ISRAEL: TRAVELLING THE LONG ROAD
By: Dr Zeki Ergas
Posted on: 5/29/2009
ISRAEL: TRAVELLING THE LONG ROAD
FROM PRIDE TO SHAME –
AND BACK, MAYBE ? 1
By Zeki Ergas *
It really hurts to admit it, but the time has come for the Jews and the Israelis to acknowledge that, in 61 years, from the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, to the establishment of this reactionary government in 2009, Israel has travelled a long road from pride to shame. And, the question really worth asking now is: Will Israel be able to shake itself up, take stock of the disaster, stop the shame and travel back – quickly! for there is no time to waste – to pride again, by doing the right thing. I believe that Israel can. But she will need outside help, which can only come from two sources essentially: the American government led by Barack Obama; and the American and the European Jews. I will, in this short essay, attempt to show why this is necessary and how it can be brought about, by considering, in turn, the big pieces of this complicated jigsaw puzzle which put together can give us an image of the whole, keeping in mind that the whole is always more than the sum of the parts.
1. The present Israeli government. It will have to go, and this is why. Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition government is dependent on Avigdor Lieberman who can make it fall any time he chooses to do so. In other words, Netanyahu is a prisoner of Lieberman. That is not an acceptable situation. Netanyahu has really shot himself in the foot by agreeing to give the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to this man who is unacceptable, and will never be accepted, by his counterparts in the Western world – not to mention the (moderate) Arab and Islamic countries. Netanyahu has discredited and disqualified himself by choosing this man as Foreign Minister of Israel who is the face that Israel shows to the world. This is why, by the way, a man like Abba Eban was chosen by Ben-Gurion as Foreign Minister of Israel. Israelis never liked him very much, but agreed that, as an intellectual who spoke several languages, he represented Israel well. That Netanyahu was unable to see that Lieberman is unacceptable shows a serious lack of judgement. He put political expediency and political ambition – without Lieberman he could not form a government, except with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima, but she demanded sharing power at the top and Netanyahu did not want that. He should have. His refusal will cost him dearly. Moreover, his performance in Washington was inadequate because it shows either: one, that he minimizes Obama’s intellect – especially when he attempted to ‘demonstrate’ that Iran has to be ‘dealt with’ first, before Palestine, when it is clear that it is the other way around: resolving the Palestinian problem constructively would considerably weaken Iran; and two, that he thinks Obama will have to bow to the diktats of this reactionary Israeli government because he fears the negative consequences, especially that AIPAC can cause serious damage to the democratic party, and even to himself, in four years’ time. Netanyahu does not understand that the times have changed, and that Obama is – like Dwight Eisenhower who ordered the Israelis (and the Brits and the French) to immediately withdraw from the Sinai in 1956 -- a very popular president who has the necessary support to implement his policies. Netanyahu (partly because this is what he believes in, partly because he is a prisoner of Lieberman) could not utter the words ‘two-state solution’ and accept freezing the settlements in the West Bank. To conclude, he is the wrong man to be the Prime Minister of Israel and he will have to go.
2. Barack Hussein Obama. To begin with, it is really essential to understand that Obama is a genuine globalist, and that, therefore, he does not approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in isolation, but in the framework of a global strategy that encompasses, not only the whole middle-eastern region, but also the relations between the West and Islam, including fundamentalist Islam and its two opposite and rival branches, shi’a and sunni Islam. Iran, whatever its regional and other ambitions, represents the shi’a branch of Islam and is mainly interested in increasing the latter’s power in relation to the former. Moreover, Iran is an important player in the struggle against sunni radical fundamentalism (the Taliban) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is a far more important conflict in terms of global geo-politics than the Isra-Pal conflict. And, this is why the latter must be resolved in a constructive way, so that the moderate Arab and Islamic world is not perpetually antagonized. Ergo, the desirability and inevitability of ‘the two-state solution’. As long as the Isra-Pal conflict remains a festering sore in the Middle-East, Obama’s chances of resolving the bigger conflict briefly described above do not look very good. The festering sore of the Isra-Pal conflict must be lanced, and cured, and Obama is determined to do that. In other words, the Isra-Pal conflict cannot be allowed to endanger the American interests in the wider region. Obama will probably present his plan soon. Perhaps even, perhaps in a veiled way, in his address to the Muslim world on June 4, 2009. The fact that he is not visiting Israel, when he is in Egypt, a neighbouring country, is significant. Obama wants/needs ‘the two-state solution’ and, sooner or later, he will get it. He is a cool and patient man. He will take his time. He will not rush things. But, he will be persistent. He will not give up. A viable and sovereign Palestinian state will be created eventually. Israel (except for some minor and mutually-agreed modifications) will have to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. And a just solution will have to be found for the refugee problem. East Jerusalem will become Palestinian state’s capital.
