Monday, November 17, 2008

Endorsement: Benjamin Netanyahu for Prime Minister

Elections for Israel's parliament are scheduled for February 10, 2009. Israel, the least stable parliamentary regime in the Middle East, now holds parliamentary elections on the average of one every 2-3 years. There is no reason to believe that the government to be elected will last longer than its predecessors. So the question is: who will be the best prime minister for Israelis and the Palestinians ruled by Israel. As far as I can see, there are two main possibilities: Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu. Between the two, Netanyahu wins hands down.

Tzipi Livni is considered a moderate by Israeli standards, which means that she is rightwing by most people's standards. She rose within the Likud party and followed Sharon and Olmert in starting the Kadima party. She has had some ministerial posts, but, aside from a few interesting comments, she has done nothing to distinguish herself, nor has she taken any risks for her positions. She was a pale and ineffectual Foreign Minister; she would be a pale and ineffectual Prime Minister.

However her reputation for being a moderate, coupled with her gender, makes her a problematic choice for Israeli prime minister. As a perceived moderate, she will be cut a lot of slack by the Obama administration, as was Sharon and Olmert by the Bush administration. As a perceived moderate who is also a woman, she will be cut even more slack by the world. The story of her election will not be about the success of yet another mediocre Likud functionary, but of a woman. And just as the Republicans played the gender card as much as they could in order to defend Sarah Palin, so too, the Israels would do that with Livni. Livni would be the first woman prime minister since that all-time-disaster, Golda Meir. No, I don't think that Livni is as bad as Golda. But what government will want to put pressure on her?

By contrast, Bibi's candidacy looks like pure gold. Let us count the ways:

1. Bibi enjoys a negative reputation outside of Israel. Unlike Livni, Bibi is tarred with the rightwing brush. The folks outside of Israel remember the Rabin assassination, and Bibi's tenure as prime minister, long after most Israelis have forgotten it. They remember how he has opposed every peace initiative from the right. He is the face of Israel intransigence, God bless him. And that will make it easier to put pressure on his administration.

2. Bibi talks tough, but has wimped out time after time. He wimped out after the Jerusalem tunnels were opened, at Wye Plantation, and during the Golan negotiations. He is easy to pressure and he buckles under pressure. He craves US acceptance.

3. By contrast, Ehud Barak, talked the peace talk and was cut enormous slack by the Clinton administration and the world. Settlements boomed during his tenure, and the Intifada blew up after his "generous offer" was rejected.

4. Bibi doesn't believe in the peace process, and he is correct not to. The peace process is a sham that helps Israel while hurting the Palestinians. Better that there be no illusions to the contrary. Bibi has said that while he doesn't believe in the peace process, he does want to improve the Palestinian economy. I don't think he will do that when faced with the realities of governing Israel and making his constituency happy. But if he is able to raise the quality of life among the Palestinians as a trade-off for political recognition and independence, then that is preferable to denying them both.

5. Electing Bibi will be another recognition that Israel has run out of ideas and out of fresh faces that can bring hope. Now that Bibi has copied the look and feel of the Obama website, and is positioning himself as the candidate for change (!), his election can only place in stark relief the weariness of Israeli politics.

Vote Bibi!

A final note: The usual suspects of the old "Zionist left," led by dinosaur Amos Oz, are forming a new party with the tentative name, "Titanic Desk-Chairs," or something like that. The only interesting one in the bunch is Avrum Burg, but his willingness to join a reinvented Meretz speaks volumes about his insatiable political appetite.

Wake me up when it is over.


Unknown said...

Bibi, huh? That's pretty radical. Sorta like advocating voting for Nero or Caligula since they'll destroy the Empire that much quicker.

You're essentially claiming that Bibi is better because he's more likely to appear the bad guy & be easier to manipulate by the Obamaites. That of course puts lots of pressure on the U.S. to essentially engineer a peace agreement. Not sure I trust Obama that much.

If Obama doesn't have the courage of his convictions then we essentially have the worst prime minister since...well, since Bibi I. While we are living in far more dangerous times than when he was first PM. Can we afford Bibi when we live in a tinderbox?

Anonymous said...

