Natanyahu hugs the center

Haaretz interviews Netanyahu

[..] Netanyahu is signaling a move to the center, and is making surprisingly optimistic statements about the chances of a political process with the Palestinians.

    “I see a unique opportunity for progress in the peace process with moderate Arab partners, for a simple reason: There is identification of a shared threat,” he explained. “Even if Iran’s nuclear program is stopped, the extremist Islamic threat exists, and that allows for the creation of alliances with various elements in the Arab world as well as in Palestinian society.”

And would you agree to withdraw from territories as part of such a peace process?

    “If I knew that I had a genuine partner. I have already proved that I am prepared to make certain concessions, not sweeping or unlimited, but I demanded mutuality and as long as I received it, I was able to progress.”

Would you accept the Saudi initiative (withdrawal from all territory in exchange for fully normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world, and a “just and agreed-upon” solution to the refugee problem) as the basis for negotiations?

    “The Saudi initiative cannot be implemented in terms of its details, but we have to aspire to an arrangement in which it is clear that if Israel is required to make additional concessions, it knows from the start that there will be no more demands and that the conflict is reaching an end. That did not exist in the negotiations that we conducted until now. We have to make an arrangement, get to the end, and then go backward.”

Head of the Majlis

Despite the optimistic statements, Netanyahu does not currently see a Palestinian partner for an agreement, and demands that the peace partner will recognize Israel’s right to exist. He is also not enthusiastic about the renewal of the Syrian negotiations channel, and says he tends to accept the assessment of Mossad espionage agency head Meir Dagan, that Syria is not
heading toward peace. Netanyahu quotes intelligence assessments that the Syrian military-acquisitions budget has increased tenfold. On this matter, his position is no different from Olmert’s.

Netanyahu has long been acting like the opposition head of the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, rather than that of the Knesset. His public criticism is directed toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Netanyahu goes around the world and calls for Ahmadinejad to stand trial for incitement to genocide. His upcoming trip to the United States will also center around the
struggle against Iran and its nuclear program. He will speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby’s annual conference next week, and meet with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and the leading candidates for president.

“The Iranian regime is more vulnerable than it seems,” said Netanyahu. “It’s possible to act against it in a firm and focused way, to destabilize it, or stop the nuclear program, or both. Its major weakness is in the economic sphere.”

The idea of imposing a “secondary boycott” on the Iranian economy is at the center of Netanyahu’s campaign. It involves convincing the managers of pension funds for civil servants in every state in the United States, which hold assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars, to pull their investments from some 400 companies, from European and other countries, conducting business with Iran. Such a boycott would threaten the Iranian economy and the stability of its government. Netanyahu also wants to send AIPAC activists to governors and state legislatures in a bid to get them to order the pension funds to impose the boycott. This week, he submitted a similar bill in the Knesset, which, if passed, would ban Israeli investment in multinational companies active in Iran.

“All who feared military efforts against Iran should welcome an economic means that can render military activity unnecessary,” Netanyahu said.

In his latest travels in Europe, he presented this idea to members of the French National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee and to members of the British parliament. He tells doves to support the boycott so as to prevent an attack on Iran; the hawks will support pressure on the Iranians anyway. “It’s not certain that the effort will succeed,” Netanyahu admitted. “But even if it doesn’t, at least public opinion will be prepared for tougher action.”

Same 1938 analogy

In a speech before the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities in Los Angeles in November, Netanyahu made a chilling analogy between present-day Iran and 1938 Germany. Since then, he has continued to draw this analogy. In his talks in Washington next week, he will suggest the establishment of a “coalition against genocide” that would act against the genocide in Darfur – an issue that is important to the Democrats – and against Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust denier who has called for Israel’s destruction. The coalition would be “against a genocide that is carried out, that which is denied, and that which is planned,” Netanyahu explained.

Is Israel facing a holocaust?

