness” debate incredibly trite. For starters, what would “even-handedness” even look like? At the moment, it would presumably be the happy medium between the demands of Hamas and those of the current Israeli government. Does such a thing even exist? Is it possible to find a “fair” compromise between an Islamist group that rejects Israel’s very existence and a democratic state that has supported a two-state solution for nearly two decades? Indeed, there is simply no way to please both sides sufficiently (if at all), and therefore no way that both sides could possibly come to view Mitchell’s mission as “even-handed.” Remember: the ultimate arbiters of whether or not a Middle East peace mission is “even-handed” are not the Abe Foxmans or Matthew Yglesiases of the world, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
Second, concerns regarding an “even-handed” approach completely ignore America’s foremost objective in the Middle East — namely, promoting stability, both to counter Iranian-inspired radicalism and as a mechanism for ensuring the free-flow of oil. In turn, the debate regarding “even-handedness” overlooks the simple fact that — even if it were hypothetically possible to compromise between Israeli and Palestinian positions — the U.S. would be unwilling to tolerate any downgrade in Israeli strength, and therefore unable to approach Israeli and Palestinian security demands even-handedly. Support for a regionally dominant Israel has been a central component of American security policy in the Levant for decades, and deserves much of the credit for the absence of Arab-Israeli interstate warfare since 1973. For this reason, it is hard to imagine Mitchell believing that U.S. policy in the Levant could somehow be recast around promoting Israeli-Palestinian parity, or that Israel could make security concessions in the name of “fairness” without undermining precious regional stability.
“The Economist” sounds only guardedly hopeful about prospects in the Middle East as President Obama turns to the former senator who helped Bill Clinton earn richly-deserved accolades for driving the settlement of the Irish question, itself once thought intractable:
Mr [George] Mitchell, though, manages to sound confident. On Thursday he referred to the hopeful example of seeing centuries of violence come to an end in Ireland. “Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings—they can be ended by human beings”, he said. His new challenge may be to persuade rivals in the Middle East to consider their adversaries’ interests. In his 2001 report, he suggested that each side’s lack of appreciation for the other’s views encouraged rivals to adopt the most extreme positions possible.
Of course, the senator is right. For Presidents, the question has always been how much precious and finite political capital to invest in that most risky of investments, namely angry-human futures. Will Israel and the Palestinians be enlightened or exhausted enough to make peace? If they aren’t, Obama will pay a price.
For now, all people of good will are with Sen. Mitchell as the U.S. is once against triangulated into humanity’s longest-running family spat.
In an attempt to show Iran that he is still a player, Bolivian President Evo Morales has followed up his banishment of the U.S. Ambassador with condemnation of Israel’s strike on Gaza, threatening to take Israel’s leaders to the International Criminal Court:
President Evo Morales announced Wednesday he was breaking relations with Israel over its invasion of the Gaza Strip and said he will ask the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against top Israeli officials.
Morales’ ally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela broke ties with Israel last week.
Morales told the country’s diplomatic corps that the Israeli attack “seriously threatened world peace” and he called for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Cabinet to face criminal charges.
Morales chided the United Nations’ “Insecurity Council” for its “lukewarm” response to the crisis and said the U.N. General Assembly should condemn the invasion.
He also said Israeli President Shimon Peres should be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize for failing to stop the invasion.
Israel launched the onslaught in Gaza on Dec. 27, seeking to force the ruling Hamas militant group to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel. The offensive has killed more than 940 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, according to Palestinian officials.
Morales and Chavez have worked to cultivate ties to Iran, which supports Hamas. Morales met Tuesday with visiting Iranian officials, who gave him a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thanking Morales for his previously voicing supporting for the Palestinians.
James Robbins at National Review notes just how pathetic and irrelevant Osama Bin Laden has become:
Osama bin Laden weighs in on Gaza, calling for jihad, criticizing Arab states for playing footsie with Israel, and so forth. And of course it is “news” because this is bin Laden, who hasn’t done much recently but who is still the embodiment of evil, and who occasionally demonstrates he is still alive. It is pathetic that the only way he can show the world he exists is by releasing occasional taped statements on events he is really not involved with and cannot influence. He is like a color commentator who has long since left the game and only states the obvious when on screen, but whose previous track record and personality keeps him bankable; and who knows, maybe someday he’ll do something memorable again. Meanwhile it’s jihad this, ummah that, Al Aqsa and the other thing — it’s a shame we haven’t been able to terminate his contract.
