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Thursday, September 15, 2011

What is it with the right-wing government?

During the early 1980s, after Prime Minister Menachem Begin from the Likud Party signed the peace agreement with Egypt and gave up the Sinai Peninsula, a period of political stalemate became the right-wing government motto. The inability to negotiate with the Palestinians led to the First Lebanon War in 1982 and later to the worst economic meltdown in the history of Israel - the 1985 banking crisis and a lost decade of economic growth.

At the beginning of the 1990, the Likud broke away from the National Unity Government (or Alignment) with the Labor and embarked on a policy that rejected any peace initiative with the Palestinians. As a result, Israel experienced cooling in the relations with the Bush I-Baker administration, the first Intifada, and a recession, until Rabin won the elections in1992 and changed direction with the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Between 1996 and 1999, the first Netanyahu government promised to embrace the commitments Israel has made in previous agreements, but three years later the peace process was in shambles and Israel’s diplomatic relations with many countries were again falling apart.

This trend changed once again after Netanyahu’s government collapsed and Barak of the Labor Party won the elections in 1999.

In 2003 Arik Sharon won the elections for the second time in three years. He doubled the size of the Likud Party to 30 seats in the Knesset (out of 120) and established a right wing government. Yet, in spite of his powerful position, he was unable to get a majority inside his own party to accept his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. This plan called for the eviction of a few thousands Jews who were living in the midst of a million and a half Palestinians on one of the most densely populated pieces of land on this planet. Only after Sharon dismantled the Likud Party and took 15 Knesset Members with him to establish his own Party, Kadima, was he able to accomplish a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. As usual, all the right wing parties, including the Likud and Netanyahu, stood and are still standing united against Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

Nowadays, Netanyahu’s second government, elected in 2009, is repeating the same patterns. After a year full of promises, declarations, and a temporary freeze on building settlements in the West Bank, the usual feet dragging and new demands and conditions for this or that point have brought upon us another stalemate.

Unfortunately for Israel, this time the Palestinians chose to stay away from violence and play the political field: asking for a UN resolution that will recognize the state of Palestine. But as we have seen in the past, there is no chance that a right-wing government would enter any negotiations that could result in territorial concessions to the Palestinians. It has not happened in the past, and it is not going to happen now. Furthermore, any attempt to make changes in the current coalition by Netanyahu is not realistic, because in order to take this radical step Netanyahu has to be Arik Sharon and this is far beyond his qualifications. Therefore, the future scenario is very clear: deterioration in the relations with the regional players, international isolation, economic siege, and erosion in Israel’s security and ability to respond to provocations.

So why do Israel’s right-wing governments keep repeating the same old pattern over and over again?

Just like the scorpion in the famous fable, who catches a ride on the back of a frog in order to cross the river, but in the middle of the river stings the frog and ends up drowning… because it can’t help it, it is in his “nature,” so do Israeli right-wing governments keep bringing Israel to the edge of the cliff, because, as we say, it is in their “nature.”

To be continued…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The perfect storm

Second posting in collaboration with my brother, Yoram Bar On.

This week the collapse has finally begun. All the security and intelligence organizations in Israel have warned us about it (Ha’aretz 9/12). Everyone knows what to expect. Israelis today are sailing toward a hurricane, but they cannot do a thing about it. The bridge is manned by a captain and a team of officers committed to follow their predetermined course. These officers tell us that choosing another course would be more dangerous than staying the course, because man cannot fight nature (that of the Muslims). So, prepare your life boats, put on your life vests, and….

The downward spiral began with Turkey whose leader took advantage of the current vacuum in the Middle East and redrawn the regional agenda. But it could have started elsewhere. Egypt, who now follows the Turkish lead, will pull into the circle other neighbors from North Africa, and this new block of nations will attract more Muslim nations from East Asia; and the circle of nations who severe their diplomatic relations with Israel will only keep growing. This winter the Palestinians will be the hopeful newcomers to the Middle East, and the Israelis will be the all too familiar hateful gangsters. The spectators have already decided who they are going to support. And this support will cost Israel very dearly: it will jeopardize its economy and its security. The Israeli stock market has already lost 30% of its value in the last two months, twice as much as the average losses in other markets, and this trend will only continue in the future. It is becoming very clear that international isolation and a limited ability to react to provocations will have incredibly serious effect on Israel.

Those who are worried about another war, you can rest assured that we will not witness a major war between Israel and its neighbors at the moment. This is not in the interest of any Arab nation, and certainly not in the interest of the Palestinian Authority. A more realistic scenario includes civil disobedience in the territories, violent protests in the Arab world, severance of diplomatic relations, bombings of Israeli targets, and new limits on trade with Israel. As stated earlier, the short-term effect will be mostly economic.

