The absence of a proportionate Palestinian reaction to the ascendancy of Israel’s far right leader, Avigdor Lieberman, into the mainstream strategic decision-making in Tel Aviv has indicated of how dangerously the inter-Palestinian divide is overshadowing the Israeli threats and encouraged the visiting European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to legitimize with a public meeting the only man who could abort not only the mission of his visit but all prospects of regional peace.
In a move that threatens to destabilize the already explosive regional situation, heralds an Israeli escalation towards a war with Iran in tandem with the U.S.-led anti-Iran campaign and pre-empts any credible prospects for initiating a new peace process if not reviving the old “Road Map”-based process, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signed a deal last week to bring Lieberman and his party Israel Beitenu (Israel Our Home) into his ruling coalition, in a bid for political survival following the fiasco in Lebanon, thus consolidating his power but confusing whatever Israel has of a peace vision.
According to Israeli media on the eve and in the wake of the ominous deal, that has yet to be endorsed by the Knesset, Israeli politicians and commentators described Lieberman as a “strategic threat,” “the most dangerous politician in our political history,” “the most unrestrained and irresponsible man around,” a hawk, a hardliner, Israel's far right leader, extreme and ultra right-winger, a “fascist” and a leader of a “fascist party,” a “detestable racist,” “unguided missile” and a “loose cannon,” etc.
“Lieberman's lack of restraint (is) … liable to bring disaster down upon the entire region,” a Haaretz editorial warned on Oct. 24.
Hebrew University political science professor Zeev Sternhell said Lieberman may be “the most dangerous politician in our political history” because of his “cocktail of nationalism, authoritarianism and dictatorial mentality” and because, unlike previous extreme-right figures he was not “marginalized.” Professor Sternhell added: “I cannot forget that Mussolini came to power with only 30 members of parliament.”
Lieberman, who was born in Moldova, USSR, in 1958 and immigrated to Israel in 1978, is on record as opposing the Road Map for a two-state solution, which was envisioned by the US President George W. Bush, drafted by the Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia and later adopted by the UN Security Council Resolution 1515; the process however was pronounced dead by Israel, the Arab League and scrapped on Tuesday by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos as a “too late” effort.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Lieberman questioned the wisdom of past peace deals where Israel ceded occupied land to Arab adversaries.
He is on record also to call for the ethnic cleansing of 1.2 million Israeli Arabs by stripping them of their citizenship and transferring them to a cantonized Palestinian Authority (PA) without consulting them or receiving the PA’s consent. A bill adopted by 12-11 votes by the Israeli cabinet last week to scrap its parliamentary system in favor of an American-style presidential rule could be his first step within this context; it raises the minimum that a party must achieve to enter parliament to 10% from 2%, which would eliminate Arab parties, whose combined strength has never quite reached 10%.
In 2004 he published his book My Truth, a call to draw Israel's borders to exclude Arab citizens and include illegal Israeli colonial settlements Israel built on occupied Palestinian West Bank territory; he himself lives with his family in the colony of Nokdim. Earlier he spoke of “transfer” of Arab citizens, Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the Jewish daily Forward on October 20, 2006. “The problem with the Arabs inside Israel must come before the Palestinian problem,” he said.
On May 4 he called also for executing elected Israeli Arab members of Knesset for talking to elected members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Four days later American The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed grave concern over his inciteful statements.
When he served as minister of transport in a previous government, Lieberman called for all Palestinian prisoners, now more than ten thousand, held by the Israeli occupation authorities to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses, Haaretz reported on July 11, 2002.
In 2002, Lieberman declared, “I would not hesitate to send the Israeli army into all of Area A [the area of the West Bank ostensibly under Palestinian Authority control] for 48 hours. Destroy the foundation of all the authority's military infrastructure ... not leave one stone on another. Destroy everything.” He also suggested to the Israeli cabinet that the air force systematically bomb all the commercial centers, gas stations and banks in the occupied territories (The Independent, March 7, 2002).
