Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Israel Elections: Nobody Wins, We All Lose

Israeli voters leaned toward one of two candidates in national elections this week: Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who screwed up the peace process over a decade ago, and Tzipi Livni, who screwed up the Gaza Strip situation a few weeks ago. Which will they choose?
Here is an assessment of the directions Israel could go in:
  • Older and wiser, or just older? Netanyahu eventually became prime minister after the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize winner Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Bibi's hawkishness -- along with, of course, the flaws of his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat -- helped clip the wings of the dove of peace that seemed so promising with the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords. Has Bibi learned from his mistakes as PM from 1996-99? Or will he turn even more macho in the wake of threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran?
  • Present imperfect. Livni led a war against Hamas in Gaza that resulted in international outcry against Israel -- although we must admit that Israel cannot move a tank from its base without drawing protests -- and, more seriously, failed to silence the rockets from Gaza or curtail their increasing distance.
  • Blinded by the right(-wing). Meet Avigdor Lieberman, would-be kingmaker (or prime minister-maker), whose Yisrael Beytenu party thinks it's a good idea to add fuel to an already-tense situation by displacing Israeli Arabs. "The responsibility for primarily Arab areas such as Umm Al-Fahm and the 'triangle' will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority," the party website proclaims in its platform. "In parallel, Israel will officially annex Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria. Israel is our home; Palestine is theirs." Yisrael Beytenu is one more right-wing threat to a country that has enough of them.
Some have decried the lack of a "Gandhi" or a "Mandela" on the Palestinian side regarding the stalled peace process. In truth, there has long been a lack of one on the Israeli side as well. Whoever wins the elections will inherit some assets on the peace front -- an Egypt more willing to act as a broker, a Palestinian Authority more willing to act as a counterpart to Hamas. The imminent tragedy of the elections, though, is that whoever wins will not take advantage of these conditions. To paraphrase the country-western song, nobody wins, we all lose.

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