Dr. Shlaim is a fellow of St. Antony’s College and a professor of international relations at Oxford University. Born in Baghdad and reared in Israel, Professor Shlaim is numbered among Israel’s New Historians, who have challenged traditional assumptions about Israeli history. He is the author of <em>Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace</em> (2007) and <em>Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement and the Partition of Palestine </em>(1988). He was interviewed for Middle East Policy on June 15 in his office at the Middle East Centre of St. Antony’s by Roger Gaess (AQABA9@aol.com), a freelance journalist.
MEP (Gaess): What is the mood of the Jewish Israeli public now in terms of prospects for peace with the Palestinians?
SHLAIM: The mood of Israelis today is one of very great uncertainty. For the last eight years, under the Bush administration, Israel had a completely free hand to do whatever it wanted. It was America’s close ally in the “War on Terror.” Even the offensive in Gaza didn’t meet with a single word of criticism from the Bush administration. But now there is a new American administration that seems to have very definite views on the urgency of the settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The speech that President Obama delivered in Cairo on June 4 was a landmark. It outlined a way forward. The foreign policy of his Republican predecessors was lopsided, tilting heavily toward Israel. Obama redressed the balance and articulated an even-handed policy. He focused not just on Israel and its needs but equally on the Palestinians — on their plight, on their history, on the Nakba, on their national rights and on the need for justice. He spoke not only about a Palestinian state but used the word “Palestine.” Consequently, the mood in Israel is one of uncertainty and concern because all Israelis, whatever their political affiliation, know that America is the only friend they have in the world, and that they can no longer count on automatic American support.
American support means everything to Israel: economic support, military support and diplomatic support, including the use of the veto in the Security Council of the United Nations. That’s the most crucial relationship for Israel in world politics. And because of the nature of the American commitment to Israel, the Israelis could ignore what everyone else said. They could ignore UN resolutions, they could ignore the European Union and its preferences and advice, they could ignore the Quartet. They completely ignored the Quartet’s roadmap because America was behind them. Now they are not so sure that America will continue to back them in the same unquestioning manner, and they are worried. There are already Israeli voices saying Netanyahu has mismanaged the relationship with America, that the special relationship between Israel and America is in danger because of Netanyahu, and that’s the context in which he made his speech on June 14.
MEP: Israeli governments have long characterized security as the core issue. They’ve seen the settlements as a means toward somehow achieving security rather than the obverse. Is there a long-term view within the political elite or the public about what the outcome of this approach is going to be? Do they think they’re just going to wear down the other side and end up with something that’s incontestably secure from their point of view?
SHLAIM: Security for Israel is a non-issue. Israelis keep banging on about security, but it’s a red herring. It distracts attention from the real issues, which are Israeli territorial expansionism and the settlements, which are illegal. The Israelis demand 100 percent security for themselves, which in this case means zero security for the Palestinians. So it’s not Israel that has a security problem, it’s the Palestinians who do, because no one protects their security. And the Israeli concept of security is profoundly problematic, because for a state to have security it must have definite recognized borders. Israel had such borders until 1967. These were based on the Armistice Agreements that were signed in 1949, at the end of the 1948-49 war, by Israel and all its neighbors — Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. These are the only internationally recognized borders that Israel ever had, not least because they were negotiated under U.N. auspices. And these are the only borders that I personally accept as legitimate because they were negotiated. They were not imposed by one side on the other.
After the June 1967 war, Israel refused to return to the previous borders, but it has never said where the new borders should be. It negotiated a border with Egypt in 1979 and withdrew to the international border. Since then it has had a peace treaty with Egypt and that peace has held. In 1994, it signed an agreement with Jordan that settled all their outstanding issues, and it has had a stable peace with Jordan ever since. If Israel wanted peace with Syria, it could have it tomorrow, but there is a price tag, and the price tag is clear cut: complete Israeli withdrawal to the borders of June 4, 1967, complete withdrawal from the Golan. If Israel agreed to that, it would have peace with Syria.
