Bibi’s new deal: cynical, dismal, irrelevant, corrupt – but is it good for Palestinians?
Netanyahu, Likud and Mofaz, Kadima
By Alex Kane, Mondoweiss
For analysis of what the new coalition deal struck by Benjamin Netanyahu means, read Paul Mutter’s take. But I wanted to look at the other man at the center of the deal: Shaul Mofaz.
Mofaz is a military man; he was the Israeli military’s Chief of Staff during the Second Intifada. And as part of the conditions for Kadima entering Netanyahu’s coalition, Mofaz gets inside Netanayhu’s cabinet and will be appointed deputy prime minister.
The speculation is that Mofaz will now play a role in formulating the Netanyahu government’s policy towards the Palestinians. JJ Goldberg of the Forward [below] describes the new government as the “smartest move by any Israeli peace advocate in a long time.” Goldberg points to Mofaz’s “peace place,” which “calls for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, controlling 60% of the West Bank for now, followed promptly by state-to-state negotiations toward a final-status agreement.”
But if you look at the fine print of the Mofaz plan, [at Israel Policy Forum ] it’s nothing special. Mofaz calls for keeping the major settlement blocs, including Ariel, making any talk of a Palestinian state moot. Jerusalem would remain under Israeli control. There would be no settlement freeze. You call that a peace plan?
And then there’s Mofaz’s record in the Israeli military. Here’s Haaretz’s Gideon Levy on Mofaz:
Mofaz was also one of our crueler defense ministers – no less than 1,705 Palestinians were killed on his watch, including 372 children and teens and 191 targeted killings: that is no great honor, either. True, those were the days of the second intifada, but Mofaz was also one of the fathers of the doctrine of targeted killings, which has been completely forgotten. He was also the one heard whispering into a microphone that Yasser Arafat should be expelled from Ramallah, another genius idea at the time.
“I thought we should strike very hard,” he told the Winograd Commission investigating the Second Lebanon War, and in so doing said everything there was to say about his doctrine of warfare and his military-political creed. Perhaps he has changed his mind since then, but it is up to him to prove it, and he has not yet done so.
In September 2005, the Independent’s Donald Macintyre reported on Breaking the Silence, the courageous Israeli organization of ex-soldiers who speak out about the violent abuse heaped on Palestinians living under occupation. Macintyre mentions a book [Boomerang] authored by Israeli journalists to back up Breaking the Silence’s claim that Israeli army officials order soldiers to violate international law:
Breaking the Silence contends that the inspiration for many orders, which it says directly violate the international legal obligations of an occupying power, came from the highest ranks. Certainly, Booomerang, a new book by two prominent Israeli journalists, Ofer Shelah and Raviv Druker, reports that at a conference of officers as early as May 2001, Shaul Mofaz, now the Defence Minister but then Chief of Staff, asked for the tape to be switched off before telling them that he wanted a “price” exacted from the Palestinians of 10 killed a day on each of the Army’s seven fronts.
And after six Israeli soldiers were killed in Ein Arik in February 2002, the book says, Mr Mofaz personally ordered a revenge operation in which for the first time Palestinian police officers would be shot, whether they posed a threat or not. One soldier who took part in a raid which killed four or five Palestinian policemen at a checkpoint 24 hours after Ein Arik told the IoS: “It felt bad even at that time. They said Palestinian police are connected to terror and that the [killers] passed through the checkpoint. Maybe the police are connected to terror but for sure they didn’t pass through all the checkpoints [attacked that day].”
Now of course, whether Mofaz in the government or not will make very little difference for Palestinians looking for an end to Israel’s occupation. The occupation and settlement project is much larger than one man or coalition government. But, you can forget about Mofaz saving peace negotiations. Perhaps even more importantly, Mofaz’s record is no comfort to those worried about the next Israeli escalation in the Gaza Strip.
By J.J. Goldberg, Jewish Forward blog
The Likud-Kadima agreement to form a unity government and cancel the early election makes all the sense in the world for Kadima. It’s arguably the smartest move by any Israeli peace advocate in a long time.
Newly minted Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who ousted Tzipi Livni in a primary upset just two weeks ago, inherited a party with 28 seats Knesset seats. It’s the largest bloc in the current house – one seat more than the Likud in the 120-seat legislature. But Kadima was headed for a crash in the coming snap elections. Polls showed Mofaz winning just 11 seats in September, the same as center-liberal newcomer Yair Lapid. Labor Party leader Sheli Yacimovich was polling at 18 seats (up from the 13 Labor won in the last election, which dropped to 8 after Ehud Barak’s defection). Thus the total center-left bloc was headed for 40 seats. Netanyahu was polling at a commanding 30 seats, and with Avigdor Lieberman pulling 15, plus assorted religious and far-right factions, Bibi was headed for a second term that would take him through 2016 essentially unchallenged.
