Photo: Yoav Galai
'Radical right-wing Israeli leader who is prepared to forego land.' Lieberman
Photo: Yoav Galai

Yes to Palestine, no to Palestinians

Just like European rightists, leader of Israel's radical right preaches hatred for foreigners

It is just one day after the elections, official results have yet to be released and voting patterns have yet to be studied, but there are four conclusions we can make about the elections for the 17th Knesset.


The Likud's disintegration and the blow the right-wing took has created a new situation here: There is a clear majority for conceding land. But the political picture created is far different than it was when Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992.


Then, the peace camp believed that in exchange for dividing the Land of Israel, it would be possible to make peace with the Palestinians. Today, a majority of Israelis feel the occupation has become a liability rather than an asset, and that we must get out of the West Bank.


But because there won't be peace here, we must also disengage from the Palestinians. If we don’t push them away, at least we can draw away from them.


Some foreign commentators pointed out during the campaign that no party spoke about peace. Not even Meretz.


Sharon was the first politician to speak about "quiet," while others made due with "a halt to violence." But the word "peace" was completely out.


After 39 years of occupation, the average Israeli differentiates between the question of Palestine and the question of the Palestinians. He is ready to withdraw from most of the territories, but the dream of living side-by-side with the Palestinians is dead.


But isn't it deceitful to suggest a pullout will bring about disengagement? Can we bring the war on terror to a close by "converging," as Prime Minister-designate Olmert suggests? Not one international observer believes it would be possible.


We are too bound up with the Palestinians, we have too much control over their wellbeing, they are too stuck into us. It is fantasy to believe that by placing a physical arrow between, even in the form of a concrete wall, we will be able to live here with any modicum of security.


But this election was won by the naive belief that we can create a situation in which "we are here and they are there." It won such a strong victory that many people want to enforce it not only on West Bank Palestinians, but on Palestinian-Israelis as well.


Post-territorial nationalism


Which brings us to Avigdor Lieberman.


Lieberman's success stems not only from the fact that he managed to bring together the Russian vote looking for a replacement for Sharon, and not from the fact that he portrayed himself as a "law-and-order" kind of guy who would fight corruption.


Most of his supporters voted for him because he represents the new face of the radical right, something Alberto Spektorowski of Tel Aviv University calls "post-territorial nationalism."


It's a simple principle: In the past, nationalism included a belief that there was intrinsic value to a lot of living space, even to territorial expansion. Today, leaders of the radical right are prepared to forego land, on condition that we conduct ethnic cleansing in our smaller territory.


Emulating Europe


Just like Le Pen, Haider and other right-wing leaders in Europe who preach hatred for foreigners and call for their expulsion, here, too, we have a radical right-wing Israeli leader who is prepared to forego land in the West Bank, and also of sections of the Land of Israel itself, on condition we "clean" the remain territory of unwanted foreign, non-Jewish blood.


For those hoping Israel would somewhat resemble Europe, the dream is coming close to reality. But if we are trying to be "more European" here, why try to emulate the continent's ugly side?


It's all Bibi's fault


The real story of these elections is the tragic tale of Benjamin Netanyahu. It would be little exaggeration to say that everything is Bibi's fault.


Had he not chosen to fight Sharon, had he stayed in government, supported its policies and cooperated, he would have retained his popularity and slid easily into the Likud chairmanship. Sharon wouldn't have bolted, Kadima wouldn't have been established, the Likud wouldn't have broken apart, Lieberman's star wouldn't have risen, Israel's political map would have remained bi-polar, and the Likud – led by Bibi Netanyahu – would have continued to lead the country.


Instead, he cooperated with the rebels, quit the government, helped push an extreme platform for the Likud, lost votes and support because of his political wishy-washiness. He started the snowball rolling that led to his, and his party's, demise Tuesday night.


Character flaws


Those who don’t like Netanyahu – and people love to hate him – say it was all because he was in a hurry to become prime minister. That it was all because of his character. That his small mistakes stemmed from is inability to control his temperament and his character.


They are sure that even though Netanyahu managed, for a short while, to reign in Bibi, eventually Bibi re-surfaced and asserted his control over Netanyahu.


Those with more respect for this able man say it all stems from the pure ideology he learned from his father, history Prof. Ben Zion Netanyahu. That he really believes we should not have pulled out of the Gaza Strip, that we mustn't make any concessions to the Palestinians, that Israel faces an existential threat, and that we must stand our ground to protect every last grain of sand. That Bibi has always been, and remains, Netanyahu.


Which explanation is more correct? Now, as he sits at the head of a marginal opposition party with 11 Knesset seats, far from the media spotlights, he will have a lot of time to gain some perspective and to come to some far-reaching conclusions.


It is fitting that the man who more than anyone caused the revolution of 2006 should do some real soul searching.


Prof. Yoram Peri is the head of the Herzog Institute for Media, Society and Politics at Tel Aviv University 


פרסום ראשון: 03.29.06, 14:33
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