“I think it’s possible to stop this holocaust, these threats. The situation is identical to 1938, in that an extreme ideology is present that is arming itself with weapons, with the declared attempt of destroying a significant portion of the Jewish people. The situation is different, in that there is a State of Israel that can and must elicit international pressure, and also because there is [now] a historic perspective. When [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice said that we are not in 1938, she was not referring to a change in the intention to destroy, but to the application of the historic lesson. On the contrary: Let us see the application, but it depends on actions carried out in the exhaustible time [that’s left].”

Netanyahu quoted the Mossad chief’s assessment that Iran will achieve nuclear capability within about three years. “That’s not a lot of time, 1,000 days,” the Likud leader said.

Aren’t you concerned that your talk of a holocaust will lead to demoralization and will encourage young Israelis to flee just in order to be saved?

“The right thing that generates hope is not repressing the threat, or blurring it and concealing it, but the readiness to face it and to muster the many forces we have, and to lead the world to understand and stand up against it. There is a future, there is the capacity to halt this, to stop
Iran and, if necessary, to build a massive deterrence.”

Is the Olmert government doing enough?

“Unfortunately not. I would like to see a greater effort, and I said so to the prime minister. An all-out effort, which tries to use all the available tools to generate economic, political and public-relations pressure to isolate Iran, destabilize the regime or freeze the nuclear program. A master plan is needed, with the direct involvement of the prime minister.”

Netanyahu advocates significant investment in development of defense and deterrence methods. When he was prime minister, he increased the budget for that, and today notes that Israel “will be required over the coming decades to build capabilities of a much larger scope than what there is.” He said the necessary technology exists, and that if Israel continues along the
right economic path, it will be able to fund the development on its own.

“On these matters,” he said, “the person in opposition, and certainly the opposition head, faces a genuine dilemma. In the internal realm, things must be said and must be subject to discussion, argument and criticism, but they cannot be part of the public discourse. There is a paradox concerning everything related to non-conventional matters. This discussion takes place, and I take an active part in it as the opposition chairman, in subcommittees, and I think that to a large extent [I am] also an expediting factor on certain matters. But I cannot go into it in public.”

‘A responsible opposition’

Benjamin Netanyahu loves to quote Winston Churchill, whose warnings concerning Hitler’s arms buildup in the 1930s were not heeded. So, why shouldn’t Netanyahu act like Churchill, who became the first lord of the admiralty in the government of his rival, Neville Chamberlain? When such an existential threat is at hand, why shouldn’t Netanyahu boost Olmert and run his public campaign around the world as a cabinet member instead of from the opposition?

“My colleagues and I acted as a responsible opposition,” said Netanyahu. “We supported the government from day one, including during the war and afterward.”

Why drag the country into an election campaign when time is running out and the Iranian bomb is ticking? After all, Ahmadinejad won’t wait.

“A vast majority of the public wants elections precisely for this reason, [because] there need to be rapid changes of leadership. Elections can be held in a few short weeks and a government can be brought in to take care of the problem. How will it help you for time to pass like sand between your fingers without any action and without the necessary steps being taken for
our defense, to recruit the world against Iran? In such situations, it’s desirable for the public to give a renewed mandate to deal with these threats, which didn’t happen in the previous elections, which were conducted on the basis of completely different assumptions that in the meantime proved to be false. In a democracy, a government that is chosen on a platform that
turns out to no longer be valid needs to go back to the public and ask for a renewed mandate. That’s why in a parliamentary democracy, there are ways to replace a government in mid-term, as a result of deficient functioning or a change in mandate.”

The Prime Minister’s Bureau said in response to Netanyahu’s comments that the prime minister was directing a “complex operation” to deal with the possibility of a nuclear Iran.

“Management of the Iranian problem is being coordinate by the prime minister, and involves hundreds and thousands of people in the security branches, intelligence and political bodies of the State of Israel,” the bureau said in a statement. “This is a complex operation, more sensitive
than any other, to which the prime minister is dedicating long hours of his schedule every week.