In 1998 he called for the bombing of Egypt's Aswan Dam in retaliation for Cairo's support for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The Israeli Gush Shalom organization warned in a published letter on Oct 15, not to let Lieberman and his party into the government coalition, saying the move would “shame everyone who advocates it.”
However, instead of mobilizing its media and diplomatic corps to alert the world on the looming threat, the PLO kept absorbed by the internal divide and obsessed with plans on how to bring the elected Hamas to accept the U.S.-adopted Israeli dictates or squeeze it out of power, except for a rare statement that offhandedly shrugged Lieberman’s ascendancy as an Israeli “internal affair”!
“At the end of the day, what we hoped for is to have a partner in Israel who is willing to revive a meaningful peace process that will end this miserable situation between our two peoples,” said Saeb Erekat, who heads the PLO’s negotiations department, whose mission has been confined recently to educating Hamas and the Palestinian people on how to better understand the “realpolitics” of the US and EU-backed Israeli dictates.
Lieberman’s ascendancy could in no way be dealt with by whoever Palestinian is in the driving seat neither as an internal Israeli affair nor as a threat that could be frivolously shrugged off with levity; this would take irresponsibility too far to be justified, regardless of whatever pretexts might be cited.
This lenient PLO reaction would only weaken its already fragile internal status and encourage Israelis to deal with the matter similarly; if the Palestinian Palestinians don’t care why should Israelis and if the PLO doesn’t set on the alarm why should the world care too! May be the PLO should be reminded of Israel’s reaction to the electoral victory of Austria's far right leader Jörg Haider in 1999 to entice it into action?
Internally, the PLO’s arguments with Hamas are based on accepting the US-Israeli conditions as a prelude to being courted by the international community as a peace partner, but Olmert-Lieberman deal would eliminate even the prospect of finding the old ever-illusive Israeli partner, which weakens the basic PLO argument in the internal divide.
Courting Lieberman, or "Ivet" according to his Russian name, into Israel’s strategic decision-makers’ club is a bad omen that renders the Israeli government as a power without vision, be it unilateral or otherwise, which undermines the very bases for any potential bilateral negotiated settlement with the PLO and makes the resumption of negotiations farther than ever.
Lieberman’s inclusion into Israel’s mainstream decision-making is -- by premeditation or by coincidence -- pre-empting Palestinian, regional and international efforts to capitalize on the indecisive Lebanon war to either revive the old peace process or to initiate a new one, or in the best of optimistic scenarios to initiate a fundamental change in the regional peace-making from conflict management to conflict resolution.
On Wednesday Javier Solana, embarked on a six-day mission to the Middle East to breathe new life into the stalled peace effort; his efforts have been fruitless for years; however his current effort is certain to fail on two accounts: First for being part of the US-Israeli meddling in internal Palestinian affairs unless he makes a surprise respect to the Palestinian democratic choice and engages Hamas-led government directly; second Lieberman’s rising star in Israel’s politics which renders its ruling coalition a government without any vision conducive to any peace process unless Solana makes a surprise breakthrough by taking the role the PLO is not taking vis-à-vis Lieberman’s upcoming role.
His efforts are doomed because both surprises are wishful thinking so long as the 25-member EU bloc he represents is still unable to match its political weight with its economic clout to tell Washington that the EU is its political partner and follower in world affairs.
Solana did meet Lieberman without at least balancing his move with a similar encounter with Hamas, thus legitimizing him and empowering his agenda with an EU engagement and bolstering his credentials with EU prestige. Solana also bypassed the democratically elected representative government of the Palestinian people. In both cases he was indirectly encouraged by PLO’s leniency vis-à-vis Lieberman and militancy vis-à-vis Hamas.
The PLO and whoever is self-appointed, involved, asked or enforcing himself as a sponsor of peace-making should make any peace process conditional on renouncing Lieberman and his likes out of the process instead on hinging the process on the commitment of the Palestinian “functional” and apolitical autonomous government to political conditions dictated by Israel and the US, a commitment honored strictly by the PLO.
Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
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