Ill winds are blowing. Tensions with the Obama administration are escalating. The odious Goldstone Report has provided a massive boost to the global campaign to delegitimize and brand us all as war criminals. Its full impact has yet to emerge. Many believe that the time has now come to suspend our traditional political squabbles and create a unity government.
Until now, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has succeeded even beyond the wildest expectations of his supporters. Notwithstanding his reliance on the support of small, one-dimensional parties, he achieved a broad consensus and enjoys unprecedented support from the people.
Against all odds, Netanyahu navigated a diplomatic tightrope, delicately averting a total confrontation while resisting the unreasonable American demands to impose a total construction freeze on all settlements and Jerusalem. The harsh tactics employed by the Obama administration and its repudiation of the understandings reached with the Bush administration concerning the retention of the major settlement blocks, encouraged Israelis to unite in support of their prime minister.
But storm clouds are gathering and there are no grounds for complacency. The Obama administration failed disastrously in its efforts to engage or appease rogue states. Yet, those who initiated this policy still retain the reins of power and will no doubt regroup and try again. The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Barack Obama will only intensify pressure on him to achieve results in the Middle East. Hitherto such efforts amounted to offering Israel as the sacrificial lamb to appease Muslim extremists.
In line with the administration’s determination not to antagonize the Muslim bloc, the US failed to vigorously condemn the Goldstone Report, remaining silent during the debate at the UN General Assembly. There is not even a hint that it is reconsidering its membership in the morally compromised UN Human Rights Council. Nor does it employ its clout to make the UN aware that there are limits to US patience with an organization which systematically tramples over human rights violations and concentrates most of its efforts on demonizing and delegitimizing Israel.
Nor do the vibes from the administration following the contrived tantrums by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas bode well. Hillary Clinton’s praise for Israel’s “unprecedented concessions” in relation to the settlements was reversed the next day following Palestinian accusations that she had sold out to the Zionists. Obama’s stalling to confirm a meeting with Netanyahu in Washington until the last moment was an additional affront which, despite reassurances to the contrary, exemplifies the deteriorating relationship.
HOWEVER, THE die in this matter is not cast and two factors are likely to influence Obama. The first is the extent to which he can intensify one-sided pressure on Israel without alienating the 80 percent of American Jews who voted for him. The other is whether he will continue to hearken to advisers who encourage him to believe that he can succeed in persuading Israelis to bring about a change of government.
Currently, Netanyahu enjoys a unique national consensus based on acceptance of a two-state policy incorporating a demilitarized Palestinian state with future concessions being dependant on reciprocity.
But the pressures will surely escalate and Netanyahu will soon be obliged to make difficult decisions in relation to the Iranian threat which shows no signs of abating. The convergence of all these factors has existential implications and has led to increasing calls for the creation of a national unity government.
The obstacle remains Kadima. Its leader Tzipi Livni was obsessed with becoming prime minister and mistakenly convinced herself that the Netanyahu government would crumble in a matter of months.
Now with Netanyahu’s endorsement of a two-state policy, setting aside the eccentric policy reversal by former hard-liner Shaul Mofaz, who proposes entering negotiations with Hamas, there are no ideological barriers to a rapprochement between Likud and Kadima. The majority of Kadima’s founders were not ideologues but primarily former Likud members or those who joined Ariel Sharon because they regarded the new party as a stepping stone toward personal political advancement.
Livni was a senior member of the Olmert government which launched Operation Cast Lead. Yet at this time of national crisis, instead of acting as a responsible opposition leader, she simply rails against the government, conveying personal venom and frustration.
Ironically, many Israelis would argue that Livni’s description of Netanyahu as “a small time politician,” only concerned “with speeches and photo ops,” more accurately depicts how she is perceived since the elections. She relates to Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state policy as the “height of hypocrisy.” She castigated him for his UN address which most Israelis and Jews alike supported. At one stage, she even criticized him for conceding too much to Obama’s demands for a settlement freeze. Instead of offering to support the government in resisting the global demonization of the Jewish state in the wake of the Goldstone Report, she accused Netanyahu of being responsible for Abbas’s turnabout in supporting a UN censure of Israel for war crimes.
The extent of Livni’s bitterness and lack of judgment were exemplified by her recent Knesset speech when she ranted at Netanyahu: “You have managed to beat the president of the United States, Israel’s greatest friend… you have managed to humiliate the only partner for a peace settlement Israel has… We have beaten America, humiliated the Palestinians, isolated ourselves. Raise your head from the small politics and see what has happened. See that Israel is excommunicated. Today Turkey, yesterday Britain, before that Europe.”
Livni seems unaware that most of the issues she accuses Netanyahu of botching had their genesis in the former Kadima government.
In these critical days, more so than at any time since 1967, increasing numbers of Israelis believe that the time has come for politicians to suspend their differences and unite to face the real dangers threatening the Jewish state. A national unity government would not merely be a great boost to national morale, but would also enormously strengthen our relationship with the US as well as our general standing in the international arena. The question remains: Can Kadima led by Livni overcome petty partisan political considerations and act in the best interests of the state?
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post