Eric Trager at Commentary Magazine points to a New York Times report that interviews supposed locals in the West Bank who are now embracing Hamas:
Today, the New York Times’s website carries a video suggesting that anger is rising in the West Bank over the war in Gaza. And, in contrast to what I’ve previously observed in Michael Slackman’s work, the producers of this newsreel provide interviews in Arabic — as well as footage of protests — that convincingly demonstrate this anger.
But about halfway through the video, the narrator introduces another point: namely, that the war in Gaza is actually increasing support for Hamas among West Bank Palestinians. If true, this would be a very consequential finding: after all, those backing Israel — particularly the United States, Egypt, and Jordan — are counting on Israel’s ground invasion to damage Hamas, both politically and militarily.
So how does the Times go about substantiating this unsettling claim? First, it interviews Osama Zitawi, who claims that, “Everybody who doesn’t like Hamas, today is with Hamas. Everybody — even I hear from people with Fatah — they are with Hamas.” And who is Osama Zitawi, you ask. According to the Times, he’s a 50-year-old tourist from Denver. Is this standard journalistic practice – interviewing American tourists in Ramallah to illustrate Palestinian public opinion?
The video ends on an even less persuasive note – that is, if you can translate basic Arabic rally slogans. On one hand, the narrator closes by stating, “Support for Hamas is unlikely to fade so long as they’re seen as standing up for the Palestinians in Gaza.” Yet at the same time, a group of kaffiyeh-clad girls are shown chanting, “La Fatah wa la Hamas! … La Abbas wa la Haniyeh.“ If I told you that “la” means “no” and “wa” means “and” in Arabic, do you think that you could figure out whether this rally actually suggests increased support for Hamas in the West Bank, as the video claims?
Gary Kasparov writes that Russian oil is hurting from the global economic crisis, and the only short term hope for inflating prices is not pro-growth policies, but to help stoke anxiety with fellow petro-buddies in the Middle East, the conflict in Gaza is a start:
The natural place for the Kremlin to find its new crisis is the Middle East. Open hostilities between Iran and Israel would lift the price of oil back to a level that would allow Mr. Putin and his gang to keep funding the crackdown. Israel’s anxiety over Iran’s nuclear-weapon ambitions is the most vulnerable link in a very weak chain.
There persists a very damaging myth in the West, spouted by politicians and the press, that says Russia’s assistance is needed with Iran and other rogue states. In fact, the Kremlin has been stirring this pot for years and has a vested interest in further increasing turmoil in the region. The Hamas/Hezbollah rockets, based on the Russian Katyusha and Grad, are not delivered via DHL from Allah. It doesn’t require the guile of a KGB man like Mr. Putin to imagine a way to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program, which has been aided by Russian technology and protected by the Kremlin from meaningful international action.
So the question for Western leaders is whether they doubt Mr. Putin would hesitate to provoke a war in the Middle East. If his regime falls, he and his cronies will face the loss of their immense fortunes and criminal prosecution when their looting is exposed. What are thousands of lives in the Middle East to a Kremlin mob that is openly preparing for the day when they will have to open fire on their own citizens to stay in power?
Commentary Magazine’s Jonathan Tobin takes Boston University Professor Andrew Bacevich to task on the argument that post ‘67 land levels are the cause of Palestinian self determination coming at the cost of Israel’s security.
As the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip nears the end of its second week, two things are clear: first, that it will come to some sort of internationally brokered end; and second, that it will end thus because there is no other end that Israel will countenance. This is not to say that there is no other end Israel wants, but it cannot have what it wants — Hamas will neither be destroyed nor neutered — and so the question of the end is a question of what it may have. For all the vitriol the Jewish state receives every time it attacks those who attack it — be it a Vatican hierarch invoking the Holocaust(!), or the United Nations harrumphing about the sanctity of its property — the ground truth is that Israel lacks the bloody-mindedness to end things as it might, and as its enemies certainly would.