No one who understands the dynamics of the Israeli right wing government was surprised by the latest developments in Cairo and now in Jordan. The question was not “will it happen?” but “when will it happen and what will be the consequences?” The only difference today is that this time the Arabs are the “good guys” in the movie – they are not violent, and they demonstrate for freedom and democracy, while Israel is being perceived as a barrier to peace and justice; a nation caught in the darkness of oppression. Yet, in spite of all this, the right-wing government of Israel will still object to negotiations with the Palestinians and to recognition of a Palestinian state.

This is not the first time it has happened; this is a very familiar pattern, which has been repeating itself since Israel has seen its first right-wing-religious coalition.

To be continued... Putting things in perspective.

Friday, September 9, 2011

in god we... what?

I was driving behind a pickup truck today and I noticed that the license plate from South Carolina had this line written above the number: "In God We Trust." And all I could think was: In god you what? Who ever can trust God? From where did this ridiculous notion come from? I can be trusted more than god, and believe me, I am far from being godly. There is nothing omni about me, except from omni-whiner.

Yet, ask me to be somewhere at 4 o'clock in the morning, and no matter how much I dislike getting up early, or how cold it is outside, I will be there if you need me. Ask me to bring a dish to a potluck, and no matter what happens, I burn the food, I put too much salt in it, I'm too tired to cook, I broke the bowl after I put all the food in it, that dish will be on that table, no matter what disaster befell on me. Ask my daughter how many time she said, "Ima, I need money to go to a concert/movie/dinner/dance party... I need new shoes... I need a ride to the mall...I want yellow mustard.. a new Ipod–" and the list goes on and on, and before you know it, she will have exactly what she wants.

But ask god, and see what happens.

How many times did you get an Ipod from god? or an Imac?

Last time I asked a favor from god, I got a kick in you know where. That's what I get from god. Trusting him would be like trusting someone who has serious commitment issues or problems with substance abuse. He cannot be responsible for his actions. So why would anyone trust him? What can he do that we cannot do? How many times any wish made to that prima donna in the sky was ever granted?

When will people wake up?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

the moment of truth is here: Israel-palestine

This post has been written by my brother, Yoram Bar On, and me after a long discussion on Skype about the current situation in Israel. Hebrew by Yoram, English by me.

Today the Israeli policy in the Middle East is determined by three men: Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman, and the previous chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon (the only high ranking retired officer in the right wing government). These three men hold a deterministic belief, typical to the Israeli right wing, that any concession to the Palestinians and the Arabs, and now Turkey, too, can only lead to an unavoidable clash; and this clash will take place under much worse conditions than the current conditions Israel is living with right now. As a matter of fact, all the policies of the Israeli government in the past year emerge out of this belief.

Toward the second half of September, the UN is going to vote for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This vote will receive wide support from all over the world. Following this vote, Israel will have to decide what its position is going to be: either a full recognition of the UN vote for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, or a rejection of the vote followed by the usual vague statements. Any decision that is not going to look like a clear recognition and acceptance of the UN vote will be interpreted all over the world as an Israeli refusal to accept the UN vote; a vote similar to the one taken 64 years ago which enabled the partition of Palestine into two states and the establishment of the state of Israel.

The decision to recognize the UN vote will compel Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority on the basis of the principles that will be adopted by the UN. This step will prevent a violent explosion and a wave of protests against Israel in the Arab world. Israel will receive international support and for a few months it will be given more political freedom to act against extremists who will try to jeopardize the negotiations. Under this scenario it is quite possible to see Egypt and Turkey softening their positions and even warming up toward Israel. The maneuvering space of Israel’s enemies in the Muslim world will diminish as well. This process will possibly have a very positive effect on the politics, economy and security of the region.

The second option – a refusal to recognize the UN vote or a rejection of the vote with a variety of vague statements will identify Israel as the only cause that prevents the fulfillment of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians for self-determination. Israel will be seen as an obstacle to peace and an occupying power, a view that will give legitimacy to acts of aggression against Israel. The support for the Palestinians will give acts of protests against Israel more legitimacy which will not only escalate the violence against Israel, it will also tie up Israel’s ability to respond to the violence.

So what will Israel do?

Netanyahu’s right wing coalition cannot choose to recognize the UN vote. Any recognition of the UN vote will cause an immediate secession of the religious-right block from the coalition and the collapse of the government. For that reason, Israel will choose evasion and the use of vague statements that will add certain conditions on any bilateral negotiations. This is what Netanyahu's government has been doing for the past two years, and this is what Netanyahu had done when he was the prime minister between 1996-1999.

Since this time the case is not just another Middle Eastern neighbors’ dispute which allows for the usual mutual accusations, but a clear decision of an international organization, the evasion tactics of the Israeli government will not hold. Therefore, we should expect a collision that will have very serious political, economic, and security repercussions.

