Friday, January 21, 2011

Netanyahu Rising?

I tend not to link out very much, or to paste large volumes of writing that is not my own on this blog, as is the wont of many prominent bloggers. Partly, this is because I don't have the traffic to direct the attention of masses of people. I also tend to think that most of the people who read me regularly also peruse similar online publications. It's therefore seems a bit redundant, if I have nothing original to say, to turn the spotlight on a subject that most readers are already aware of.

Nevertheless, I've been reading Barry Rubin more and more these days, mostly due to the repeated exposure he's receiving on the blogs of EoZ, Michael Totten and others, and I'm beginning to think that, if you don't already, you should read him as well.
What outsiders don't understand is that Israeli politics are not today a function of internal ideology or personality but a response to an environment where there is no realistic alternative for transforming the regional situation. (At the same time, there are no burning, passionate issues over social or economic policy.)

Israelis learned important lessons during the 1990s' peace process. They discovered that the Palestinians and Syria are not interested in peace; that the Islamists want to wipe Israel off the map; and that Western allies are not necessarily reliable.  The left's formula--as even Barak came to understand--didn't work. Wishful thinking is no substitute for realism.

There is absolutely nothing on the horizon, despite a lot of fantasy Western media coverage and policy thinking, to change that. Moreover, the Netanyahu-led government has done a credible job of handling the issues, including maintaining good relations with the Obama Administration. Meanwhile, Israel's economy is doing remarkably well.

That's not to say there aren't problems. But neither are the problems so great, nor the alternatives so obvious or attractive, nor the other candidates for leadership so attractive to provoke a change. Bet on Netanyahu to win another term in office, probably this year.
Pair that analysis up with a piece on Haaretz, by Aluf Benn, and we can really get cooking:
[Despite regional instability and American decline, relative to China,] Israel is entering this new era from a position of strength. Its economy is growing and attracting labor migrants and returning Israeli emigrants. Israel's great rival in the struggle for regional hegemony, Iran, is under international pressure and sanctions. The Israel Defense Forces is for now deterring Hezbollah and Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority is keeping the lid on the West Bank.

Furthermore, the prime minister's maneuvers are succeeding. In the name of "political stability," the Labor Party ministers who pestered Netanyahu with threats of resignation were removed from office, pushing off elections further into the future. Defense Minister Ehud Barak stayed on but with diminished status, and is being additionally hurt by the problems involving the appointment of Yoav Galant as chief of staff. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's arch-rival, is a candidate for an indictment that will remove him from office. Meanwhile, the opponents of an attack on Iran are retiring one by one, broadening the premier's freedom of action.

There remains only the Palestinian question, which is bothering Netanyahu and threatening to erupt in the summer. The prime minister is looking for a way to outflank PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as the latter travels the world collecting supporters for a declaration of independence. The government is increasingly inclined to realize that an Israeli policy initiative is needed that will halt the erosion in foreign relations.
With the perspective of these two articles, it would appear that Netanyahu has consolidated, not so much power, but pragmatism within Israeli polity. A monopoly on centrist rationalism is a strong position to be in. The main point of weakness in Israeli policy is laissez faire pacifism with regards to Palestinian maneuvers, which force an unhealthy reliance on American diplomatic intervention, itself increasingly a finite resource. With strained Israeli-American relations off the front burner, the imminent threat of Iranian nukes apparently diffused for the time being, and a domestic political environment solidifying in his favor, Netanyahu is entering the first real breathing space of his premiership. Now is the time to think and plan, without the stress of threats or deadlines, about the Palestinians, and to cobble together the existing, incomprehensible fragments of Israeli policies into a coherent whole. After two years of playing dogged defense, it's Netanyahu's ball, finally. Let's see what he can do.

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