To illustrate this, we must look to the terrible numbers from the field of battle — or rather, the alleyways and gutted apartment blocks wherein Hamas chooses to fight. For all the grief and horror at the deaths of “civilians” in Gaza (and the word must be in quotes, not because there are none, but because apart from the young they are so tremendously difficult to definitively identify), the cold fact is that the IDF has done an admirable job of safeguarding the lives of the Gazan population. If, after nearly two weeks of modern war, only a few hundred out of just under 1.5 million, in a region with an average density of over ten thousand persons per square mile, are dead — and if the number of dead includes combatants — this is nothing short of extraordinary. To state this is not to belittle or dismiss the very real and legitimate horror of the dead, nor the grief that their loved ones endure. A keening mother in Gaza is comforted by the assiduousness of the IDF no more than the grieving mother in Colorado is soothed by our historically low casualties in Iraq. In acknowledging the commendably few deaths in Gaza, we must also acknowledge the lonely black pit of loss that renders the death of one indistinguishable from the end of the world.
The careful restraint of Israel at war is not a regrettable thing, except in the realm of amoral power politics: indeed, it is a signal reason we of the non-Jewish, non-Israeli world ought to prefer Israel to its neighbors in sentiment and policy. However much the Muslim population of Israel and Palestine might resent its fate under Jewish rule, it nonetheless enjoys a better existence than Jewish populations under Muslim rule — which is to say, it has a meaningful existence to speak of. Again, this is not to ignore the baleful realities of that existence, which is, after all, rife with petty humiliations ranging from the insensate bureaucracy of movement controls to the banal abuse of fanatic Zionists. Yet if the Xhosa have not exterminated the Afrikaners, nor the Southern blacks the Southern whites, why demand or expect less of the Palestinians? Are they not, to borrow a phrase, men and brothers? Why, then, the peculiar degradation of culture and impulse that compels a relentless violence? The notion, so fondly adhered to by so many, that both sides in this war are moral equals, or at least equally morally degraded, is a fiction that rests upon an invincible ignorance of history.
There are a thousand illustrative anecdotes to call upon, but one suffices: that of the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem’s center in 1967. For the preceding twenty years of Muslim rule, Jews were barred from their holy sites therein, and the majority of the Jewish graves in the millennia-old cemetery on the Mount of Olives were destroyed or paved over. By contrast, when the Israeli infantry drove the Jordanians from the medieval warren of the Old City, the conquering General Uzi Narkiss refused a clerical plea to reclaim the Muslim Dome of the Rock — and Moshe Dayan ordered its administration handed to the Muslim Waqf. To imagine that Israel’s enemies would treat it as well is to indulge in fantasy. We have little data on the fate of Jews and Jewish sites in Muslim hands after 1967, but what have seen — notably in the 2000 ransacking of Joseph’s Tomb — justifies no hope.
If we prefer Israel, then, it falls to us to ensure that its deficiencies in the amoral realm of power politics are not fatal. The long-term survival of the Jewish state is a factor neither of righteousness nor morality, except inasmuch as that survival is righteous or moral. We may forgive Israelis for believing this, but we ourselves need not. Rather, it befits Americans to enable Israel to survive and flourish without subsuming its behavior to those imperatives. Precisely because we do not wish for Israel to conclude, as it rationally might, that its survival depends upon the end of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim habitation of old Palestine, we should conduct our policy now with an eye toward precluding that conclusion.
This is easier said than done, and it may not be do-able at all, but it has the virtue of being the moral course. We can do our best to make the coming ersatz peace something more than it will be; we can foster economic development for the great masses of idle Palestinian labor; we can cooperate in the strangling of fanatic movements like Hamas; and we can demand more of Palestine than it demands of itself.
The ultimate success of these efforts, though, is out of our hands. In the end, the Palestinian polity is the creation of Palestinians. This is simultaneously as it should be, and the most dreadful portent for the future. Yielding the great dream — of the end of Zionism, of the destruction of the Jews, of the ravaging of their holy places — makes sense only in the definitive demonstration of its unattainability. The enemies of Israel are unpersuaded, having seen the Zionist state yield mile upon mile in the past decade, having seen Israel lose a war in Lebanon, having compared the raw facts of demographics, and having seen the world weary of this Jewish statelet and its inconvenient struggles. They rightly believe they will be a majority in time. They rightly believe their material weakness is not perpetual. They rightly believe that Israel wants to stop playing this game: and so they play to win it.