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Dr Musa A Keilani: Premier acts for poll power
May 16, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proved himself to be one of the most cunning politicians his country has seen. In one masterstroke, he has averted early elections, consolidated his strength and pre-empted the surge of a new politician whose party was expected to make its mark in the polls.

Effectively, Netanyahu has gained for himself another term in office without going through the ballot box by bringing in the opposition Kadima party of former defence minister Shaul Mofaz. It was known that Netanyahu would seek to strengthen himself in order to deal with US President Barack Obama who, if re-elected in November, would apply considerable pressure on the Israeli prime minister to make fair and just peace with the Palestinians. Obama would not feel bound by the pro-Israel political imperatives in his second and last term in the White House. He is unlikely to forget the humiliation he suffered while dealing with Netanyahu since he assumed presidency in 2009.

The changes in Israel also come amid changes in the US, with more and more Americans daring to speak out against the Jewish state’s demands that come at the expense of American interests.

The image that Israel is the sole little democracy surrounded by hostile Arabs seeking to dismantle it is no longer accepted by a majority of Americans who are also taking increasing note of the machinations of the pro-Israeli lobby. Commentaries pointing out that waging a war on Iran in order to protect Israel will be disastrous for the US are appearing in the US media.

The changes in thinking should be seen against the slow build-up towards revealing the true shape of the lopsided US-Israel relationship starting with the 2006 publication of former president Jimmy Carter’s book, Peace Not Apartheid.

The 2007 release of the book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer prompted many others to look at Israel in a different light.

Netanyahu is also aware of it and so do the rest of Israelis.

In fact, Netanyahu has emerged stronger than one could have expected if he had called early elections. The “unity” government that Netanyahu formed last week is backed by 94 out of the 120 members of the Knesset and is the broadest ever in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu and Mofaz have set their goals as electoral and government reforms by the end of 2012, reforms that analysts say will enhance Netanyahu’s chances of winning elections in October 2013. Depending in the reforms that his government implements, Netanyahu will be either prime minister or president of Israel when Obama ends his second term as president in 2017.

It should not be difficult for Netanyahu to adopt and enact the two laws that most Israelis have been demanding. The first will remove the exemption from military service given to ultra-orthodox Jews and change the system of government that would see the president having executive powers. The religious and ultra-orthodox parties in the coalition will oppose the two laws, but the enhanced support that Netanyahu now has in the Knesset neutralises their opposition.

The new Israeli government is also the most hawkish than we have seen and is dominated by three former military commanders — Mofaz, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon. Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter is also expected to be a member of the cabinet.

Netanyahu has also countered pressure from a handful of former Israeli generals and ex-security chiefs against military action against Iran and has now told Obama that their views do not represent a majority of serving and former members of his country’s security agencies. The implicit and explicit message that he has sent to the US president is that he is now heading a government which could take decisions and execute them, even if it meant unilateral action to wreck Iran’s nuclear programme.

Netanyahu is furious that the Obama administration is moving towards a compromise that would see Iran continuing its nuclear activities but under restrictions that could restrain it from developing nuclear weapons.

Another key point that Netanyahu and Mofaz have made clear is that they see as a priority some kind of a “peace” agreement with the Palestinians.

Reports in the Israeli press indicate that Netayahu has tasked Mofaz with trying to break through the Palestinian rejection of peace talks under the present conditions – mainly Israel’s continued settlement policy. Mofaz has already declared that Kadima is committed to the concept of a democratic Jewish Israel willing to accept territorial compromise with the Palestinians in return for peace with security. Of course, Israel’s concept of “security” differs dramatically from anything that is internationally acceptable.

According to US officials, Mofaz has committed himself to go along with Netanyahu on the “crisis” with Iran in return for the Likud leader’s support on the Palestinian front.

Mofaz will also be trying to seek success in a mission where former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni failed three years ago when she served as foreign minister.

Overall, Netanyahu should be finding himself most comfortable than ever in his capacity as Israeli prime minister. The parliamentary strength of his coalition makes it difficult for any of his partners to bring down the government over political differences.

How does that translate into realistic prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Netanyahu should now be feeling confident that he could offer some compromises to the Palestinians if he felt like it and secure parliamentary majority support for his moves. However, given his hawkish approach and record, Netanyahu should not be expected to dramatically shift his positions. And without a dramatic shift in his position, there is little hope for a breakthrough in the quest for peace in the Middle East.
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The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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