The most difficult problem with borders involves the West Bank because Israel has been building settlements there since soon after the 1967 war. A few years ago Israel started constructing a wall on the West Bank which, whether it is officially stated or not, marks the final border that Israel envisages. But the trouble with this stance is that it’s unilateral. This is unacceptable to the Palestinians, because where do they get their security? This is the problem about the Israeli concept of security, that it doesn’t make any allowance for the other side and doesn’t recognize any national rights of the Palestinians. It’s a unilateralist position.
So, in answer to your question regarding what the Israelis think in the long term, I would say that the Israeli right — the Likud and the parties further to the right, the parties that are in the present coalition — don’t have a solution to Israel’s security and they don’t have a solution to how to bring peace because they are unilateralists. The trouble with unilateralism is that Israel’s solutions are not acceptable to even moderate Palestinians. To have an answer to Israel’s security, there must be a negotiated agreement, and Israel isn’t ready for that, so the dilemma will continue.
I want to make one last point. Security isn’t a zero-sum game. Security should be a positive-sum game. It isn’t just a military concept where you have military superiority over the other side. Israel has that, but there are other dimensions to security, including the motivation of the other side. If the party on the other side of the border has no problem about you, as in Europe within the European Union, then the security problem is solved. But if the other party hates you and wants to upset the status quo and wants to hurt you, then you have a security problem.
So the dilemma that Israel has is that it doesn’t have a satisfactory concept of security, and Israel’s leaders don’t have a solution to this problem. They are the proponents of the doctrine of permanent conflict. What they say in effect is that there is no diplomatic solution, no compromise solution, and therefore Israel has to continue to live by the sword.
MEP: I’m guessing from what you’ve said that there’s little sense of urgency to solve the problem. I’m also wondering: Is the Israeli public more progressive than the leadership, or vice versa, or are they both on the same track?
SHLAIM: There is a complete disjunction between the public and the leadership. This is nothing new; it is inherent in the Israeli political system, which is a pure proportional-representation system. It reflects mathematically the votes cast in the country. This system encourages the proliferation of political parties, and it’s meant that never in Israel’s entire history has any one party held a majority. All governments are by necessity coalition governments. The internal composition of a coalition often militates against any territorial compromise because there is no agreement among the coalition parties on what to concede or what not to concede, so they just agree to proceed on the basis of the lowest common denominator.
What is interesting is that the Israeli public has always been more dovish than the leaders of the Israeli right. Take the Oslo Accord of 1993. Two-thirds of Israelis were in favor of the Oslo Accord. Seventy percent of the Palestinians supported the accord. And ever since Oslo there has been pretty solid public support in Israel for continuing with the process, for ending the occupation, for very substantial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the emergence of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Every time there was a suicide bombing, the percentage would temporarily drop right down, but basically two-thirds of Israelis are in favor of a substantial withdrawal and a two-state solution. But the leadership is much more hawkish, more intransigent. The problem is that the Israeli political system doesn’t translate the majority view into a coherent foreign policy. The foreign policy of the government today is much more hawkish than the majority of Israelis.
MEP: Does the current weakness of the Labor party contribute to the overall problem? And, by implication, what will it take for the Israeli left to have a resurgence?
SHLAIM: From the long historical perspective, the decline of the Labor party is spectacular. The labor movement established the state of Israel. All the founders were from the labor movement. And for the first 30 years of Israel’s history, Labor was the dominant political party. Then, in 1977, for the first time, the Likud party under
Menachem Begin came to power. That was a watershed. Ever since 1977, the Labor party has been in decline. Sometimes it’s entered into a national unity government. For example, during 1984 to 1988, there was a national unity government of Labor and Likud with a rotating premiership. That was a government of immobilism. There were two foreign policies; Labor and Likud neutralized one another, so all they could agree on was the status quo. There was no Israeli diplomacy during those four years.