By joining a unity coalition, Mofaz gives himself another year to build up a following and establish himself as an alternative to Bibi. From his perspective, his two rivals for leadership of the center-left, Yacimovich and Lapid, are not serious candidates. Both are former television journalists with little to no leadership experience and only the fuzziest familiarity with foreign and security policy. Mofaz is a former army chief of staff and former defense minister, active in civilian politics since 2003, highly regarded as a team leader, manager and policy wonk on domestic and security affairs. There have been talks in recent days about bringing the three together to form a joint list to oppose Bibi, but no agreement as to who would lead.
What specifically does tonight’s deal gain for Mofaz and Kadima?
First of all, gives Mofaz a seat in the inner security cabinet, which gives him a voice in shaping policy toward both Iran and the Palestinians. If you haven’t been following, Mofaz has been defending Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin in their criticisms of Netanyahu’s policies over the past year. He’s outspokenly opposed to attacking Iran at this stage. His own Palestinian plan, announced in 2009 and lately gaining increasing favor among fellow security types, calls for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, controlling 60% of the West Bank for now, followed promptly by state-to-state negotiations toward a final-status agreement. To allay Palestinian suspicions that the provisional borders would be the final ones, Israel would deposit a pledge with the United States that the final borders will be based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps.
He’s also been promised chairmanship of the Knesset Economic Committee, which allows him take a lead role in social policy, where his views lean social-democratic. And, not incidentally, he denies Bibi the opportunity to win a near-certain mandate this September for four more years.
By Jonathan Cook
Israelis barely had time to absorb the news that they were heading into a summer election when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday pulled the rug from underneath the charade. Rancourous early electioneering had provided cover for a secret agreement between Netanyahu and the main opposition party, Kadima, to form a new, expanded coalition government.
Rather than facing the electorate in September, Netanyahu and his hardline rightwing government are expected to comfortably see out the remaining 18 months of his term of office. Not only that, but he will now have the backing of more than three-quarters of the 120-seat Israeli parliament, leading one commentator to crown him the “King of Israel”.
The announcement may have taken Israelis by surprise but it fully accorded with the logic of an increasingly dysfunctional Israeli political culture.
Shaul Mofaz, who a few weeks ago ousted Tzipi Livni as head of the centre-right Kadima party, had been vitriolic in denouncing Netanyahu. He called the prime minister a “liar” and went to the trouble of posting on his Facebook page a pledge that he would never make a deal with this “weak, incompetent and deaf government”.
He also boasted in a recent interview that he would topple Netanyahu by leading the revival of mass social protests expected in the summer.
Last year hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand an end to the rocketing cost of living, much of it caused by business cartels that were empowered by Netanyahu and his Likud party in privatisation programmes years ago.
But the reality was that Mofaz, a hawkish former army chief of staff who is seen as a lacklustre, power-hungry and slippery politician, had no credibility with either the demonstrators or the wider electorate.
Kadima, which has never strayed far from its ideological roots in the Likud, from which it split several years ago, is currently the largest faction in the parliament. But polls suggested Mofaz would lead it to electoral oblivion.
The deal will win him a temporary reprieve, with a seat in the inner circle alongside Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the long-time defence minister whose own party was expected to vanish if the September election had taken place.
Kadima will get no ministries but Mofaz will have a say in the biggest issues facing Israel: its dealings with Iran and the Palestinians.
This may be good for Mofaz personally but most likely his act of supreme duplicity will finish off Kadima as an independent party. The next year and a half may see him try to return to the Likud fold.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has created a national unity government that more precisely reflects the majority mood: an unalloyed, aggressive and xenophobic rightwing consensus.
There was little need for Netanyahu to bring Kadima into the coalition. He was racing ahead in the polls, his popularity outstripping that of all the other major party leaders combined. And he had won this scale of support even as senior security officials, including the former heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet, questioned his rationality on the issue of whether to attack Iran.
But there are advantages to Netanyahu in postponing an election he was expected to win.
Not least, it gives him time to entrench moves towards authoritarianism. Netanyahu has been behind a series of measures to weaken the media, human rights groups, and the courts. At the moment his government is defying a series of Supreme Court rulings to dismantle several small Jewish settlements on Palestinian land that are illegal even under Israeli law.