“Just recently, the prime minister held a meeting with subcommittee members of the [Knesset] Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in which he provided them with a summary of Israeli activity on the matter. All the members of the committee – apparently excluding Mr. Netanyahu – received a completely different impression [from the picture he portrays], and even made the
effort to point this out repeatedly to the prime minister. There is no subject or topic that Mr. Netanyahu does not try to enlist in an effort to damage the government, even if it will entail damage to the State of Israel’s most crucial interests. Thus, he proves once again that there is
nothing like scare tactics to serve his political goals.”

March 9, 2007 | 9 Comments »

Subscribe to Israpundit Daily Digest

9 Comments / 9 Comments

  1. Ted, I hope you are right. I don’t have a problem with such statements as long as there are sufficient conditions and qualifications which are steadfastly fixed. That seems to be what you are implying and what I also was attempting to convey in my first comment.

    I also believe that the Arabs will not agree to anything that Netanyahu would be willing to offer so the statements really are a nonstarters meant to convey a reasonableness on his part even if the situation cannot be solved with reason.

  2. I think Netanyahu is quite clear.

    I have already proved that I am prepared to make certain concessions, not sweeping or unlimited,

    So long as he sticks to his guns literally and figuratively there is nothing to worry about. The Arabs will never agree to this. Thus alternatives will have to be found or the status quo will remain while Israel strengthens its position.

    “The Saudi initiative cannot be implemented in terms of its details, but we have to aspire to an arrangement in which it is clear that if Israel is required to make additional concessions, it knows from the start that there will be no more demands and that the conflict is reaching an end. That did not exist in the negotiations that we conducted until now. We have to make an arrangement, get to the end, and then go backward.”

    This statement must also be read carefully. In effect he is saying he wont retreat to the ’67 borders and “normalization” isn’t good enough. Thus he is making it clear that the Saudi Plan is far from good enough. But since many Israelis want a peace process, he is not shutting the door on it.

  3. I think I’ve had it with politicians.

    The only way that Netanyahu’s statements can be reconciled with reality is if he is aware that the Arab/Palestinians will not compromise and he is making hypothetical concessions based on “if” for the reason that Ted lays out, to win support in the middle.

    A statement of such to show good faith on behalf of the Israelis while all the time knowing that the counter party will never fulfill their obligations is acceptable even if difficult to swallow.

    Such statements make me feel uneasy because I do not know to what extent they are embraced as being realistic rather than being merely show of good will. My hope is that such statements would only be a show of good will which although known to be unrealistic, is made anyway as a release of all responsibility and to put the onus on the opposing party.

  4. I can t believe jews are fooled by is bs. e messed up te first time royally, says watever u to be elected and does te same as predessesor. E all ready made te olden paracute, don t ive a 2nd cance to incompetence!

  5. If Netanyahu is tailoring his remarks, it only serves to underline how impoverished he, like so many other common politicians are when it comes to their true views as they seek to tailor their remarks to the crowd they play to.

    One cannot forget Sharon, blustering against any move to give up Gaza and on getting elected, doing just that.

    Netanyahu speaks of Olmert losing the confidence of the people. He then expresses hope that elections will come sooner rather then later. He is however silent on what he would do to hasten the coming election. In fact he appears to be saying that things will just have to play out the way they do in an Israeli democracy and elections will come in due course.

    Netanyahu gets an A plus for his usual eloquence and appearance of sincerity, but a C+ at best for content and a C- for clarity.

    America and the West are continue to push Israel towards the Road Map’s two state solution peace door while being willfully blind to the fact that the Palestinians keep moving that door further and further away.

    I agree that Olmert’s talks with Abbas may be solely to serve the purpose of appearances only in order to get the Americans off his back and give the world the impression that at least Israel is trying to talk to the Palestinian wall which the world of course encourages Israel to do. Plausible deniability therefore might well be at the root of Olmert and Abbas having their little tete a tetes.