Then, in 1992, the Labor party under Yitzhak Rabin was elected, and there was a new government with a clear mandate to pursue peace with the Arabs. Yitzhak Rabin was not just a Labor party leader, he was a national leader. He was a former soldier, a former chief of staff, and he enjoyed credibility as someone who wouldn’t sacrifice Israel’s security, that Israel’s security would come first. But his aim and his mandate were to bring peace with security. That is what Oslo was all about. Rabin, unfortunately, was assassinated. He was assassinated not by a Palestinian nationalist, but by a Jewish fanatic whose aim was to kill the peace process. He achieved his aim. He killed the peace process by killing its most credible proponent. And after a very short interregnum when Shimon Peres was prime minister, the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu came back to power. The Labor party did get back into power in 1999, because people were so disenchanted with the Likud and Netanyahu, but with a reduced majority.
Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak was very promising when he started — a soldier who wanted to turn to peacemaking — but he was an incompetent politician, and his government fell in the aftermath of the Camp David summit of July 2000. That marked another very important chapter in Israel’s political history. Barak was serious about a final peace settlement with the Palestinians. He went to Camp David with a package that touched on all the final-status issues: Jerusalem, the settlements, the 1948 Palestinian refugees and borders. But the Camp David summit failed, and I think the main person responsible for that failure was not Yasser Arafat, but Ehud Barak.
What is important is what Barak said afterwards to the Israeli public. He said, “I made a generous offer to Yasser Arafat, and Yasser Arafat turned me down flat and made a strategic choice to return to violence. I made the most generous offer that any Israeli prime minister has ever made. There is no Palestinian partner for peace.” All Israelis — left, right and center — accepted this claim, this false claim, by Barak. My own view is that there has been a Palestinian partner for peace since the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers in November 1988, but no corresponding Israeli partner for peace. But the Israeli public accepted this claim that there is no one to talk to, and this was the reason for the defeat of Labor in the 2001 election. Given that the Israelis believed there was no Palestinian partner for peace, they needed someone who was good, not at negotiating with the Palestinians, but good at killing Palestinians. So they voted for Ariel Sharon in 2001, furthering the decline of the Labor party. Labor doesn’t have an alternative to offer the Israeli electorate, and it’s ended up serving as a junior member of right-wing coalitions.
MEP: So essentially Barak shot Labor in the foot?
MEP: Do you think Barak believed what he said, or was it just a face he wanted to present to the public so that he didn’t look like he was incompetent at Camp David?
SHLAIM: Barak is a politician who failed. He went all out to achieve a final settlement with the Palestinians and failed. Therefore, he wanted to shift the onus for failure unto Yasser Arafat. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton helped him in this. One reason for the failure of Camp David was American mismanagement. Barak also made a big mistake, and that is that at Camp David he simply presented a take-it-or-leave-it package. But he also demanded that the Palestinians accept and sign on the dotted line that they have no further claims on Israel. This is it. They don’t get any more territory, and there is no Palestinian right of return. Paradoxically, it’s Barak’s insistence on finality, a final end to the conflict, that sabotaged the possibility of an interim settlement. If he had said, all right, you can have a Palestinian state with interim borders, and we will continue to negotiate about Jerusalem, about settlements and about the right of the refugees, but in the meantime you’ll have a state with provisional borders and we will continue to cooperate — there could have been a settlement. But it’s because he insisted on an ideological settlement of the conflict that he defeated the possibility of a political settlement. This conflict is so deep, so profound, that there cannot be an ideological end to the conflict. Both sides would still have their narrative, they would still have their aspirations. So all you can hope for is a limited interim settlement. If you reject that, then you end up with nothing, as Barak did.
MEP: Were the Palestinians open to an interim settlement?
SHLAIM: Yes, they were. The Oslo Accord shows they were open to this possibility. The accord spoke of an interim period of five years of Palestinian self-government and after that all the options were open, including an independent Palestinian state. Nothing was ruled out, and nothing was determined. The Palestinians worked on this basis and proved themselves as reliable partners for peace during the transition period. There was very close security cooperation between the two sides, and terror was reduced almost to zero.
What the Palestinians expected under the Oslo Accord was that, in return for recognizing Israel, in return for giving up their claim to 78 percent of historic Palestine, they would get the right to establish their independent state on the remaining 22 percent. The reason the conflict continues is not lack of moderation or lack of sincerity on the Palestinian side. It is that Israel under the Likud, under Benjamin Netanyahu, reneged on Israeli commitments made under Oslo. Netanyahu, until recently, rejected even the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
MEP: The Israeli public seemed very quick to accept Barak’s version of why Camp David failed. I’m puzzled why that happened so easily.