A short time after the UN vote, a new cycle of violence will resume in the area: protests, rockets, terrorist attacks, and an Israeli reaction which will bring forth more of the same. Following an Israeli response to attacks, we should expect threats from the Arab countries and a downgrade of all diplomatic relations with our Arab allies. An Israeli military response will also bring international condemnations and calls for a general boycott whose effect on Israel will be very harshly felt.

[In my last conversation with my brother he said that he would not be surprised if two European countries severe their diplomatic relations with Israel in the near future.

I call that optimism...]

We now even have a song about it: Middle of September: Esther Shamir

suggest read: an article in Foreign Policy by Ziad J Asali

ממשלת ישראל מונהגת כיום על ידי שלושה אישים מרכזיים: ליברמן, משה יעלון בוגי, ונתניהו. ההשקפה Linkהמשותפת לשלושתם היא אמונה דטרמיניסטית בהתנגשות הכרחית עם השכנים בסוף כל תרחיש. מהנחה זו נגזרת המדיניות של ממשלת ישראל בשנה האחרונה, כך גם תגובת ישראל לאירועים המדוברים כאן.

קצת אחרי אמצע ספטמבר צפויה החלטה באו"ם על הקמת מדינה פלשתינית שתזכה לתמיכה גורפת ממדינות העולם. בעקבות החלטה זו תיאלץ ישראל להחליט על עמדתה. לפני ממשלת ישראל ניצבות שתי אופציות - הכרה בהחלטת האו"ם ובמדינה הפלשתינית לצידה, או הימנעות מהכרה בהחלטה בניסוחים מתחמקים כלשהם. כל החלטה שאינה הכרה ברורה בהחלטה, תתפרש ע"י העולם כסירוב של ישראל לקבל את החלטת האומות המאוחדות, החלטה דומה לזו שלפני 64-שנים אפשרה את חלוקת הארץ והקמת מדינת ישראל- ב- כ"ט בנובמבר 1947.

בחירה בהכרה בהחלטת האו"ם תחייב את ישראל להיכנס למשא ומתן עם הנהגת הרשות הפלשתינית על בסיס עקרונות מוסכמים שיופיעו בהחלטה. תהליך כזה ייתר כל אלימות ותופעות של מחאה בעולם הערבי. ישראל תזכה לתמיכה בינלאומית רחבה ומספר חודשים תהנה מאשראי מדיני לפעול כנגד קבוצות קיצוניות שינסו לטרפד את המשא ומתן. במקרה זה סביר כי מצרים ותורכיה יאלצו למתן את תגובותיהן ואף לחמם יחסים. מרחב התמרון של מתנגדי ישראל בעולם המוסלמי יקטן. לתהליך זה השפעות פוליטיות, ביטחוניות וכלכליות חיוביות.

האפשרות השנייה – אי הכרה של ישראל בהחלטה או דחייתה בטיעונים שונים. תגובה זו תזהה את ישראל כגורם היחיד המונע מימוש זכות לגיטימית להגדרה עצמית של עם כבוש. ישראל תוצג כסרבנית שלום וכמדינה כובשת, דימוי שיעניק רוח גבית לפעולות מחאה ותוקפנות כלפי ישראל בכל המדינות הערביות. התמיכה הגורפת בפלשתינאים בעולם תעניק למחאות לגיטימציה נוספת שתביא להסלמה מחד ולהגבלת יכולת התגובה של ישראל מאידך.

באיזו דרך תיבחר ישראל? לקואליציית הימין של נתניהו אין אפשרות לבחור בהכרה בהחלטת האו"ם. הכרה כזו תביא מיד לפרישה של האגף הימני-דתי ולנפילת הממשלה. לכן ישראל תיבחר בשלב ראשון בדרך ההתחמקות וניסוחים מעורפלים שיציבו תנאים למו"מ דו צדדי. כך עשתה ממשלת ישראל בשנתיים האחרונות, כך עשה נתניהו גם בתקופת שלטונו הקודמת.

מאחר והמקרה הפעם אינו מחלוקת שכנים מקומית במזרח התיכון המאפשרת האשמות הדדיות אלא החלטה ברורה של ארגון בינלאומי, טקטיקה של התחמקות מצד ישראל לא תתקבל . אנו צפויים אם כן לתסריט התנגשות שיהיו לו השלכות מדיניות, ביטחוניות וכלכליות מרחיקות לכת, סביר כי זמן קצר לאחר אישור ההחלטה באו"ם יחלו אירועים אלימים מסוגים שונים- הפגנות, ירי טילים, ניסיונות פיגוע, תגובה ישראלית וחוזר חלילה. בהמשך יבואו איומים מצד מדינות ערב יובילו להסלמה נוספת ביחסים המתקררים. תגובה צבאית ישראלית על פגיעה בה תוביל לגינויים בעולם ובאו"ם ולקריאות לחרם כלכלי-תיירותי- ומדיני שהשלכותיו הפנימיות על ישראל יהיו חמורות ביותר.