I am very sympathetic to the idea of having the mask come off of Israeli establishment political hypocrisy, but I see at least two flaws in your argument:

1. I think you overestimate Bibi's bad reputation outside Israel, especially among Americans, the public and the political establishment (e.g., the target foreign audience). I do not think he is widely viewed as intransigent, and if he is, that's not seen as a bad thing, but as a justified stance against those terror-mad Palestinians.

2. I think the-mask-coming-off rationale is closely related to the idea that things need to get worse before they get better. This is also an idea I am emotionally sympathetic to and even half believe in, but I fear that the people it will get worse for are disproportionately Palestinian. I seem to remember you making a similar argument in some post long ago, something to the effect that although there may be only bad choices, some bad choices are worse than others, and when the people who will suffer are likely not to be us, we might be morally obligated to support the less bad choice, even if the very bad choice seems more politically attractive or effective. (I hope that makes sense. Also, it should be clear here that I don't really think Bibi would improve life for the Palestinians, economic or otherwise.)

In this case, the dilemma for me could be summed up like this: for this idea to be politically effective--that is, for it to give new credence to alternative real solutions to the conflict or coerce substantial concessions from Israel--Bibi must be exposed as the far-right rejectionist that he is. For that to happen, I think crazy Likudniks like Feiglin or other right-wing bigots would have to assume a more public role to shatter the myth of Bibi's/the Likud's reasonableness (for a foreign audience at least), but I shudder to think what that would mean for the lives of Palestinians or the demagoguery it would unleash/entail.

I agree with you that Livni would be a disaster and very difficult to pressure. The question is which option would entail less suffering and more real hope for Palestinians. I certainly don't know, but the Bibi scenario could go in a different direction than what you've outlined here. I hope in any case you vote for Hadash again!

And sorry for the long post. It's just you hit on an issue I've been considering myself and honestly trying to work through ethically.


Anonymous said...

I would vote for Alle Yarok, the only honourable choice available to Israeli voters in what has become a Kosherized Hebrew Weimar!

Jerry Haber said...

Some clarifications.

I don't think I could actually vote for Bibi. Since I will be in the US in February, the question is moot. I see no reason why not to continue voting for Hadash. I certainly don't want to have a larger Likud faction in Knesset.

What I was trying to say is that I believe that Bibi will be the better prime minister for the Palestinians than Livni. I may be wrong -- I, too, am skeptical that he will have an impact on the improvement of the Palestinian economy. But as much as it is possible to believe Bibi (and it is not possible at all), I believe him when he wants to seek alternatives to the peace process.

And in this he is right. The peace process is dead; it is time to look for other things. My biggest fear is that Bibi will hijack, rather than abandon, the peace process. He did that in the 90s.

MM, your post wasn't too long; on the contrary, it was right on the mark. You are right that I have argued that in lieu of progress on the macro level, it is important to make choices that will relieve the suffering of the Palestinians. But it is not clear to me that Livni would do that better than Bibi, especially if the peace process were abandoned. In some ways, life was better for the Palestinians under Shamir and Bibi than under Barak. Of course, the Palestinians voted in droves for Barak, and even today they would support Barak over Bibi. Am I right to puncture their pipe dreams over a peace process? Wouldn't it be better for their morale if they still believed in Obama Claus? I don't think so.

I am not arguing that the Palestinians must suffer more in order for things to get better. I am not making a Maoist argument. I am saying that I don't see much difference on the ground between any of them, and there are some advantages to Bibi as prime minister.

As for the Bibi factor in the US -- I am completely convinced, based on past experience, that Bibi will have problems with a democratic president, and with the American media (outside of Fox News). Website or not, Bibi is joined at the hip with the Republicans. If Israel moves to the right now, without an intifada, and without suicide bombings, its international standing will suffer.

That's gotta be good, right?

Anonymous said...