SHLAIM: There isn’t an easy answer, but one answer is the American role in Camp David. Ehud Barak had proposed the summit, a make-or-break summit. He persuaded Bill Clinton to convene the summit, and Clinton invited Yasser Arafat. Arafat said, we’re not ready, the Israeli and Palestinian positions are too far apart, we need to do more groundwork before we have a summit, and if we have a summit meeting and it fails, it will make things worse, not better. Clinton said to him, Okay, come to the summit, come to Camp David, and if it fails there’ll be no finger pointing. No one will blame you. So Arafat came in good faith. Barak came with his package, but he refused to negotiate with Arafat. So, for 14 days, nothing much happened, and the summit failed. Both Barak and Clinton immediately pointed the finger at Arafat and said it’s because of him that the summit failed, and the Israeli public accepted that as the true explanation.
MEP: Will Netanyahu use the reelection of Iran’s Ahmadinejad as further cover to avoid dealing with core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict? The Israeli daily Haaretz recently reported the results of a survey commissioned by the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. It indicated that one in five Israeli Jews thought that a nuclear-armed Iran would attack Israel, and that three in five Israeli Jews would support a preemptive strike to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Does the Israeli public have a legitimate fear of Iran?
SHLAIM: There is a genuine Israeli fear of Iran armed with nuclear weapons. It is regarded by the majority of Israelis as an existential threat, an unacceptable threat. Is it a legitimate fear? I think not. First of all, Israel has a monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and Israel has threatened Iran’s security, so you could equally say that Iranians have a legitimate fear of the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Iran needs nuclear weapons for deterrence, to deter Israel from attacking them. Secondly, there is the question of whether, if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, it would use them against Israel. I think it’s completely out of the question. The Iranian leaders are not crazy. They know that Israel has nuclear weapons; they know that Israel wouldn’t hesitate to use them if attacked and that Israel would have the capacity to retaliate. It would be suicidal for Iranian leaders to attack Israel with nuclear weapons.
As I see it, the worst-case scenario of Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons is that you’d have in the Middle East not one, but two nuclear powers, and there would be a balance of terror between Iran and Israel. It’s not a desirable state of affairs because Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia in particular, would feel threatened by Iran. So Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would not be a positive development.
The question is, what do we do now? Benjamin Netanyahu has one view, and Barak Obama has another. When Netanyahu went to visit Obama at the White House [on May 18], he didn’t want to talk about the West Bank, he didn’t want to talk about peace, he didn’t want to talk about settlements. He only wanted to talk about Iran. The only item on his agenda was the Iranian threat and how to counter it. Obama replied to him very intelligently and very wisely and said, Yes, there is a linkage between Iran and Palestine, but Palestine comes first. It’s the more urgent issue, and it is something we should try to resolve, and then we will deal with Iran. If we find a solution to the Palestinian problem, we will be in a much stronger position to confront Iran because we would have gained the support and good will of all the Arab states in dealing with Iran. If we do nothing about Palestine and we only confront Iran, then we’ll be on our own and we won’t get very far. So a solution to the Palestinian problem would help us deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. I agree that there’s a linkage and that that is the right sequence to follow in dealing with the two problems.
MEP: When Israelis demand Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, what do they mean? Do they mean a guaranteed Jewish majority, or are they referring to a state of affairs in which limitations are placed on the civil and human rights of non-Jews?
SHLAIM: The current Israeli claim that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is completely absurd and without precedent, because diplomatic recognition means recognizing a state with particular borders. You don’t then go on to make conditions about the internal make-up of the state and the composition of the population and the majority. If one state recognizes another state, it doesn’t say what should be its internal make-up. So this is a very curious and unprecedented demand by right-wing Israelis and by the present government. It’s also linked to the attitude of the present government toward Israel’s Arab minority. The population of Israel is about seven million: 1.2 million are Palestinian Israelis with full rights, with voting rights; they are fully fledged Israeli citizens. The foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Israel Beitenu (Israel Is Our Home) party, has a racist agenda. He says that Palestinian Israelis should swear an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state. But why should they? They accept Israel, they accept the state, they accept the democratic system, they operate within the democratic rules of the game. Why should they swear an oath of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state?