3.The Israeli public. Many have been shaking their heads in disbelief at the results of the last Israeli election. Wondering how could the Israelis elect such a government. How Lieberman’s party could win 15 Knesset seats, as opposed to Labour’s 13 and Meretz’s only 3 (down from 5 in the last election). They will ask themselves: All these people who voted for Lieberman, are they racists? Do they really hate Palestinians? Do they deeply despise them? Well, it is hard to swallow this reality, but the answers are probably ‘yes, yes and yes’. However, things must be put in perspective: those who voted for Lieberman are about 15 per cent of the Jewish Israeli electorate. More than half of the latter voted for the two traditional center and right parties, Kadima and Likud. Israel Beiteinu and the religious parties together that represent something like a third of the Israeli electorate. That is not good. It is even bad. But the Israeli public is known – like a chameleon -- to changes its political views and opinions very quickly. Lieberman and his party will, sooner or later, disappear into the dustbin of Israel’s political history. That does not excuse or relieve the Israeli political leaders from grave responsibility in this sad state of affairs. Good political leadership is, unfortunately, a very scarce commodity in Israel these days. The level of mediocrity of the Israeli political class is astonishing and saddening. A new political leadership must rise that is of better quality. It can happen, the potential is there. It is a matter of time before it emerges: after all necessity is the mother of invention.
4. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). It has been very powerful in the past. It still is, as the Freeman affair has shown. However, its power is declining, because the fundamentals are against it: 78 per cent of the American Jews voted for the Obama. AIPAC does not represent them. AIPAC is the creation of the Likud and wealthy American Jews who traditionally vote for the republican party which has been very badly defeated in the last presidential, senatorial and congressional elections. Other organizations, such as J Street, have been created (in April 2008) that represent the views and opinions of liberal and progressive American Jews. Another ‘problem’ is that the the level of sophistication of American Palestinian organizations is increasing. The days when Edward Said was the only respectable American-Arab intellectual are over. In Europe, many people, including Jews, now turn nightly to Al Jazeera to get the views of the ‘other’ side. They are agreeably surprised to find out that the information they get is of good quality and not more biased or twisted than what is presented by CNN – not to mention Fox News, NBC or CBS.
5. Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organisations (CSOs and NGOs) There are, in terms of the power and influence exercised in the political, economic, social and cultural realms of the world, four basic components, or dimensions: a- the governments, which, in the democratic countries, directly or indirectly, are elected by the people;
b- big business, or the large multinational corporations (MNCs), including the banks and other financial institutions; c- the international organizations (IOs), the pre-eminent of which is the United Nations (UN) and all the international institutions that derive their legitimacy from it: the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (known as the EcoSoc), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO); and the specialized agencies of the UN, such as, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Office (ILO); and d- the civil society and the non-governmental organisations (CSOs and NGOs). Until fairly recently a and b, that is, the governments and big business, were in the driver’s seat.
Owing to major problems that the world has come to be faced with:
i- global warming that threatens human civilisation and the planet itself; ii- the competition for the increasingly scarce natural and energetic resources that could result in a global and, possibly, nuclear, war among the existing and emerging superpowers; iii– the unbelievable greed of bankers, financiers, owners and managers of private equity funds, hedge funds, etc. that have created the financial and economic mess that the world is in -- it started with the ‘bursting of the housing bubble’ in the United States, 2; iv – the arrogant and bellicose behaviour of the only superpower -- the Iraq war, the ‘war on terror’, etc; that is no longer so and: a and b have lost ground, which was gained by c and d. The civil society and non-governmental organisations (CSOs and NGOs) and the international organisations (IOs) play a much bigger role in world affairs.
6. BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) and the CSOs. As the example of South Africa shows clearly, no country can resist a well-organised campaign of BDS that is comprehensive and includes the economic, financial, academic, cultural, intellectual and sports fields. Israel could quickly find itself becoming a pariah state. Can one imagine:
Israeli academics without their relationships with western universities? Israeli computer firms unable to export their wares? Israeli soccer and basketball teams unable to compete internationally? Israel barred from participating to the Olympic games? No, of course not. But, like the proverbial monkeys, this reactionary government presently in power in Israel is closing its ears and eyes, and doesn’t want to hear and see the reality of the great dangers that are threatening Israel. That is so because it is a government made up of fanatical, stubborn and, yes, stupid people. The Israeli people must take to the streets and organize massive demonstrations to remove it from power before it is too late. It is, in the long run, Israel’s very existence that is at stake.
* Scholar, writer and activist, Dr. Zeki Ergas is Secretary General of P.E.N. International’s Swiss Romand Center, and a member of that organization’s Writers for Peace Committee.
1. This is my fifth short essay in 2009 on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The other four are, in the order of their publication, from last to first:
Revisiting the Age of Innocence in Israel, posted on April 22, 2009, http://www.mediaforfreedom.com/ReadArtic...ArticleID=15548 ; Touching Bottom in Israel and What is Next, posted on April 2, 2009, http://www.mediaforfreedom.com/ReadArtic...ArticleID=15214 ; Global Systemic Crisis, Paradigm Shift and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, posted on March 2, 2009 , http://www.mediaforfreedom.com/ReadArtic...ArticleID=14625 ; and
Barack Obama and the Untying of the Gordian Knot of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, posted on February 12, 2009,
2. See Z. Ergas, Some Throughts on the Bursting of the Speculative
Bubble, posted in Transnational Institute’s web site: