Friday, February 20, 2009

Netanyahu's predicament grows

Tapped by Shimon Peres to form the next government, Benjamin Netanyahu has reached out to both Tzipi Livni (Kadima party, which actually got the most votes in the election) and Ehud Barak (Labor party) to invite them to join a unity government. Barak has said no, Livni has agreed to meet with him, but so far has said no. And I suspect they won't join unless Netanyahu effectively repudiates his "natural allies" (=Lieberman and other far-right parties) - in which case he trashes his credibility and raises a stink with a huge number of voters, especially the "Russian" immigrants, Ultra-Orthodox, and pro-settlement types.

Netanyahu's in a bind, because he knows that a government based on partnering with Avigdor Lieberman and his ilk can be no partner with the new US president. But if he does indeed have to go that route . . . I wonder how AIPAC and the pro-Israel lobby will work the halls of Congress? Will they be powerful enough to force Obama to make nice with Netanyahu and Lieberman? Remember, the American South is full of Biblical-literalist Christian Zionists who'd have absolutely no problem forcing every last Arab out of the "land of Israel."

Netanyahu has as much as six weeks to make a deal. Stay tuned . . .

Here's the NYT report, datelined tomorrow . . .

February 21, 2009
Netanyahu Tapped to Form Israel’s New Government

JERUSALEM — Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the conservative Likud Party, was invited by Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, on Friday to take the lead in assembling the next government. Whatever form that government takes, Mr. Netanyahu, 59, is widely expected to return as prime minister a decade after the last government he led fell apart.

In a brief but statesmanlike speech at the presidential residence on Friday afternoon, Mr. Netanyahu accepted the mandate and immediately called on the centrist Kadima Party, led by Tzipi Livni, and the center-left Labor Party, led by Ehud Barak, to join him in a unity government. He said national unity was necessary in order for Israel to contend with the formidable challenges ahead.

“Let us unite to secure the future of the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding that he wanted to discuss the possibility of forming a broad government “for the good of the people and the state.”

Mr. Netanyahu and Ms. Livni have agreed to meet on Sunday, but the negotiations between them are likely to be tough and the chances of success are unclear.

Ms. Livni, the current foreign minister and Mr. Netanyahu’s main rival for the premiership, has so far refused the idea of joining a government led by Mr. Netanyahu and including several ultra-orthodox and far-right parties. Committed to the peace process with the Palestinians, she has said she would rather go into the opposition than serve as a fig-leaf for a coalition of the right.

Mr. Barak, whose Labor Party fared badly in the elections, has already said he would heed the will of the people and head into the opposition.

But in his plea for unity, Mr. Netanyahu pointed to the existential threat to Israel that would be posed by a nuclear Iran and the global economic crisis that he said could cost hundreds of thousands of Israelis their jobs.

Such major challenges, Mr. Netanyahu said, required “a new approach” of unity and of “joining hands.” Striking a more positive and conciliatory tone, he said the goal was to seek “peace with our neighbors and unity among ourselves.”

A broad government joined by the center and left would likely promote a more pragmatic agenda and avoid friction with Israel’s most important ally, the United States.

Mr. Netanyahu will have up to six weeks to put together a governing coalition. He was tapped for the premiership after he gained the endorsement of 65 members of the 120-seat Parliament, from religious parties and those on the far right.

While Ms. Livni’s Kadima narrowly won the Feb. 10 elections, it failed to muster the support of a majority in the Parliament, a prerequisite for forming a governing coalition. Ms. Livni gained the endorsement only of Kadima’s 28 legislators.

In the last few days, many here have predicted that Mr. Netanyahu would be left with no choice but to form a narrow government with those he has termed his “natural partners,” parties representing the ultra-orthodox and the right.

After a private meeting earlier Friday with Mr. Peres, who has also been urging national unity, Ms. Livni said that the coalition taking shape lacked political vision and that “a broad coalition has no value if it does not lead the way.”

But in his speech on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu indicated that he wanted to embark on a new track. He said he would meet first with Ms. Livni and Mr. Barak, and made no mention of the parties that endorsed him — groups like Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, which came third in the elections, or the ultra-orthodox Shas.