MEP: What does a “Jewish state” mean? Does it mean a different thing to Netanyahu than it does to Labor or Meretz or the common Israeli? Do they all have different ideas as to what a Jewish state is?
SHLAIM: Yes, very different ideas of what a Jewish state means. It can mean that the Jews have a privileged position within the state of Israel. Or it can mean that the Jews should always remain a majority within the state of Israel, and that this mustn’t change; the Arabs must never become a majority. Or it can mean, thirdly, that Israel is the homeland of all Jews wherever they are, rather than just of Jewish Israelis. That is in fact the situation today and has been since the Law of Return was enacted in 1950. Any Jew anywhere, even if he has never had any connection with Israel, has the right to go and live in Israel, whereas a Palestinian who was expelled by Israel in 1948 doesn’t have any right of return to his home. So there are double standards here. One standard toward Jews wherever they are and one standard toward Palestinians. It gets very complicated, because Russian Jews have the right to go to Israel and become citizens. There are about a million Russians in Israel, and maybe half of them are not Jews. They are economic refugees from the former Soviet Union.
I think this idea that Arabs should accept Israel as a Jewish state is a barrier to reconciliation with the Palestinians, because essentially the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a geopolitical conflict. It’s not a religious conflict, it’s not a cultural struggle; it’s two national movements fighting over the same piece of land. The only solution to this geopolitical conflict is partition, as the report of the Peel Commission of Inquiry back in 1937 recognized. It’s still a very good document on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The analysis is sound and still relevant: there are two communities with national aspirations, with a high level of national consciousness, who just don’t get along, and the only solution is two states, one Arab and one Jewish.
MEP: Among the Israeli Jewish public, what’s the critical stumbling block? Is it fear? Do they have to hear something from Palestinians they haven’t heard yet? What can do the trick to help them move toward a more positive stance as to an equitable final settlement?
SHLAIM: Fear is always there. The state of Israel grew out of the ashes of the Holocaust. The “Holocaust syndrome” is a very important factor in Israeli politics and Israel’s relations with the Arabs. So, yes, this fear is the major factor. The late Palestinian scholar Edward Said understood this. He described the Palestinians as the victims of victims. He recognized that the Jews were victims, that the Jews had suffered the most terrible trauma — the destruction of European Jewry — and that as a result of the Holocaust, the Israelis have an obsession with security, and that this affects their treatment of the Palestinians. Fear by Israelis is a factor that Arab leaders have to take into account, and not all of them have been good at dealing with it and defusing it. Anwar Sadat once said that fear is 90 percent of this conflict, the psychological barrier. So he turned up in Jerusalem and said to Israelis, Here I am. I don’t wish you any ill. I’m not an enemy. I don’t threaten you. I just want a peace settlement. Israeli public opinion, which had been overwhelmingly against giving back Sinai, changed overnight. Hafez al-Asad never did this, so the Israelis continued to suspect Syria and fear Syria. Yasser Arafat wasn’t very good at allaying the fears of the Israelis. The Israelis never trusted him and never liked him. On the other hand, King Hussein of Jordan understood that the Jews had suffered, that the Jews are a damaged people, and he understood that they needed constant reassurance. However powerful Israel is militarily, he understood that there was a fear there that he needed to overcome, and he managed to overcome it.
A final point on this issue: peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not something abstract; it’s not something metaphysical. It’s something very concrete. The Israelis touched peace, they had peace with the Palestinians — the peace settlement that worked for a few years during Oslo before things deteriorated — so there is hope that peace could be achieved again under a different leadership, and with a different approach on the part of Israel.
MEP: Will it reach a point where the parameters of a peace deal actually need to be imposed?
