May 10, 2012
Can mighty Israel (and mighty Netanyahu) make peace?
When someone like Fareed Zakaria compliments someone like Binyamin Netanyahu one knows trouble is coming. “He has an unusual, perhaps unique, opportunity to use his new power to secure Israel’s future”, Zakaria writes. Israel, he argues, is strong enough to “move toward a peace settlement” and “a politician of Netanyahu’s skill can find ways to navigate this terrain” of dangerous region. Zakaria celebrates Israel’s new and vast coalition by making three main arguments:
“Netanyahu has often cited the constraints of his coalition to explain why he had not taken bolder steps toward resolution” – and now has no way of using such an excuse. The problem with this argument: is that Netanyahu didn’t much cite the constrains of his coalition to explain why Israel would not take “bolder steps” toward resolution – and if he did do it from time to time it was clear to all parties that he was bluffing. Netanyahu didn’t take steps toward resolution because he doesn’t think such a resolution really exists, other than in the imaginary world of Washington pundits. This hadn’t change with the broadening of the coalition, and that’s why the promises Netanyahu and his new partner Shaul Mofaz made as they presented the new coalition to the public were short on the peace side.
Zakaria also writes that “While Iran does pose a threat, it has been systematically exaggerated over the past few years” as if this were as an all-agreed assertion of facts. It is not. Many members of Israel’s establishment believe that the threat has been exaggerated, as Zakaria says, but Netanyahu doesn’t think it has, and Defense Minister Barak seems to agree with Netanyahu. What Zakaria is trying to do is simple: first he argues that Israel is very strong, and then he makes the case that a country that strong should not attack Iran. But this is what Zakaria had been arguing for a very long time, and the formation of a new coalition doesn’t make his case stronger (or weaker).
Zakaria takes a page from Peter Beinart’s book (too much reading of Beinart by American pundits is becoming a problem) and argues that “the obsession with victimhood has prevented people in Israel and the United States from focusing on the gravest threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state: demography”.
This is a problematic contention: The focus of a government is not on the “gravest threat,” rather it is on the more urgent threat. Iran is seen by the current Israeli government as more urgent – hence the focus on Iran makes sense. Demography is indeed a threat since, as Zakaria writes, “at some point Israel will not to be able to continue to rule over millions of Palestinians without giving them the right to vote”. But when will this “some point” come? Is it imminent? And do we have a way of currently solving it? If not, the vast coalition will naturally first deal with issues that Israelis seem more eager to resolve, and more optimistic about the chances for success: ultra-Orthodox power, the system of government, and other domestic grievances.
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