Commentary

Netanyahu Brings in the Far-Right

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu recently rejected a French proposal for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has resigned after signs that Mr. Netanyahu was in favor of bringing the controversial leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party, Avigdor Lieberman, into the government. The Israeli prime minister’s lurch further to the right has many worried that the prospects of a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be even more remote. However, some suggest that Mr. Netanyahu’s moves are signs of a desperate politician trying to hold on to power at all costs.

According to a recent Gulf Today editorial, the Israeli PM has repeatedly rejected the possibility of a fair and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his recent stance against the French proposal, following a visit by the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, is another evidence of his true intentions: “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cool reception on Monday to a French peace initiative telling visiting Prime Minister Manuel Valls that peace cannot be forged through international conferences should be construed as nothing but a direct snub to Paris. It is now long known to the international community that Israel is just not interested in peace. Every attempt by the international community so far to make Israel see sense has failed....Manuel Valls has rightly criticized Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank, considered a major stumbling block to peace. Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Palestinian suffering comes in different other forms too....Netanyahu’s game-plan in rejecting the latest peace offer is all too obvious. All that he wants is to simply drag the issue so that he could buy more time to build colonies.”

The Saudi Gazette editorial suggests that Netanyahu’s real attitude toward the peace plan has become clearer by the recent reshuffling of high-ranking government officials and the government’s rightward shift with the proposed entry of Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party: “The resignation of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon should make Israelis more concerned about the country’s future. Ya’alon’s departure will cement the rise of a right-wing government committed to the indefinite occupation of millions of disenfranchised Palestinians, a new round of violence, rising religious extremism and growing international isolation....Emboldened right-wing politicians have grown more explicit than ever before. Breaking long taboos, they advocated Jewish worship at Haram Al-Sharif, called for annexing the West Bank into Israel and promote bills and regulations to silence human rights NGOs and other critics of the occupation. Moderate voices are targets of virulent attacks on social networks....Israelis who worry about the direction of Israel in Netanyahu’s fourth term must decide whether his aggressive march toward right-wing extremism will be embraced or rejected.”

Some of the prime minister’s critics, including Haaretz’s editorial team, challenged Mr. Netanyahu to prove them wrong by pursuing the creation of a grand coalition by allying with Mr. Herzog’s Zionist Union, a joint electoral list of Labour and Hatnuah parties: “detailed position on the core issues of the peace process: borders, settlements, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees. He prefers to appear the ardent suitor rejected by Abbas who does not want to meet him, instead of presenting a proposal for peace and seeing how the Palestinians respond....Instead of fighting the French, Netanyahu should take advantage of the Paris summit as a basis to rally international support for his initiative. He should lead and not be dragged. He should take advantage of the diplomatic and political opportunities that he has chanced upon to resuscitate the peace process and realize the vision he presented in 2009. This way he will contribute to Israel’s future and its security much more than by empty arguments with foreign statesmen.”

But it appears that those appeals have fallen on deaf ears, with the prime minister opting to throw his lot with Mr. Avigdor Lieberman. The appointment of the rightwing firebrand has raised serious concerns in the Israeli media, with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ron Ben-Yishai accusing Mr. Netanyahu of “jeopardizing Israel’s national security…. The termination of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and his replacement by MK Avigdor Lieberman are an irresponsible act by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The PM is jeopardizing our national security to an unreasonable level, out of sheer political convenience, surrendering to the extreme right-wing of his party. Switching in Lieberman for Ya'alon is also an immoral act. Netanyahu is thus signaling to the IDF, Shin Bet, and Mossad high commands that they should not speak out in ways that may defy the government, as whoever strays from the path could be removed from the road....Lieberman replacing Ya'alon sends a signal to this country's hotheads and fire-starters from the "correct" side of the political spectrum, no doubt making them feel more comfortable with lighting their next match. It's a shame that the Prime Minister is performing political experiments at the expense of the security of his nation's civilians.”

Mr. Lieberman’s recommendation that the death penalty be applicable only to crimes committed by Palestinians, provides further cause for concern and underscores the extent of the challenge that faces the peace camp in Israel after these recent developments: “Therefore, to all the known arguments against the death penalty — which have led to its abolition in all Western democracies aside from a few U.S. states — an additional argument must be added, one that justifies a special and vigorous opposition to the current effort to enact capital punishment: This is an attempt to apply the death penalty to only one population group only: the Palestinians....This selective application of the death penalty (which admittedly already exists on paper, but which the government is now seeking to implement) is liable to further erode Israel’s international legitimacy as a country aspiring to belong to the family of democratic states.”

But the Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman believes that by unceremoniously removing the outgoing defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, from his post, Mr. Netanyahu might have made it more difficult for himself to win the upcoming national elections: “By showing former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon the door the way he did after weeks of professional disputes between them, Netanyahu made a severe political mistake....Either way, by his own actions and inaction, Netanyahu may have created a political monster .Until now, there was no political alternative to Netanyahu who had any chance of beating him....Now, Ya’alon, who announced his intentions to seek the national leadership, can attempt to build a new bloc that can defeat Netanyahu on the Center-Right....Now, Ya’alon, who announced his intentions to seek the national leadership, can attempt to build a new bloc that can defeat Netanyahu on the Center-Right.”

On the other hand, the National’s Jonathan Cook believes that the elevation of Mr. Lieberman to the post of the defense minister puts the final touches in the takeover of Israel by “Religious zealots [who have been] waging a quiet revolution in Israel…. with Mr Lieberman’s inclusion, the government will be the most extreme in Israel’s history – again....Less noticed has been the gradual and parallel takeover of Israel’s security institutions by those espousing the ideology of the settlers – known in Israel as the national-religious camp. None of this is accidental. For two decades the settlers have been targeting Israel’s key institutions. Under Mr Netanyahu’s seven-year watch as prime minister, the process has accelerated....The goal of the religious nationalists is undisguised: to remove the last restraints on the occupation, and build a glorious, divinely ordained Greater Israel over an obliterated Palestinian society. That means no hope of a peaceful resolution of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians – unless it is preceded by a tumultuous civil war between Israel’s secular and religious Jews.”

Such commentary makes a mockery of hopes for finding an acceptable solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Still, according to Jordan Times’ Amer Al Sabaileh, some are considering the implications of a possible peace deal between Israel and Palestine, however remote that possibility may seem now: “From a strategic point of view, the country most affected by the Palestinian issue is Jordan. Jordan has paid the highest price of the consequences of the pending Palestinian crisis, at all levels.  And it faces a new-old challenge regarding the final solution of the pending peace process. Many analysts believe that the only valid solution is the so-called Jordanian option, perhaps with some modifications of the plan of former US president Ronald Reagan who suggested, in 1988, that a ‘self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza would be in association with Jordan and not a separate state’....Jordan should be ready to face the consequences of the failure of the peace process, and ensure it is not the place where the negative impact and the aftermath of the crisis appear. The country needs a strong national strategy to deal with the dangers that might threaten the country at all levels. The recognition of the Palestinian state is the step that should be achieved before considering any kind of confederation.”


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