SHLAIM: Yes. First of all, we know what the parameters of the peace deal are. They were enunciated by Bill Clinton on December 23, 2000, four weeks before he left the White House. He convened the two sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, not for negotiations but to present what he modestly called “the Clinton parameters.” The Clinton parameters — or the Clinton peace plan, as I prefer to call it — envisage an independent Palestinian state over the whole of Gaza and 94-96 percent of the West Bank with a capital city in East Jerusalem. The principle for Jerusalem was that what is Jewish will be under Israeli sovereignty and what is Muslim or Christian or Armenian will be under Palestinian sovereignty. And the solution to the problem of the 1948 refugees was that the focal point for absorbing those refugees who wanted to return to Palestine will be not Israel but the new Palestinian state. An international commission with a lot of international funding would compensate those who chose not to return to Palestine. That’s the deal of the century. It’s the only solution to this conflict. We all know this. The Clinton parameters are still relevant, but Israel has ignored them.
To come to your point: we have reached the moment when American pressure is urgently needed. For a settlement to be reached, America has to push Israel into it. No one else can do it. The United Nations doesn’t have the power. The European Union doesn’t have the power. Only America can give hope to the Israeli public. It’s not something America should do to undermine Israel but to do as a real friend. A real friend doesn’t praise everything that you do. A real friend gives you an honest opinion, not least when the road you’re on leads to self-destruction. So it’s time for America to save Israel from itself, to use the phrase that American diplomat George Ball once employed in an article in [the April 1977] Foreign Affairs, “How to Save Israel in Spite of Herself.”
America has always had this leverage with Israel, but it’s never exercised it. Moshe Dayan, the Israeli defense minister, once had a conversation with Nahum Goldmann, the liberal American Zionist leader. Dayan said to Goldmann, “Our American friends give us money, they give us arms, and they give us advice. We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice.” Goldman said to Dayan, “What will happen if America makes the money and the arms conditional on your accepting our advice?” And Dayan said, “Then we’ll have to listen to you.” So that’s where we are now.
The scope for bringing pressure to bear on Israel, on Netanyahu, is huge, and there is a precedent: Bush the elder and James Baker in the aftermath of the Gulf War
and the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991. There was then an Israeli government headed by Yitzhak Shamir. They asked for an American loan guarantee of $10 billion to absorb Russian immigrants, and Bush and Baker said to Shamir, “Fine, we’ll give you the loan guarantee, but there must be a settlement freeze.” Shamir rejected the offer. Then, in effect, Bush and Baker appealed to the Israeli public over the head of their government and essentially said, We are your friend. We want to help you. We want to give you the loan guarantee, but your government is getting in the way. It keeps expanding settlements, which destroys the possibility of peace. The Israeli public got the message that they had a bad government, and in the next election they voted out the Likud and voted in the Labor party under Yitzhak Rabin, who listened to the Americans. The same thing could happen today. Obama could very bluntly say to Netanyahu, You can no longer count on automatic American arms and economic aid. You have to take our opinion into account. And it’s not just our opinion. It’s the opinion of the international community, it’s the opinion of the Quartet. We are not suggesting something new. We are going back to the Quartet’s roadmap of 2003, which said in stage one that there must be a freeze on settlement activity. You haven’t abided by this, you have violated the roadmap. Now we insist on no more settlement expansion.
If Netanyahu proves himself to be an obstacle to a two-state solution, Obama should appeal to the Israeli public over his head and say, I’m your friend, I want to help you. What you want is peace and security, and the only way you can get it is by a complete settlement freeze and negotiations on a two-state solution. Your government is uncooperative. The Israeli public will get the message and vote in favor of a moderate government. We’re at a critical moment. There has been massive settlement expansion. The Likud government under Ariel Sharon and the Kadima government under Ehud Olmert have systematically worked at eroding the basis for a two-state solution. What they left is a series of Palestinian enclaves with Israel in charge, with roads for the settlers and an apartheid system that negates the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. We have reached the make-orbreak point. If Obama dilly-dallies and shilly-shallies for the next few years and allows Israel wriggle room, then we will lose forever the possibility of a viable Palestinian state and Arab-Israeli peace. The Israeli public wants an end to this conflict, and their government doesn’t offer them any hope. The hope can only come from American pressure on the Israeli government.