An uninterrupted 18 months will allow him to further undermine these rival centres of power. One of the promises he and Mofaz made yesterday was to overhaul the system of government. Netanyahu now has enough MPs to overturn even the most sacrosanct of Israel’s Basic Laws.
In addition, the new coalition will face an all but non-existent parliamentary opposition: a shrivelled centre-left of the Labor and Meretz parties, with only a handful of seats; a few noisy ultra-nationalists who would be more trouble in government than Netanyahu needs; and the Arab parties, who are reviled by Jewish public and politicians alike.
Labor’s new leader, Shelly Yacimovich, was expected to partially revive her party’s fortunes on the back of the social protests and might have been joined in a potentially confrontational opposition by a new centrist party, headed by TV news anchor and heart-throb Yair Lapid. Now both are relegated to the political margins.
Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, whom Netanyahu fears most as a potential challenger, has also been defanged. His current, pivotal role in the coalition will be savagely diminished by the bulky presence of Kadima.
Another bonus for Netayahu is that he is now better situated to see off the potentially dangerous early days of a Barack Obama second term, if the US president is re-elected in November. This is when some observers believed the US president, serially humiliated by Netanyahu over the settlements and the peace process, might seek his revenge.
But should Obama choose a fight on the Palestinian issue, he will be facing a prime minister whose position in Israel is unassailable.
What does all this mean for Iran and the Palestinians?
Regarding the former, several commentators and some of his own ministers have argued that Netanyahu now has a free hand to launch a go-it-alone attack on Iran and destroy what he claims is a nuclear weapons programme that might one day rival Israel’s own secret arsenal.
More likely, the expanded coalition will make little difference to Israeli calculations over Iran, one way or the other. Mofaz, like most of the security establishment, opposes an attack unless it is headed by the US.
But Netanyahu will doubtless exploit his strengthened position to up the rhetoric against Tehran and add to the pressure for intensified action from the US and Europe.
As for the Palestinians, it can mean only more of the same — or worse. Mofaz, who tried to distinguish himself in opposition by proposing a miserly peace plan that would see the Palestinians holed up in a series of enclaves, lacks the political weight to deflect Netanyahu from his even more intransigent approach.
But at least for Netanyahu, the Kadima leader will cut a more presentable figure in Washington than Lieberman as an advocate for Israel’s hard line.
The Israeli prime minister’s claim yesterday that he was about to unveil a “responsible peace process” should be taken no more seriously than his professed commitment, abandoned the same day, to submit himself to the judgment of the Israeli electorate.
The one small sliver of light is that what remains of the Israeli left, so long in hibernation or denial, may finally be stirred into a response by the antics of this ugly ruling cabal.
Last year’s social protests remained, in a great Israeli tradition, studiously “apolitical”, unlike their counterparts, the Occupy movements, in the United States and Europe.
The demonstrators refused to draw any connection between the rapidly polarised economic situation — the gap between Israel’s rich and poor is now as bad as in the US — and either the right’s self-serving neoliberal policies or the occupation that has channelled endless resources to the settlers and the security establishment.
This summer Israel may finally get its own Occupy movement — one prepared to tackle the real occupation.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net. He contributed this article to Palestine Chronicle.com.
Kadima joins Israeli governing coalition to stave off electoral debacle
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
Listen carefully: I will not join Bibi’s government. Not today, not tomorrow, and not after I become head of Kadima on March 28th. This is an evil, failing, and pig-headed government and Kadima, under my leadership, will succeed it in the next elections. Clear enough?
–Shaul Mofaz Facebook Wall, March 3rd, shortly before he won the Kadima party leadership
Loud and clear, Mr. Chairman (original Hebrew Facebook post here). But something happened between this statement made a few weeks ago and yesterday. Kadima’s new leader, Shaul Mofaz, agreed at the eleventh hour to join the Netanyahu government in order to stave off his party’s electoral implosion at the polls come September. The gambit is wholly cynical and dismal. The deal will give his party a single ministerial post, and a meaningless one at that: minister for Palestinian affairs. He also gets the honorific: senior vice prime minister. That and three bucks will get you a latte…somewhere. So in return for providing Netanyahu’s governing coalition the single largest bloc of seats it has, Mofaz gets a made-up, virtually meaningless portfolio. Some deal.
Mofaz will attempt to create movement in a process for which his new boss wants no movement. Which means that either Mofaz will join Bibi’s weird Kabuki drama pretending to make peace but doing nothing of the sort; or else Mofaz will take his new job seriously and quickly realize he’s been snookered and co-opted by Bibi, who will surely allow no one but him to run Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
Kadima MKs can only have agreed to this devil’s bargain because they know most of them would be out of jobs after September. Any honorable or even half-way honorable party would’ve gone to the people before agreeing to such a sham. But Israeli politics is full of opportunism, corruption and naked greed. It’s a bit like the old Tammany Hall, except that it encompasses an entire country, rather than a single city.
