Poll: Israelis ready to negotiate Hamas, but don’t feel need to talk to Abu-Mazen. High ratings for Netanyahu

Posted: November 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Israeli public is fairly satisfied with his government. According to a public opinion poll published today in Haaretz, PM Benjamin Netanyahu keeps high ratings and the public generally believes that the absent of negotiations with the Palestinians is Abu-Mazen’s fault. The only surprise in the poll is a majority of Israelis willing to negotiate with Hamas.

Exactly half of the public (50 per cent) is satisfied with the Prime Ministers’ work so far, while only 40 percent are “unsatisfied” (the rest are undecided). Defense Minister Ehud Barak gets 50 percent positive approval as well. The only concern Netanyahu should have is with his Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is viewed positively only by 38 of the public.

50 percent of the public blames Abu-Mazen for the absence of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, while 27 percent think it’s both sides’ fault. 25 percent thinks that the White House treats Netanyahu in a humiliating way (42 percent perceive the administration’s behavior as “reasonable”; only 12 see it as respectful)

If elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud would have risen to 33 Knesset seats (they have 27 now), while Livni’s Kadima would have grown to 29 (it has 28). Labor drops from 13 now to 6, and altogether the Right-Orthodox wing is getting stronger, to 72 seats (65 now), while the Center-Left block drops to 48.

The common wisdom is that in times of terror attacks the public moves Right, but now we had almost a year of relative quiet accompanied by an effort for renewal of negotiations, and the Right is getting stronger. This is bad news for those who believe in persuading the Israelis to join the peace effort. The public simply doesn’t want that. As I explained before, the meaning of these numbers is that without intense international pressure, no Israeli leader would be ready for concessions – since it would mean confronting a hostile public opinion. The rational choice for every Israeli leader right now- regardless of its ideology – is to oppose the peace effort. Read the rest of this entry »

Yedioth Ahronot poll: Netanyahu’s approval ratings higher than ever

Posted: October 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

Publishing public opinion polls when there are no elections in sight is not a common practice in the Israeli media, but Yedioth Ahronot has one this weekend. Basically, it confirms what I’ve been writing here for some time: Benjamin Netanyahu has been able to contain all outside pressure with regards to the peace process and the settlement freeze. The PM and his government enjoy very high approval ratings, and although Defense Minister Ehud Barak has suffered some blows recently, Netanyahu’s coalition remains very stable.

If elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud party would have got 33 Knesset seats (it has 27 today), while Tzipi Livn’s Kadima would have stayed with 28 seats. Libernma and Israel Beitenu drops to 12 seats; Barak and Labor crashes from 13 to 7. Read the rest of this entry »

Peace, a dirty word (or: where Obama got it wrong, and what’s the better way to go)

Posted: October 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The common belief, often quoted by well-wishing visitors to Israel and the Palestinian territories, is that “both people, Israelis and Palestinians, want peace. It’s the politicians who bring war.” The reality is almost the opposite: even when leaders consider some sort of agreement, the public makes it clear that such move won’t be in their best interest. Consequently, the naive belief that “basically, everyone wants peace” is a source of endless political mistakes, the latest of them done by the new American administration. I would like to explain here why, and to suggest a different way to conceptualize the political and diplomatic situation.

There are consistent polls showing a certain majority in both societies for the two-states solution, but this is all on a very abstract level. When you break it down to questions about the price each side would pay for this peace, the numbers drop, sometimes rapidly. Yes, most Israelis say they will agree to a Palestinian state, but without sharing Jerusalem, or evacuating the big settlement blocks; and yes, Palestinians will support an agreement, but without giving up the right of return to all original villages and towns within the Green Line. Obviously, this won’t work. Read the rest of this entry »

Next on the agenda: declaring war on Norway

Posted: October 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Avigdor Liberman is doing it again: Haaretz reports that our Foreign Minister is now considering throwing out the Norwegian monitoring force from Hebron. The reason: the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic policies of Norway’s government. The evidence: Norway’s government’s pension fund’s decision to divest from an Israeli company, Elbit; Norway’s contacts with Hamas, which are yet to be proven (Last week Netanyahu made the same allegation, based on wrongful information, against Sweden); and on top of all, Norway’s insistence – after Liberman has warned them once already! – to mark the 100th birthday of Knut Hamsun, the writer who sympathized with the Nazis during WW2.

