Wednesday, November 10, 2010
By Osman Mirghani
This comment was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 10/11/2010
This was the metaphor used by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, to describe the Netanyahu government, and the consequences of its policies. Friedman was quoted by Knesset member Roni Bar-On, in order to attack the policies of the Israeli Prime Minister. These words are appropriate, considering the debate witnessed by the Knesset last week, about the international isolation Israel faces, due to its devious policies, fraud, and its evasion from the peace process and its obligations. The topic was discussed in the Knesset despite Netanyahu’s [objection], after 40 Members of Parliament voted on a proposal to discuss the results of Netanyahu’s policies, and their implications on foreign affairs.
The reality is that this talk echoes the debate going on within the wider Jewish community, both inside Israel and abroad. This debate seems more pronounced in the United States, where many Jews feel that Netanyahu’s policies pose a threat to Israel, and the country’s relations with the U.S. administration. Thomas Friedman wrote an article in March, in which he strongly criticized the Netanyahu government, after it had announced the project to build 1600 housing units in East Jerusalem, in a move seen as a blow to efforts to revive the peace process, and a ‘slap in the face’ for U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was visiting Israel at the time in order to push forth the peace process. Friedman said that it would have been better if Biden had left Israel immediately at the time, as a strong protest against the stance of the Netanyahu government, with a message that says: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk”…“You have lost total contact with reality”.
This was nearly eight months ago, and what has happened since then? Netanyahu’s government has become even more intransigent, and its Prime Minister has continued his tricks, to strip the [peace] process of any real content. Is this not the man who boasted years ago that he had emptied the Oslo Accords of any genuine content, by stalling and reinterpreting the agreement in order to disrupt it, and even thwart it altogether? The result of the latest round of negotiations was consistent with Netanyahu’s track record for circumventing peace, and supporting settlement construction. He aims to force his opponents to succumb to the demands of the extreme right, including the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, and to find a formula to get rid of the Palestinians in Israel, and prevent the return of refugees.
What is remarkable is that, after eight months of such a relationship with Biden, an announcement came revealing that the Israeli authorities are once again maneuvering on the subject of peace negotiations, and adhering to continued settlement construction, despite pressure from the Obama administration, and despite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hinting that he will resort to other options. Whilst Netanyahu was in the U.S. to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), and hold meetings with U.S. officials, the Israeli organization ‘Peace Now’ revealed, the day before yesterday, that Jerusalem Municipality has approved the construction of 1300 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The second puzzling fact is that this move came after Biden’s address to the General Assembly of the JFNA, and his meeting with Netanyahu. It also came prior to Netanyahu’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and George Mitchell, President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East.
If the Obama administration wanted to put pressure on Netanyahu, to extend the freeze on settlement construction, then the Israeli extremists, who are allies of Netanyahu and a significant fraction of his electorate, would send another message indicating that settlement construction will not stop. While Washington pressures the Israeli Prime Minister, there is also pressure from the other side, in order to continue settlement construction. This is the exchange of roles which Netanyahu performs, with the far right allied with him, to thwart any U.S. pressure, and impose a fait accompli on the ground.
Even Netanyahu’s appointment of the Israeli extremist, Avigdor Lieberman, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, seems to be a deliberate move. The cunning Prime Minister of Israel knows that when Lieberman issues extreme, racist statements, both anti-peace and anti-Arab, this makes Netanyahu appear like a peace dove, or as a man willing to make concessions. However, in reality he remains idle, fearing that his government will fall apart if the religious and ultra-nationalist parties withdraw, who are opposed to any cessation of settlement construction. The fact is that Netanyahu is similar to Lieberman in terms of extremism, and their vision for settlement construction, a Jewish state, and refusing to allow Palestinian refugees to return.
And in order for some not to interpret that damaging announcement regarding renewed settlement construction, was aimed towards the Obama administration only; It must be noted that this announcement coincided with the end of the month-long deadline set by the Arab League, in order for Washington and the Israeli government to settle the issue of extending a freeze on settlement construction. Netanyahu does not care about this Arab deadline, or Mahmoud Abbas’s threats, and perhaps he is happy that the Obama administration is encountering such difficulty in the Arab world. Netanyahu feels that he is able to maneuver, and boasts that he knows America very well, and can evade U.S. pressure, whilst continuing his maneuvers and policies. The man has reached a level of arrogance that has made him respond to the criticism of the American Jewish community by saying: “We may have lost Thomas Friedman, but I don't think we lost America”.
We are facing a drunk driving a car on the road, and this may what finally pushes our region towards the abyss