Rina Mazliah, a political commentator with Israel’s Channel 2 News, said that Mr. Netanyahu had changed direction and that his call for unity based on national responsibility might make it difficult for Ms. Livni to refuse.

Nevertheless, Mr. Netanyahu’s vision of unity seemed far from assured.

Leading members of Mr. Barak’s once-dominant Labor Party, which won a mere 13 seats in the new Parliament, have said the party must spend time rebuilding itself in the opposition.

Moreover, the parties to any coalition would have to agree on basic government guidelines.

Ms. Livni has staked her political career on promoting negotiations with the more pragmatic, Western-backed Palestinian leadership for a two-state solution. Mr. Netanyahu says he wants to promote “economic peace” in the West Bank but has remained deliberately vague about any long-term political solutions.

Ms. Livni noted on Thursday that Mr. Netanyahu “meanwhile refuses to talk about a two-state solution.”

Mr. Netanyahu acknowledged on Friday that there were serious political differences, but he said that given the momentousness of the hour he believed it was possible to “find a common path to reach the country’s goals.”

A narrow government would be less stable, with Mr. Netanyahu having to balance the often competing demands of small parties. A right-wing agenda would also set Israel on a possible collision course with the new administration in the United States, which has pledged an active and aggressive pursuit of peace.

Shalom Yerushalmi, a columnist in Friday’s Maariv newspaper, described such a government as Mr. Netanyahu’s “nightmare.”

“The narrow government he formed in 1996 fell apart in stages,” Mr. Yerushalmi noted. “Netanyahu swore that he would not make a narrow government again, and would never again be the prime minister of half the people.”


Michael LeFavour said...

Professor Robertson,

Do you suppose the fact that most of the Arabs calling themselves Palestinians have no problems murdering every last Jew has any relevance on the support some have for peacefully transferring the hostile Arabs away from innocent Israelis?

John Robertson said...

Thanks for commenting, Mr. LeFavour, but do you actually know any Palestinians, or even any Arabs? I do. I've worked with Arabs (one of my good friends here at my university is a Palestinian Arab), and even lived in an Arab country (Syria) for a short time. I also read Arab newspapers frequently. Yes, there are some who have no problem with murdering Jews, and that's to be detested. But as for the majority of Arabs, I'm afraid you're badly under-informed.

Michael LeFavour said...

Thanks for responding professor, I live in the Detroit Michigan metro area, I know lots of Arabs, hundreds I'd say. Being the close friend of a wonderful family, I asked to court a young Christian Arab calling herself a Palestinian many years ago. Even though they considered me of good character, her parents rejected me because I am not an Arab. They are from Gaza. Yes, as if it matters at all, I know an Arab or two. Some claim to be Palestinians. I know the culture intimately and what it has devolved into. Curious though, if we were discussing the moon, would you have the same smug attitude if I could not claim any astronauts as acquaintances?

Now that we have the formalities aside maybe you can answer how you can, with a straight face, write what you do? You have chosen to support the side of mass murder and genocidal desire. Hamas won by a land slide. Since their platform was no mystery, those that brought them to power can not claim that Hamas is acting out of character.

Further, let's look at suicide bombing. The bombers do not act alone and they are encouraged by a deep fabric of social support, from the media that spreads the information to the people, to the Muslim and civic leadership that encourages genocide with their calls for violence and Jew hatred. Suicide bombers are idolized as the pinnacle of societal achievement, gaining financial and social assistance for their families upon their death. This comprehensive social acceptance of Jew hatred given legitimacy by the Islamic clergy is what is fueling the conflict. Who can argue with God?

You claim that the majority of Arabs do not support an apocalyptic confrontation with Israel, yet impressionable young minds have been indoctrinated in the language of death for Allah and Islamic rationalizations and apologies for years now. It starts at home with pressure to sacrifice oneself for the family honor, then in the schools where Nazi like indoctrination has created a society of fanatics and support for fanatics.