Of all the foreign ministers he met with in New York, Lieberman told the cabinet, this meeting [with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store] was the most difficult, because “the Norwegians take a very hostile line against us.”

“It may be the time has come to reassess our relations with them and reexamine our position on matters important to them, like their monitors in Hebron or [Israel's] cooperation with the forum of donor states [to the PA], which they head,” Lieberman added.

People praise Liberman for his firm stand against anti-Semitism, but personally I think he didn’t even start the real work. According to the same logic, Liberman should cut ties with Germany for playing Wagner‘s music, and with France for publishing Celin‘s work, with Finland (we remember which side they took!), naturally with Japan, and that’s just the beginning. By the way, they teach Hamsun and Celin in Israel’s schools and universities, but I guess that’s beside the point.

If we go back to serious politics, the international monitoring body’s present in Hebron is part of an agreement which Israel signed, and it’s not even in Liberman’s authority to postpone it. Clearly, Liberman knows that. I assume the real motive for his actions is an attempt to win some points with the Israeli public, since he can’t do anything else, as he is considered a persona non grate by most of the world. Obviously, Liberman is eroding whatever credit this government still enjoys in Europe and turning the very real the fight against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial into a joke, but that’s not too bad either. In a way, he represents the current atmosphere in Israel better than Shimon Peres or Tzipi Livni ever did when they held the same office. We couldn’t have asked for a more suitable Foreign Minister.

Our very own Danish cartoons: will Israelis boycott ABBA?

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »
Haaretz's daily cartoon, by Amos Biderman

Haaretz's daily cartoon, by Amos Biderman

The campaign in Israel against Sweden following the article in Aftonbladet, which claimed that IDF soldiers harvested the organs of Palestinians they killed, is looking more and more like the Muslim world’s reaction to the Danish Cartoons. Back than, the dangerous point was reached when the public protest over the cartoons turned into an official policy of Arab governments. In Israel, the government didn’t even wait for the rest of the public.

After both Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and PM Benjamin Netanyahu demanded an apology from the Swedish government (Netanyahu said he would settle for an unofficial condemnation of the Aftonbladet piece, but Liberman is still insisting that the Swedish government would take official steps against the paper, like it was some third-world dictatorship), Israeli citizens have responded, and are now organizing a boycott on Swedish companies, most notably Ericsson, Volvo, H&M and IKEA (a comment on Ynet.co.il news site seriously suggested that if you can’t avoid buying in IKEA, at least steal the pencil they give you at the entrance). Some Israelis still listen to ABBA, but this might change soon as well.

Liberman went even further yesterday: after his tasteless reference to the Swedish behavior during the Holocaust, he added Norway to his list of anti-Semitic regimes (it’s time for Finland to start worrying). The reason: the marking of the 150 years anniversary of the birth of Knut Hamson, the well known writer who was, in his last years, a Nazi sympathizer. These embarrassing comments – Hamson is taught in Israeli schools - made front pages in all the daily papers in Israel both today and yesterday.

In a sense, I find it appropriate that Avigdoer Liberman is our foreign minister. His combination of Xenophobia and populism is much more suitable to represent the current Israeli mood than the diplomatic tones of Shimon Peres. The real problem is the political effect of his conduct. One can guess that IKEA will survive the Israeli boycott (judging from the way most Israeli homes look today, it’s us that might not make it without them), but this “whole world is against us” attitude is bound to lead Israel to some dangerous places.

