Monday, September 6, 2010

Lieberman Strikes Again

As the first real push-back against the newly launched Peace Process™ coming from within Israel's political system, it's interesting how Lieberman's recent remarks about the improbability of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians in the near term are being reported. In all reportage, little emphasis is being put on Lieberman's stated desire for an interim agreement in the absence of a permanent settlement.

Haaretz spills little ink on his actual comments, juxtaposing them against Netanyahu's public statements and international commitments. As a consequence, Lieberman is positioned as an insolent, out of control Peace Process™ spoiler.

In contrast, JPost, while quoting Lieberman more extensively, provides some context of the political calculus that went into these remarks. Explaining that Lieberman is attempting to attract disaffected Likud voters, and perhaps even ministers to Yisrael Beteinu, JPost also reports Netanyahu's unchallenged position within Likud. The negotiations are so sensitive that Bibi refuses to even discuss them with his own party, and the party doesn't so much as peep in revolt.

Finally, Ynet wastes little time on context or editorializing, publishing numerous and lengthy comments by Lieberman, including the following gem:
Turning his attention to the possibility that the settlement freeze will continue, Lieberman said that he sees "no good reason to continue the settlement freeze. The Israeli government declared the freeze unilaterally, and all it got us was accusations from the Palestinians, who called it 'a scam.'

"They have been stalling for nine months, and in the last month, they have all of a sudden recognized the 'bargain' for what it is and are pressuring for the 'scam' to continue.
I mean, really, have you heard a single other politician, anywhere, get to the nut of the issue with such flair?

Whatever the fate of the Peace Process™, it is quite obvious that Netanyahu has promised Obama a good effort, and a magnificent show, if nothing else. After all, the appearance of diplomatic progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all that the Americans are really asking for, eager as they are for the slightest leverage on half a dozen burning regional issues. So far, judging by the surprisingly positive coverage here in the states, Netanyahu has delivered on oratory and theater, without publicly compromising anything substantive.

As for Lieberman, like him or hate him, such are dangers of a coalition government where the Foreign Minister - even one as distanced from top-tier diplomacy as Lieberman has been - is the head of hungry young party, eager to eat up right wing support from Likud. A better statesman, a team player, would have had the wisdom to take Israel's entire, delicate diplomatic scene into account before seeking electoral gain at the country's expense.

On the other hand, perhaps this is symbolic of the maturation - if not the maturity - of Israel's political system. Gone is the founding generation, which felt intimately the fragility of what they had built, and knew to close ranks in public, at least on occasion, at least on matters of diplomatic importance. Lieberman's open remarks negating the sensitive diplomatic maneuvering of his own coalition partner certainly come off as irresponsible, but they also reflect a confidence that all of Israel's political system need not line up and shudder each time America blows. So long as the country's survival is not at stake, and it isn't, one can not well criticize Lieberman for practicing the very political pluralism that is expected of any free, democratic Western state.

Update: Interestingly, Yossi Beilin, the embodiment of the unlikely intersection between Israel's far left wing and some semblance of reality, co-founder of the Geneva Initiative, echoes Lieberman in supporting an interim agreement now, rather than a comprehensive peace agreement that won't happen. Naturally, he blames Netanyahu for the inability to sign a final deal. Reading through his piece, one might think that the Palestinians are all waiting with outstretched arms for a bold Israeli partner (like Yossi Beilin) to offer them peace, instead of recently throwing each other off roof tops, but I digress.

Update: Ynet: Lieberman explains and expands his remarks.

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