Mofaz will now have a vote to determine whether Israel goes to war with Iran. It’s not believed Mofaz supports such a venture. But his new vantage point at Bibi’s right-hand might give him fresh “insight” into the existential threat posed by Iran.
Finally, this cynical backroom deal guarantees a long, hot summer for the kingmakers. The J14 social justice movement that swept Israel last summer will almost certainly return with a vengeance, since it was initially fueled by a deep malaise among the populace toward precisely this sort of shenanigans. Mofaz, who only a few weeks ago claimed (laughably) that he would lead the new social justice protests (who asked him, anyway?), will be their butt instead.
Just after George Bush won an easy victory in the 2004 elections and Bush-Cheney triumphalism was the Republican order of the day, I wrote that hubris was the bane of successful politicians. Indeed, within four years Bush had become a political irrelevancy and his seeming brilliant electoral performance faded into oblivion. Bibi is even more prone to this sort of hubris and will almost certainly see his “deal of the century” as a divine affirmation of his call to lead his people to…to what? To something. Bibi will have to fill in the blank with something. But as today’s Haaretz notes, today’s triumph could easily and rapidly turn into tomorrow’s laughingstock.
Color me: disgusted.
On Tuesday, 8th May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his counterpart chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (leader of Kadima party) agreed to form a national unity government.
This move came after the decision Netanyahu had made to make early elections, which were expected to be scheduled in the 4th September.
Kadima will join Netanyahu’s government and commit to act according to its policies till the end of its term in late 2013. It’s expected that Mofaz will be appointed as deputy prime minister.
He will also be a member of the security cabinet, and the Kadima members will serve as chairmen of the Knesset foreign affairs, defense committees, and the economic committee.
Chairperson of the Israeli Labor Party, Shelly Yachimovich, will be opposition leader instead of Mofaz. Yachimovich called this step a coalition of cowards, and the most ridiculous zig-zag in Israel’s political history. She also said that this move give the opportunity for Israel Labor Party to lead the opposition.
According to Haaretz Israeli newspaper, journalist Yair Lapid described the formation of the unity government as “the old kind of politics” and “corrupt and ugly.”
Hundreds of Israelis take to the streets to protest unity deal between Netanyahu and Mofaz
Former Kadima head Tzipi Livni says Israel deserves a more principled political system; police make several arrests including journalists
By Ilan Lior , Yaniv Kubovich and Bradley Burston, Haaretz
Over 1,000 people demonstrated on Tuesday night near the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv against the deal struck between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz.
The protest, which took place near where the 2011 summer protest began on Rothschild Boulevard, included waved flags, and chanted slogans such as “Bibi, go home.”
Several politicians spoke to the crowd, among them former Kadima head Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog (Labor) Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), and Dov Khenin (Hadash).
Livni, who spoke briefly, said that she was asked to speak by “young people who want to fight for the country.”
“These young people deserve a different form of politics – one of principles and not of survival. This is what the struggle is about,” Livni said.
The police, which declared the protest illegal, arrested several people, including journalists, after attempting to prevent demonstrators from marching toward the Likud party headquarters on King George St. in central Tel Aviv.
A protest was also held in Be’er Sheva, where 150 demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans in the Merkaz Hamorim square.
The demonstration was called for on Monday night by the social protest leaders via their Facebook pages.
“I and the [other] activists have been flooded with inquiries since this morning,” said social protest leader Stav Shaffir. “People are angry, asking, ‘What to do? What todo?’ People feel betrayed ¬ not just that they lied to us twice in 10 days, but that they betrayed us: They created a clenched, unbreakable fist around the policies we disagree with.”
“We won’t stand by helplessly, we’ll oppose this with all our might,” she added.
As of Tuesday evening, more than 1,000 people had pledged to attend. Yet two of the most prominent figures from last summer’s protests, Daphni Leef and Itzik Shmuli, have not yet agreed to join Shaffir’s effort. Leef stated she will skip demonstrations, explaining that she is busy setting up a new social advocacy organization. But her friends said her real reason is that tonight’s protests will be politically partisan rather than a broad public movement.
The activists spent hours yesterday phoning Knesset members from both coalition and opposition parties to urge them to attend tonight’s demonstrations. Some agreed, but the activists declined to say who.