UPDATE: the extreme right wing movement “Im Tirtzu” organized this evening a protest of a few dozens people in front of the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv. There were thousands protesting in Cairo and Gaza after the cartoon was published in Denmark, but that’s about the only difference.

The end of the road for Avigdor Liberman?

Posted: July 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross -posted with FPW.

liberman_avigdorThe Israeli daily papers got into some sort of a fight this week over the state of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s criminal investigation. While Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the police finished its work and the decision whether to file charges against Liberman is now at the hands of the legal counselor for the government, Meni Mazuz (who serves in Israel as the head of the prosecution as well), Maariv daily paper insisted that the investigation is not over yet. But both papers agree on the basic facts: according to sources in the police, substantial evidences of corruption was found, and a criminal charge against Liberman is all but inevitable.

Is the political career of the person labeled is “Israel’s Jorg Haider” is about to reach its end? It’s hard to tell. First, in a week marked by the return to politics of the star of the 90′s, Shas’ legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, one can only repeat the lesson given by Israel’s biggest comeback kid ever, Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, because the ride never really ends (a somewhat ironic idea, considering Sharon’s years of coma, which have yet come to an end). Second, it is clear that Liberman won’t leave without a fight.

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Liberman left out; Barak lobbying for settlements

Posted: July 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The control over the relations with the US was a source of tension between Israeli PMs and their foreign ministers throughout the years. Whenever the Prime Minister assumed control over the dialogue with Washington (and being the most important element in Israeli foreign policy, this usually happened very quickly), the foreign minister would start feeling he was cut out, and behave accordingly. The fact that the foreign ministers are usually political rivals of the PM – whether in his own party or as leaders of a senior coalition partner – didn’t help either.

But yesterday we saw something new: Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, graciously (and publicly) accepting the fact that Ehud Barak, the defense minister, has taken over the negotiations with the US special envoy, George Mitchell:

“Our relations with the United States are more important even than the dignity of the foreign minister,” Lieberman continued. “I don’t want people to say that a settler put our relations with the U.S. at risk.”

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Netanyahu accepts a Palestinian state (has some tiny conditions, though)

Posted: June 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

cross-posted with FPW.

You can say that Benjamin Netanyahu raised impossible demands from the Palestinians in his “major diplomatic speech,” as he called it (full text here). You can say that he didn’t accept the American demand for a complete stop of all construction projects in the West bank and East Jerusalem. You can say that he spent most of his time repeating his usual narrative of peace-seeking Israelis and Arab Rejectionism, and that he was “boldly stepping into 1993“. And you would probably be right in saying all this.

But what I heard today was the last Israeli leader to accept the idea of a Palestinian state.

There is no national figure to the right of Netanyahu, only second rate extremists. Avigdor Liberman long ago accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. So did, in less than a decade, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni – all of them formerly Likud people, even hard-liners, who finally understood that from an Israeli point of view, even a Zionist one, there is no real alternative. Twenty years ago, even Labor leaders didn’t speak of a Palestinian state. It was considered a radical-leftist idea. Things changed; one can’t deny that – but at what price!

So much for historical perspective. Now we can take apart some of the smaller details of the speech:

Negotiations: Netanyahu called for immediate negotiations with all Arab leaders, “without preconditions.” This in something Israeli leaders always said, and the Arabs will probably reject this idea again. The reason is simple: The only asset the Arab leaders are holding is the possibility of legitimizing Israel, and negotiations can be seen as a form of legitimation. That’s why most leaders will ask for something in return before engaging in direct talks – if not from Israel, than from the US.

A Jewish State: Netanyahu wasn’t completely honest when he claimed to be ready to negotiate without preconditions. He had some conditions, especially for the Palestinian side. First, he asked Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (in fact, if I got it right, he kind of asked the whole Arab world to do so). This is something the Palestinians will never do, because they would be betraying the cause of Palestinians citizens of Israel – which make up 20 percent of the population – for equal political and civil rights. But Netanyahu knows that this demand sounds good to the Israeli public, as well as to American Jews (unlike his insistence on building settlements), so he keeps on raising the issue, assuming it can help him out of tough corners in the future.