    I disagree however that Israel can make any major move against Hamas without raising the heat on herself, unless of course Hamas again launches a major attack or at least a completely unprovoked and particularly hideous attack on Israeli civilians again. As with Hezbollah’s attack on Israel, you will recall sympathy with Israel and anger at Hezbollah lasted only about two weeks before Hezbollah was starting to be seen as the righteous heroes of the Muslim Middle East and Israel,once again the bully.

    Within about 3 – 4 weeks or so, the West too began to see Israel less sympathetically and again guage her right to self defence by the typical double standard usually applied and weighed the devastation to Lebanon wrought by the Israelis against Israeli war efforts, ignorning of course that Hezbollah caused the war and were using non-combattants, some willingly and others unwillingly as human shields.

    If accounts are true that Hezbollah is making political gains and gaining support from Lebanese, a coup by Hezbollah is not beyond the realm of possibility.

    If Hezbollah however is intent on gaining power in Lebanon and on re-opening its war against Israel, one should look to Hezbollah becoming the power behind the Siniora government and Siniora and his government useful puppets.

    By being in that position, Hezbollah can leave just a smidgeon of room, which is usually all it takes for the West to go along with the pretence that Israel is attacking Lebanon, a country that is not making war as a collective punishment for the sins of a few Hezbollah and condemn Israel accordingly for their disproportionate defence of their country.

  6. I am hoping that Netanyahu is just tailoring his remarks to garner the most support. Once in power he will move noticeably to the right.

    Secondly one might argue that it is in Israel’s interest to play the negotiating game without giving anything away then to say no negotiations.

    Facts on the ground. Israel could still clean out Hamas while playing this game. As for Hezbollah, it seems that UNIFIL is trying to get more powers. Its up to Siniori’s government to give them.

  7. Both Netanyahu and Olmert are trying to lay claim to a centrist position.

    On the matter of the Road Map/land for peace paradigm, Netanyahu’s position is relatively close to Olmert’s. Both recognize the Palestinians have no leader who can be a partner for peace with Israel. The difference appears to be that Olmert is more inclined to speak to Abbas, perhaps with some notion that he just might catch Abbas at the right moment to turn him into a partner for peace, while Netanyahu probably sees no purpose in that and believes Abbas has to do that all on his own, if he ever does before Netanyahu would discuss matters.

    I would just bet that if Netanyahu saw that talking to Abbas would at least put Israel in a better light in terms of reaching out for peace that isn’t there, he probably would be seeking an audience with Abbas as well.

    On the matter of Iran, both Netanyahu and Olmert see Iran as an existential threat. Netanyahu believes, like Olmert that there is still room for diplomacy coupled with a real threat and action of economic santions to underline to Iran that the threat is real.

    Olmert for his part obviously is taking Iran very seriously and prefers to speak of complex efforts being made by a great many to formulate and put in place a strategy that will hold Iran at bay, if not set them back on their heels.

    If those on the right ever saw Netanyahu as a potential champion for a new hard line Israeli position vis a vis the Palestinians and Israel’s future, they can drop Netanyahu from their list.

    This Ha’Aretz interview reveals much about Netanyahu, but what it reveals is whether it is Netanyahu or Olmert, it is same old same old, business as usual when it comes to Israeli politics.

    This interview is downright depressing. There is no one in Israel who appears to have what it takes in terms of wisdom, intellect, street smarts, courage, clear sight of realities and vision of the future and a committed sense of purpose to inspire others to follow Israel to a better more secure future.

    Netanyahu, like Olmert is not a leader up to the task for the left, the right or the centre of Israel.

    If there was ever a good time for the Meshiach to get Israel out of her mess of uninspired lacklustre leadership, plagued by old tired ideas, paradigms and limited vision, now would be a good time. If anyone has the number of the Meshiach, please call.

Comments are closed.