Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 18:02 pm (KSA) 15:02 pm (GMT)

Barak gains, but not at Netanyahu’s expense

Musa Keilani

Though the current attack on Gaza is primarily meant to be a deterrence to Tehran and all its perceivedsatellite groups in the region, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, its impact on the domestic Israeli scene cannot be missed.

One of the key considerations of the Israeli government behind its brutal military assault against the Palestinians is political:leaders of the partners in the ruling coalition, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, want to tell the Israeli voters that they are capable of taking “tough decisions” when it comes to the “security” of the people of Israel.

The ploy seems to have worked to a large extent for Barak, whose popularity ratings have shot up after the launch of the assault on Gaza Strip in late December. A recent opinion poll found 53 per cent of the respondents expressing satisfaction with Barak’s performance, compared with just 34 per cent in mid-2008. Some 38 per cent are dissatisfied with him, but that compares with the 52 per cent disapproval rating of six months ago.

Livni has also gained popularity from the Gaza assault, but not as significantly as Barak. But Livni and Barak are not the only players. And if they have gained anything, so has former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been playing his cards right with an eye on the elections.

Applauding the Gaza assault from the sidelines,Netanyahu, leader of the hawkish Likud bloc, is trying to keep pace with Barak and Livni. Some commentators see Netanyahu as already practicing for what he hopes will be a return to the position of Israeli prime minister after next month’s elections.

There is little prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace under Netanyahu as prime minister. He has made it always clear that the best he would settle for is “expanded autonomy” for the Palestinians - like the authority to clean streets, run schools and hospitals, collect municipal taxes, keep birth and death registersand keep law and order in local communities. Anything beyond these, says Netanyahu, is unacceptable. He is now consolidating his standing as the favourite to become the next prime minister of his country.

I would offer a fresh look at what the Likud platform stands for in the Palestinian context:

- Israel will not allow the establishment of an Arab Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. The Palestinians will be able to manage their lives freely in the framework of an autonomous regime, but not as a sovereign, independent state.

- The Jordan River will be the state of Israel’s permanent border.

- Jerusalem is the Jewish people’s everlasting capital; it will not be divided, nor will any negotiation to that effect be conducted.

- Israel will continue to push for the expansion of Jewish neighbourhoods in Arab East Jerusalem. The boosting of Jewish settlement activity in the Golan Heights will continue.

- Israel’s defence, safety and security will be top priority in any political negotiation or agreement. Israel will maintain all its security assets in order to ensure its ability to defend itself in times of crisis.

Calculating as he ever is,Netanyahu has defended the military operations in Gaza Strip as the act of “a responsible government”.

He is also cheering the ban imposedon Arab Israelipolitical parties from running in the February 10 elections and declares that he is looking forward to working with the incoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Netanyahu is demanding the “crippling” of Hamas and thinks the Palestinian group should “ultimately” be removed from power. However, smart as he is, Netanyahu is holding back commentary on the particulars of the terms of ending the assault on Gaza. Thus, he is reserving his options to criticise the current government, whichever way it eventually resolves the conflict - assuming it ever does, as many see it.

Israeli military officials said last week that their offensive in Gaza Strip weakened Hamas, but that a knockout blow against the Palestinian resistance group was unlikely. Well, that is not news, since we in this region know the resilience of the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

Israel had hoped to undermine popular support for Hamas through its bloodbath in Gaza Strip. However, Western media reports indicate that Hamas is bolstering its appeal in the long term by standing up to the Israelis.

Netanyahu has also assumed a leading role among Israeli officials condemning the international criticism for the growing civilian death toll in Gaza, demanding that it be rolled back and claiming that it distorts the truth and morality. He denied that Israel targets civilians, though he did not mention any of the myriad examples to the contrary, and declared the deaths as “inevitable” in a war against Hamas.

If Barak and Livni had hoped to improve their political fortunes - among other things - by waging war on the Palestinians, they have not been able to do so at Netanyahu’s expense. And it is unlikely that they will be able to do so in time for the February 10 elections, though nobody can predict the surprise ramifications of this traumatic war.

Published by THE JORDAN TIMES on Jan. 18.

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