Hamas: Netanyahu had another condition for the Palestinians. He demanded the PA does something the Israeli Army couldn’t do: remove Hamas from power and re-seize control over the Gaza strip. Again, Netanyahu probably knows that moderate Arab leaders, with the silent support of the Obama administration, are moving in the opposite direction, of establishing a Palestinian unity government that will be able to negotiate with Israel. The Hamas problem allows him to buy time.

In my view, this is currently the biggest obstacle in the way of the peace process. This is not about declaring something about a Jewish homeland, like the previous demand. We can always work out a fancy statement that will keep almost everyone happy. This is a real political mess: Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO controls the West Bank. Are we to establish three states? The position Netanyahu took actually gives veto power over any agreement to Hamas – and the PM might be counting on them to use it.

Settlements: Thirty words. That’s what Netanyahu had to say about the issue which stood at the bottom of his confrontation with Obama, as well as his political problems at home. Bottom line: the PM presented the consensus he was able to build in his government as a response to the American demand. No new settlements will be built, and there will be no further confiscation of Palestinian land (I won’t go into the legal details, but this doesn’t mean much, because Israel decided long ago most of the land in the WB is “public land”, and therefore open for construction). We will have to see what Israel really does on the ground – and how the Administration responds – in order to judge both sides’ commitment to their positions.

Borders, Security, Refugees and Jerusalem: we had nothing new here. A typical Israeli hard-line. Netanyahu even said at one point that “my positions on these matters are well known.” And that’s exactly how we should look at them – his positions, which will be subject to whatever happens at the negotiating table.

And that’s my bottom line: I never thought – and I still don’t think – that Benjamin Netanyahu is the right man to lead Israel out of the West Bank (not to mention bring peace for the region). Not because he is a radical – Sharon was considered much worse before he took power – but because he hasn’t got the right character, nor the right ambitions. But he can still play a big role in this process, and if he does, this day will be remembered as his first step. It took Obama only two months to get him there. We should be optimistic.

Four more Years: Ahmadinejad Wins

Posted: June 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

cross-posted with FPW.

Events are still rolling in Iran, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner in the presidential elections, and there are no indications that the demonstrations of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s supporters can change that. Not with the supreme leader Ali Khemenei and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the president’s side.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the matter.

● Some people might see the election’s outcome as a blow for president Obama. This is true only to a certain extent. I don’t believe the American president was thinking that his speech in Cairo – inspiring as it was – will result in immediate political changes in the region. Things just don’t work this way, so we shouldn’t credit Obama for the success of the pro-western coalition in Lebanon, nor for the reformists’ failure in Iran.

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Everything is Personal: How Jerusalem Lost Contact with Washington

Posted: June 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross-posted with FPW.

Is the Israeli government ready to come out of its shell and respond to President Obama’s Middle East plan?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting that he will present his answer to Obama’s speech in Cairo next week. The PM intends to hold his own “major diplomatic speech,” in which he will discuss “our principles for achieving peace and security.” According to Haaretz, the speech will probably be given in the Bar Ilan university near Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu will receive an honorary doctorate on June 16th.

In the past few weeks, Netanyahu has faced growing criticism– even from his supporters – for not preparing himself for the shift in the American administration’s policy. When Washington started sending signals – and later on, explicit demands – with regards to the settlements issue and the two-state solution, the Israeli government responded with panic. Instead of presenting his own vision of the future of the Middle East – even as some sort of lip service, just to get the Americans off his back – the PM made it seem like there is no partner in Jerusalem.

It is clear today that the new Israeli government has failed to appreciate the magnitude of the changes happening in Washington. Part of the reason is poor timing: the Obama team has been preparing a new policy since November. Netanyahu had just a month in office before he met the new president. One could guess that the fact that the first person to leave office after the Israeli elections was the Israeli ambassador in Washington didn’t do much good either.

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