The question is why do you give your academic support to this ugliest of societies? Kids trade martyr cards like American kids trade baseball cards. The streets of Gaza are plastered with posters glorifying mass murderers. Public parks, sports teams, civic buildings, and hospitals are named to honor perpetrators of gruesome atrocities, but you don't see it? You may have some individual Arabs you have befriended, but if you do not see the support for Jew hatred it is you who are badly under-informed.

John Robertson said...

Thanks for your comment. You make some important points about the culture of martyrdom - of which I am indeed very much aware, and the development of which, again, I find both sad and detestable. But I also choose to try to understand it, and why it arose, rather than simply lump all Arabs as Muslims and therefore, by definition - at least, by your reckoning - genocidal monsters.

I'm sorry if my question about your knowing any Arabs offended you or came across as smug, but yes, the question (IMHO) is relevant, because daily I encounter students who don't, yet have succumbed to the kind of blatantly racist stereotypes and historical misinformation that you perpetuate in your blog. (Where do you get this stuff, for example, about the Arabs of Palestine being "largely nomadic"? That's nonsense.)

But beyond all that, have you no sense of the injustice that has been done to the Arabs since the end of World War I? No sense of the anger that would result when 750,000 Arabs of Palestine were expelled forcibly in 1947 and the years after? Yes, there have been atrocities by both sides, but you seem oblivious to costs suffered by anyone other than Israelis - and you seem unwilling to allow Arabs - especially Muslim Arabs - even the rudiments of any humanity.

Michael LeFavour said...

Professor, the culture of Islamic martyrdom has been around since the seventh century. Martyrdom in differing forms I am sure has been around even longer, but to understand how the Islamic version arose you need to start with the foundation of Islam and its figurehead, the slaver, Muhammad. You have turned to the Quran and Hadith to "understand" how martyrdom arose haven't you? I wonder, because you insinuate Jews are to blame for the actions of these homicidal Arabs. What I am more interested in though is the cowardly variation where the supposed martyr targets and attacks women and children, and is then praised for his actions by the society he or she was raised in. Tangentially I am also curious why you are enamored with this sort of society.

Call me a dreamer, but I have always thought of a martyr as a hero figure. Islamic martyrdom was born in the seventh century. I've done a little mock fighting in the Society for Creative Anachronism I like to fancy myself as having almost first hand experience in ancient warfare. True enough the weapons are wooden clubs and the pole weapons are padded where the blade would be mounted, but the level of competition is very high. I mention this because I have looked for a Quranic example of martyrdom where women and children were targeted. I can't find it there. Again, maybe I am a dreamer, but I prefer to attribute some sort of good to martyrdom in Muhammad's time. Imagine two armies arrayed on a field of battle. Before cavalry or infantry can engage there is missile fire. Speaking from something I have witnessed, an armored infantryman holding a static position while under fire from bowmen is very frustrating. From frustration, exuberance, pride or some other testosterone driven emotion, the martyr I see in my mind's eye is perhaps a single combatant breaking ranks and charging the field towards a waiting enemy. Its an electrifying moment. How long will he live? Can he kill any of them before he dies? "Remember me!" shouted one warrior as he vaulted our front line like an NFL full back...and so I have, to share it with you. The point being the Arabs calling themselves Palestinians and the clerical puppet masters goading them on have twisted a noble concept into something hideous, and you were going to tell me how it is the fault of the Jews, huh?

I am baffled why you have concluded that I lump all Arabs together or that I think all are genocidal? It is correct to state that genocidal rhetoric was used by the Arab leaders when the Jews had no tanks, artillery, or air assets to defend themselves with. Calls for genocide are a proven precursor to genocide, as is dehumanizing the other such as claiming Jews are descendant from apes and pigs. I argue that It is correct that the Arab nations launched a war against the nascent state of Israel the day after it was born while the US and the world had an arms embargo imposed on the region and the British were enforcing it with a naval blockade. It is correct to state that when the Arab nations thought they had a military advantage over the Jews they attacked. That the war ultimately went badly for the Arabs does not absolve them of attempted genocide or the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria after the cease fire. Nor does it absolve them from perpetuating the conflict by refusing to recognize or negotiate with Israel at Khartoum. No, professor, unless defaming Jews, broad brush caricatures of entire racial and religious groups are not permitted these days. I am well able to distinguish religion from race. Where I use Arab I think the context is clear.