You brought this matter up some time ago, and I agreed with you, as a Right-wing, Orthodox/religious, pro-YESHA settlement person, that Netanyahu will be in a stronger position to give away things and knock down settlements than the Left would be. No government headed by the Left has ever destroyed a single settlement.
If you look carefully at whom Bibi is bringing into the Likud, that should be encouraging to your point of view. Assaf Hefetz is a Labor Party "bitchonist" police guy, he said recently the Likud is no different than Labor. One could argue that Bibi is brining him in in order to prepare the police to assault right-wing protestors. I believe Hefetz has done this in the past. Meridor and Uzi Dayan would feel comfortable in Kadima or Labor, in fact Meridor left the Likud because it was "too right-wing" and he despised Bibi. Dayan supported Kadima's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from YESHA and he even justified the Lebanon II war on that grounds...that by proving itself "tough" against the Arabs (as Sharon had done in the past), Olmert could then move against the settlers, just as Sharon had done. Miri Regev, the IDF's former spokeswoman was on the job during the destruction of Gush Katif and her responsibility was to explain how the IDF was carrying out duties of "national responsibility" by dragging families out of their homes, bulldozing them, and turning over synagogues and yeshivot to raging mobs to be desecrated and burned (again, "in the national interest and the name of democracy").
Even Benny Begin, who is a "hard-liner" on YESHA said in an interview in Makor Rishon that he is "old and tired" (like his supposedly "hard-line" father who gave up the Sinai to Sadat) and supports negotiations with Syria. Begin, outside of the YESHA issue, is actually a Leftist, a supporter of the Aharon Barak line in the Supreme Court (AKA "the law and order mafia" as Haim Ramon called it)
Finally, there is the new addition, Moshe (Boogey) Ya'alon, whom I greatly respect as a man of truth and integrity. He is a life-long Labor Party man, he supported the Oslo Agreements, he is for a Palestinian state, he just thinks Israel should be "tougher" on security and demanding Palestinian compliance.
The two old ideological hardliners of the Likud, Uzi Landau and Natan Sharansky refused to return to the Likud (Landau went to Lieberman's party).
The bottom line is that the Likud is not a "right-wing" party (please ignore Feiglin, he is a pariah to the party establishment and even if he should get into the Knesset he will be isolated and will have no influence whatsoever on policy) and Netanyahu has in place the people to carry out another large-scale withdrawal or to make other big concessions, like giving up the Golan.
Don't forget that Bibi has promised to form a coalition with the Left if he wins.

Since the supposedly "right-wing" party that the National Religious Party is morphing into views itself as simply a satellite of the Likud, I will not support either of them. My choice is either not to vote at all, or to take a look at Aryeh Eldad's party, HaTikva. I am impressed with the people there, but there is a doubt whether they can cross the electoral threshold.

The bottom line is you "progressives" should not lose heart, "righteous people have their work done by others" so I think you are correct in hoping that Bibi will carry out the policies you want.

Anonymous said...

could you explain the "titanic deckchairs"? there has to be a hebrew pun behind this.

Anonymous said...

Whatever Happened To:

"Yesh Li Alibi -
Lo Hetzbati Bibi!"???


Anonymous said...

haha! t.a.m. wins the funny contest this week!
BTW, there is a guy in Beit Hadassa (hebron settlement) who voted for Barak in 99'. (for the same reasons that you endorse Bibi, just the other way around)
So you might be up to something after all...


Jerry Haber said...

To t.a.m., child of abraham, and me...GET TO WORK!

Peter H said...


Ran HaCohen made the same point you a few years ago that you make now in his Antiwar column:

"Risking the fury of most of my friends, I dare say that Netanyahu – who left the army as a junior officer with no real military carrier – was quite a good Prime Minister (not only in comparison to his disastrous successor Barak). Not that I subscribe for a single moment to his hawkish positions and extremist economic neo-liberalism – but because of his very weakness, due to having little or no backing from the army and from Israel’s established elite. His weakness at the top induced more pluralism at lower levels inside Israel, as well as more flexibility towards outside pressures; Netanyahu went the Oslo way, and even the settlements flourished considerably less in his time than under Barak. Due to his permanent defamation in the media, the return of Netanyahu is a nightmare for many Israeli liberals; I am more optimistic."

Anonymous said...

I cannot speak for the US political establishment, but I can assure you MM that Bibi is viewed with well deserved opprobrium by the majority of UK politicians

Anonymous said...

As is consistent with Mark Elf and others, the only solution to the zionist disease project is to erase it and everyone in it, for peace. Exterminate them all.

Jerry Haber said...

Hi, I just posted this last comment, though I assume that it comes from some diseased rightwinger. Exterminate? I think not. Cure is much better. And that will include you, sir/madam