On the plane from Tel Aviv to Washington DC (where I’m going to be spending a few days), I got a copy of the Financial Times, and one headline caught my eye: “No more excuses for Netanyahu”. It was the lead editorial of a paper known for being critical of the Israeli prime minister and his government. As I read, I was unsure as to whether I should even bother to correct all the false assumptions and overstatements and illogical conclusions it contained, but having the temper that I do and a very long flight ahead of me, putting it aside was difficult. So here we go, a line-by-line reading (not every line, but many).
Headline: “No more excuses for Netanyahu”
Really? Why not? True, he can no longer say his coalition is too small, but can still offer other excuses. Besides, the headline doesn’t specify excuses for what. As you will see later, it’s not easy to understand what the writers actually want Netanyahu to do.
Sub-headline: “Bibi’s choice: peace with the Palestinians or war with Iran”
This is a false dichotomy. Suppose Netanyahu wants both peace with the Palestinians and a war with Iran, or alternatively doesn’t want either. Could he?
First paragraph: “He [Netanyahu] is unquestionably a master tactician. Now, Israel and the world need to know whether he is a statesman”
This sentence is problematic on two counts. First, it clearly assumes that being a statesman means doing what the editorial board of the Financial Times advocates. I’m not saying it isn’t, but I would need some more proof to be convinced that it is. Second, it assumes that Israelis do not think Netanyahu is a statesman – an assumption that contradicts almost every poll I’m aware of.
Second paragraph: “…ultra-nationalist coalition…”
Why not “nationalist”, why not “right-tilting”, why not “right-of-center”? What is an “ultra-nationalist” coalition, and who defines a coalition as such? And when exactly does a coalition cross the line from merely “nationalist” to “ultra-nationalist”?
Third paragraph: “the new alliance… reunifies the mainstream right”
The FT, yet again, has found a new way to define Israeli politics. Why is the unification of Likud and Kadima an alliance of the “mainstream right”? Kadima, if I remember correctly, was established as a centrist party, and in the last election was clearly a left-of-center party. Not according to the FT – they’d probably divide Israel into two equally important camps: the right (all parties except for the left), and the left: Meretz and maybe the Arab parties.
Fourth paragraph: “Mr. Mofaz’s primary service will be to provide Mr. Netanyahu with a shield… against Barack Obama”
As far as I can tell (but this may change when I’m in Washington), Mr. Mofaz actually provided the Obama administration with an opportunity to try to push Netanyahu around (because, as the FT itself declared, Netanyahu has no more excuses).
Fifth paragraph: No complaints.
Sixth: “to change Israel’s enfeebling system of proportional representation”
It is really “enfeebling”? Some say it is, some say it isn’t. I have no problem with those claiming it is, as long as I’m convinced they did their homework and understand what they are talking about. In this case I was not convinced.
Eighth (I know, I skipped one): “it is Israel’s regional and Palestinian policies that will be watched most closely”
By whom? Israelis seem to have other priorities for this government.
Ninth: “national unity governments have in the past been the preclude to war”
With all due respect to FT’s mention of 1967 – it was a long time ago, the government was formed for a war, and drawing any comparison to the present is questionable. The 1984 unity government effectively started the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon following the first Lebanon War – and the withdrawal was completed 15 years later. Why not use this as example of the things that Israeli unity governments can do?
Tenth: “Mr. Mofaz has said he regards the Palestinian question as far more important than Iran”
Mr. Mofaz says many things. He said that Netanyahu was a liar, and then joined the coalition; he said he’d never leave the Likud Party, and then departed for Kadima. The quote regarding Iran is taken from Mofaz’ opposition days, and I’m not sure if it still holds. It surely holds from the FT perspective, and that’s the only reason Mofaz is quoted in this fashion.
Eleventh: “committed to a greater Israel”
Are we talking about the same Netanyahu who publically supported the two-state solution?
Twelfth: “the contours of an agreement with the Palestinians will not change”
Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I wish I had a dollar for every time I read or heard this observation. And by the way, will not change from what? As far as I can remember, the agreement specified by the FT has not yet been achieved. So these are the contours of a non-agreement that will not change. But if they will not change, it will remain a non-agreement – so maybe we ought to change them (or, possibly, accept the FT view, something I can’t see either the Israelis nor the Palestinians doing at present).
Thirteenth: “with its [Israel’s] legitimacy eroding abroad”
FT contribution guaranteed.