As to "blatantly racist stereotypes and historical misinformation", I "perpetuate" on my blog. You got all that from exactly one post? My "blog" is a test project, and I have posted exactly one essay on it and a few lines of comment about a video. The other writing displayed there belongs to a 12 year old child. I do not have the time to blog. I prefer to have conversations with people like yourself in my spare time. But since you have labeled me a racist, perhaps you can defend your charge and point out what race I am promoting? Speaking of racism though, why do you suppose the mostly Muslim, mostly Arabs of the east bank accepted an invading army of Muslim Arab colonists from the Hedjaz that imposed a dictatorial monarchy over them? And then later, the mostly Muslim Arabs of the west bank also accepted the same invading colonizers without so much as a whimper when the genocide attempt to throw the Jews into the sea failed? Yet when European Jews immigrate to live amongst mostly Muslim Arabs it is suddenly war and intolerance? Why is the tyranny the Arab Muslims accepted by foreign Arab Muslims more palatable to them than the freedom the Jews offer? If you have a better explanation than Arab racism and Muslim bigotry I am interested in your theories.

As to the Arabs being largely nomadic, I am not aware of any accurate source material on this subject. I am not a scholar, nor do I pretend to be an expert on every subject which I speak my mind on. I should thank you for pointing out a flaw and I will edit it after I do more research. If you direct me to a non biased reference that describes the break down of pre WWI Arabic habitat I will change what I wrote.

You asked, "have you no sense of the injustice that has been done to the Arabs since the end of World War I?"

That is a large question professor. If you are insinuating that the Jews are the cause of the injustice then the answer is a firm no. So we should narrow the question down. Are you asking about the Arabs in general? I think the Arabs squandered a chance at freedom on the cusp of WWI that will not come again for a long time. The Arabs have all suffered under Arab leadership and the yoke of Islam. In the hundred years since Christian warriors set them free from the Turks what have they produced of value? I can't think of anything at all without digging really deep. Through little effort of their own they were handed a vast territory graced with a fabulous wealth of resources, but they became tyrants. They sided with the Nazis in the second war and have been at odds with personal liberty and equality ever since. Has there been injustice? You bet. You are an expert on Syria. What happened to the people of Hama or do Muslim Arabs not have any responsibility? What happened during Black September? What happened in Algeria? What is happening today in Sudan? You are not the voice of humanity fighting against injustice, you are a partisan dupe for the insidious bigots bent on preserving the politics of victimization.

You asked if I understood the, "sense of the anger that would result when 750,000 Arabs of Palestine were expelled forcibly in 1947 and the years after?"

Forcibly, professor? Now it is my turn to ask you, where do you get this nonsense? Even the most rabid propaganda, does not say 750 thousand Arabs were "forced" out. The majority left without ever hearing a shot fired. Some were forced out for security purposes, but none were forced out after the fighting had ceased. Those all became Israelis. Stretch your imagination for a moment and consider how little time had passed in 1948 since the gates of Auschwitz were opened. When Arab leaders spoke of momentous massacres and throwing Jews into the sea the memory of those camps and other calls for mass murder were believed. Not every Arab wanted to be part of the killing, some left at the request of their own leaders. The largest single evacuation was in Haifa where the Jews urged them to stay. Life didn't have to end for them after becoming refugees either, it didn't end for the hundreds of thousands of Jews that fled the Arab world with little more than the shirts on their backs. In fact life was immensely tougher for Jewish refugees fleeing Arab violence, they didn't even speak the same language. If you want to talk about anger, how about the anger of the Farhud? Or how about the anger that siding with the Nazis caused?

