Analysis: Lieberman-Netanyahu risks democracy itself
Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu has scuttled remaining peace prospects with the Palestinians and is imperilling Israeli democracy in a bid to ensure he does not lose forthcoming elections.
After two months of secret talks, he has orchestrated a political marriage with his far-right foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman according to which Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party and Mr Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu run a joint list. This pulls Likud, always a hawkish party, further Right and gives Mr Lieberman – an ultra-nationalist whose last campaign was based on stoking anti-Arab racism –unprecedented clout.
It was initially thought that Mr Netanyahu, who has made confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran his touchstone issue, would easily coast to re-election. However, recent polls have indicated Likud is losing ground and that a centre-left block might be able to upset it in the January elections. Mr Netanyahu is believed to have been worried that former premier Ehud Olmert, recently cleared of some of the corruption charges against him, could make a comeback as head of such a grouping and even lure Mr Lieberman into coalition. But by announcing the merger on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu has pre-empted that possibility but at enormous cost. Referring to Mr Lieberman’s affinity for strong governance – the Moldovan-born foreign minister compiles his party list and is an admirer of Russian president Vladimir Putin –Likud minister Michael Eitan termed the merger “a blow to Israeli democracy”. It was not immediately clear who would call the shots in the new grouping but what is certain is that Mr Lieberman’s standing has been greatly increased. If before he could mistakenly be dismissed as a mere loose cannon, he is now positioned to have a voice in all key decisions and to set himself up as Mr Netanyahu’s heir.
It was also not clear how Mr Netanyahu would square Likud’s old ideology calling for civic equality for the Arab minority with Mr Lieberman’s attempts to disenfranchise Arabs by making citizenship conditional on swearing an oath of loyalty. “There is no citizenship without loyalty” was one of his election slogans. He has even admitted he gives priority to Jewish nationalism over democracy.
Mr Netanyahu’s move makes prospects for a two-state peace compromise with the Palestinians bleaker than at any time since the second intifada began more than a decade ago.
Mr Lieberman has depicted moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as being even more dangerous to Israel than Hamas, the militant Islamist movement. He has called for Mr Abbas’s replacement, and said it is a “grave mistake” for Israel to advance cash transfers to the Palestinian Authority, which is facing its worst fiscal crisis ever.
In the view of Uri Dromi, former spokesman for the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Mr Netanyahu’s joining with Mr Lieberman “is a message also to the Palestinians that they can forget about any breakthrough and that settlement construction will go on.”
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