Filed under: Front Page News, March Volume 2009, World | Tags: israel, Palestine
N. Begum Ahmad
Islamic Post Staff Writer
It doesn’t appear as if Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu will back down from the expansionist Likud party stance, despite opposing views from the US State Department. Just before visiting Israel on her tour of the Middle East early this month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized to Egyptian Television her commitment to “a two-state solution, a comprehensive peace,” for Israel and the occupied territories.
However, upon arrival, Secretary Clinton and accompanying US delegates found themselves seated across from Mr Netanyahu and his choice of advisors for the meeting which included Uzi Arad, the former director of intelligence for the Mossad, who was banned from visiting the US due to suspicion of espionage activities inside the country. Mr Arad’s presence at the meeting has been interpreted by political analysts as mildly antagonistic.
The Israeli Ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor, resigned the following day after being asked by Netanyahu to leave the meeting while Arad remained.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardliner Likud party won the right to form the next Israeli government after a close battle with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party. One vote shy of beating Ms Livni, Netanyahu was nevertheless appointed to rule Israel. However, the main differentiating factor between the two parties, that regarding the Palestinian question, had been abandoned before the race was over.
In the latter part of January, Foreign Minister Livni told 60 Minutes she agreed with the proposal of a two-state solution that would contain Israel and give Palestine borders: “[CBS reporter Bob] Simon: Can you really imagine evacuating the tens of thousands of settlers who say they will not leave? Livni: It’s not going to be easy, but this is the only solution. Simon: But you know that there are settlers who say, ‘We will fight. We will not leave. We will fight.’ Livni: So this is the responsibility of the government, of the police to stop them, as simple as that. Israel is a state of law and order.” However, Think Progress noted from a Haaretz report that after Mr Netanyahu made it clear that he would not be bound by the current government’s “commitments to withdraw” from the West Bank, Livni’s stance changed abrubtly: “I will advance only an agreement that represents our interests. Maintaining maximum settlers and places that we hold dear such as Jerusalem — not a single refugee will enter.”
Indeed, the occupied territories carried a great deal of weight in this year’s elections. As the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reported, the outgoing Israeli government was “getting high marks from the Israeli public for its pounding offensive in Gaza.” But, apparently the pounding was insufficient. “Polls show that the conservative opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party have opened up a bigger lead, based on a public concern that the offensive left the Hamas regime intact while failing to free an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit,” continued CSM.
But Prime Minister- designate Netanyahu did not close that big of a gap in the end, as the final vote tallied Likud (Netanyahu) at 27 and Kadima (Livni) a point higher at 28. Despite claims of being the only Middle East democracy, votes do not always make the final decision in Israel’s parliamentary system. President Shimon Peres made the final decision that the winner would be Mr Netanyahu, who must now be able to form a coalition government. Parliamentary democracies have been widely debated over time. Some schools attest that the system is used by third world countries and former British colonies making the transition to a full democracy.
The fledgling Zionist democracy is another matter entirely. Having been founded on the pretense of expansion, it seemed relatively important that a party win this year which would not waver on that stance. Given the current climate, and no end in sight to the continued shelling of the Gaza Strip, Likud gaining the upper hand was nothing short of predictable. The party platform of Likud states: “The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.”
It remains to be seen how President Barack Obama’s support of a two-state solution will gain ground, especially when negotiations will be held with one who openly stated the American tragedy of 9/11 was of great benefit. “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv quoted Mr Netanyahu as telling a Bar Ilan university audience last April. The prime minister designate reportedly added that these events “swung American public opinion in our favor.”
Uzi Arad, who served as a foreign policy advisor during Netanyahu’s previous term (1996-1999), is expected to be named head of the Israeli National Security Council once the government is formed. Uzi Arad was linked in 2005 to Lawrence Franklin, a former U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel who pled guilty to passing information about U.S. policy towards Iran to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the foremost pro-Israel lobbying organization in the U.S, while he was working for the Defense Department. Israel denies allegations of the link.
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