You seem to be an expert at classic Soviet style turnspeak as you accuse me of the exact sort of thinking the Muslims are guilty of, "Yes, there have been atrocities by both sides, but you seem oblivious to costs suffered by anyone other than Israelis - and you seem unwilling to allow Arabs - especially Muslim Arabs - even the rudiments of any humanity."

Get back to me with your explanation of what happened to the town of Hama in Syria. Did you write anything in the aftermath? Are you writing anything about the jihad in Sudan as it unfolds? Criticizing Israel is one thing, but singling them out and holding them to a higher standard than anyone else is anti-Semitic. I am not oblivious to the suffering of others, but you sure are oblivious to the cause of it, sir.

John Robertson said...

Mr. LeFavour, I spend much more time on blogging than I should (and given my responsibilities to my students tomorrow, I can't tarry here long) - but when I do post something I try to ground it in knowledge acquired over almost 40 years, and in a career spent reading both broadly and deeply, delving into points of view from experts who cover almost the entire spectrum of approach and opinion. Honestly, I'd be much more inclined to continue debating with you if I sensed that we shared a similar base of knowledge (regardless of our points of view, which obviously are poles apart) and awareness of the complexities of the history we're talking about.

If I had more time, I'd be happy to address all the points you raise. But I will at least leave you with a suggestion that, if you're truly interested in learning more of the ethnic cleansing by proto-Israelis in 1946-1948, you look into some books and articles by important Israeli historians - among them, Benny Morris, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, and Ilan Pappe. And if you want some more accessible (on the internet) Israeli takes that reflect some of what I've been trying to say to you, go to the website of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz and look for the columns of journalists like Amira Hass (the daughter of two Holocaust survivors) or Gideon Levy. You'll find in the writing of all of the above the same kinds of points that I made in my original post (for which you seem to feel yourself able to call me an "anti-Semite"), except that their pieces are much more strongly worded. All of these authors (all of them, by the way, highly respected) are Israeli Jews. If you want to rail against them as anti-Semites as well, I'm sure you can email them to tell them so.

Michael LeFavour said...

Usually conceit can account for a reference to the academic qualifications of self, or group one is an esteemed member of. It takes a certain amount of unbridled hubris to proclaim that you have plumbed the depths of the entire spectrum of view points, are weary from your 40 year odyssey, and now expect mere mortals to gather round with bated breath and listen to the pearls of wisdom dripping from your mouth as if you are the absolute diviner of some incorrptable credo. To make sweeping assumptions on what knowledge I possess speaks of classism designed to establish a hierarchy that derogates the other into an object of scorn and ignorance. Sorry if I have little respect for the power dynamics of elitism, or maybe it is just that I have encountered, first hand, some real buffoons with useless educations, (Professor Neve Gordon, a Jew in name only that would fit nicely on the short list of discredited writers you threw at me, comes to mind), and have a low tolerance for the sort of snobbery it takes to shill credentials to someone you are annoyed with for asking thought provoking questions. I am immune to intimidation or impressionism and from the detritus seeping from your blog I am underwhelmed at your of your less than stellar analysis of current events, professor.

I've read hundreds of articles on ethnic cleansing. Like you, I have been lowering the plumb in many different waters. Unlike you, when I see rancid sewage floating by I don't pull into harbor, call it home, and ignore the stench. Ever wonder why Arab Palestine, aka Jordan, has a citizenship law banning Jews from becoming Jordanians? You have deluded yourself into dwelling on a version of history that is divorced from reality. The reason you won't tarry answering my questions is that you don't have an answer for the tough ones and you are uncomfortable with your own malevalent partisanship when you are asked to think for a change.

I don't expect a response, but I'll ask just one question as a challenge. If it was not Arab racism, religious bigotry, and Islamic supremacism why did the local Arabs living within the borders of the Mandate for Palestine accept a foreign entity as their masters, the Hashemites, but rejected Jewish liberty, pluralism, and democracy? If the Arabs calling themselves Palestinians have a legitimate cause for creating a state today it looks a lot like racism and bigotry that kept them from expressing it before Israel liberated the land from the illegal Arab occupation between 1948 and 1967.


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