The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

Surprise! [2]

There's a recurring theme in letters I get from friends who, like me, hoped that Bibi Netanyahu would never be Israel's Prime Minister. Maybe he'll surprise us, they tell me. Maybe he'll "pull a Begin" and make peace with some hostile Arab neighbor. (CNN, which has apparently never heard of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, keeps asking interviewees if Netanyahu will "pull a Nixon.") .

Let's try to be realistic here. Of course Bibi is not going to do wonderful things. He is going to . . .

* wreck US-Israeli relations
* re-ignite the Palestinian intifada
* invest billions of shekels in West Bank Jewish settlements
* vastly strengthen the religious establishment
* reign in the free press (especially the electronic media), and so on.

And that's the good news. It could get much worse. How will a Netanyahu government react, a couple of years down the road, when Yigal Amir begins asking for improvements in his conditions of confinement?

Nevertheless, there may yet be some pleasant surprises in store for us, so let's look at several of them which are being kicked around:

* Bibi eventually dumps his religious partners and forms a government of national unity. Dr. Yosi Beilin, who Yitzhak Rabin once called Shimon Peres' "poodle," was quoted last week on the front page of Ha'aretz saying that there were no substantial differences between Labor and Likud (he forgot to mention this during the campaign), so why not form a government of national unity? Beilin and his supporters have this dream: Labor takes about half of the ministries (Beilin himself as foreign minister?); the Likud tells the various religious parties, the "Third Way", the fascists in "Moledet" and the Russians (er, the Israel Aliyah Party) to go for a walk. That way, Labor gets to influence the new government to do the really important things (for Labor) like continuing the Oslo process -- just as if the elections had never taken place, and Bibi had not actually won them.

What does the Likud get out of all this? Diddley-squat. If Bibi tells the religious parties and others to go away, what will happen when he needs them? (He will need them.) And why would Bibi, who is a committed ultra-nationalist, raised in the Revisionist movement, want to go full speed ahead with the hated Rabin-Peres peace process? I may be proven wrong in the next few days, but anyone who thinks that Bibi is going to walk into this trap is underestimating our new PM, if such a thing is possible.

* Bibi redeploys the Israeli forces in Hebron and the Oslo process survives. This would be a real surprise, as Bibi is deeply committed to preserving the 200-strong Jewish "settlement" in the heart of this huge Arab city. The redeployment will be the first real test of the Israel-Palestinian peace process under the new government. On the one hand, Bibi is not making it clear at all what he plans to do. It seemed during the election campaign that Bibi recognized and accepted what had already been done -- he promised not to return to Gaza and Nablus -- but it was pretty clear that he would not continue with new concessions to the Palestinians. His own preference, apparently, is to deploy three IDF soldiers for each Jewish settler in the heart of Hebron, instead of the agreed-upon two soldiers per settler. (If the whole country were guarded the way we guard Rabbi Levinger and his friends in Hebron, we'd need an army of 15,000,000 men. That's the size of several of the larger armies of the world put together.) On the other hand, there are reports that he's met with IDF officers and will probably be ready to act under their advice -- which is to go ahead with the redeployment, on schedule and as agreed upon with the Palestinian Authority. Then again, those officers are notorious "Leftists" -- remember that the Likud accused the IDF of playing a partisan role in the recent election, giving their support to the peace camp.

* Bibi pulls the IDF out of Lebanon, back to the international border. This is another real long shot, and if he does it I'll be first to send on my congratulations. Some analysts have already pointed out that Bibi has been pointing an accusing finger at Syria over the whole Lebanon mess (as well as at Iran). That indicates a preference for a diplomatic course of action (or war with Syria). There's also an historic precedent -- in Lebanon -- for a Likud government agreeing to a reasonable course: back in the late Spring of 1981, Menachem Begin under U.S. pressure agreed to a cease fire with the Palestinians, who were then a military force in the south of Lebanon. That cease fire lasted reasonably well for a whole year. The bad news, for those of you who don't remember, is that in June 1982, in retaliation for the attempted killing of an Israeli diplomat in London, Israel launched a bombing campaign in Lebanon, which prompted the PLO to retaliate with rockets, and that began Arik Sharon's "48 hour war" which lasted for three years, claimed more than 600 Israeli lives and countless Arab lives as well. The Likud's historic record on Lebanon is so bad, one can hardly expect a turn-around. Nevertheless, if one is groping for straws, this is a possibility.

* Bibi gives back the Golan.I'm going way out on a limb here, but I think that if we're going to be surprised, it's here. Yes, of course Bibi says that he'll never, ever give back the Golan to anyone, ever, ever. Well, Rabin said the same thing -- but would have given Assad the Golan and green stamps too if he only he had agreed to the same kind of peace Egypt agreed to. Moshe Dayan said he preferred Sharm el Sheikh to peace with Egypt -- but he was instrumental in getting Menachem Begin to agree to give back all of Sinai in exchange for peace. But it's not the historical precedents that count here. Earlier last week, some leaders of the Golan settlements went to meet with Bibi. They went in to the meeting grinning, with their shopping list in hand -- massive government investment in the Golan, and the enactment of (another) law guaranteeing absolutely Israeli control forever of the Heights. They came out of the meeting enraged. (I should clarify something about the proposed law: Israel declared its sovereignty over the Golan back in 1981. The new law -- which the Likud supported in the last Knesset, when it was the party in opposition -- would reinforce and strengthen the 1981 law, making it extremely difficult for any future government to make territorial concessions in the Golan.) We don't know exactly what Netanyahu said to the Golan settlers, but it was apparently something along the lines of: "Golan? Where's that?" A day later, negotiations between the Likud and the Third Way (the "party of the Golan" -- which got about 12 votes up there on the Heights) broke down temporarily over these points. (Avigdor Kahalani calmed down when he found out that he could be Minister of Tourism. That means junkets to the French Riviera. The Golan? Where's that?)

Now what's happening here? Isn't the Likud supposed to be the party of tough guys when it comes to the Golan? Aren't they the ones who plastered the country with slogans insisting that the whole of the Golan would belong to Israel forever? Didn't they whip up the whole nationalist Right into a frenzy, accusing Yitzhak Rabin of being a traitor and a Nazi. (And those were the nicest things they said about a Prime Minister who even thought about giving up the Golan.) Briefly, I'd like to remind readers of a few facts:

o In 1996, the Golan voted for Peres, not Netanyahu. Netanyahu does not have a political base in the Golan, as he does in the West Bank. He doesn't owe anything to the Golan settlers, and doesn't identify with them. To the Likud, they're just a bunch of kibbutzniks.

o The Likud never invested in the Golan the way it did in the West Bank, nor did any other Israeli government. Go for a drive around the Golan, visit its "capital" Katzrin. The whole plateau is dotted with sparsely inhabitated, albeit scenic, settlements. No Israeli government has ever bothered to fill it up with industry and people, as was done in the other occupied territories.

o A couple of years ago, headlines were made when several Likud leaders made the Freudian slip of talking about compromise on the Golan. They quickly covered up the whole issue, but the cat was already out of the bag.

The likelihood is not that Netanyahu will "pull a Begin" -- so long as Assad refuses to play the role of Sadat -- and totally withdraw Israeli forces. But he might be interested in a phased withdrawal, or a series of confidence building measures which includes redeployment of the IDF in the Heights.

In today's Ha'aretz (16 June), columnist Gidon Levi writes a skeptical, pessimistic review of what we can expect of the new government. His list of possible pleasant surprises is a very short one, and none of them are quite in the same league as what I've been discussing until now. They include the possiblity of Prime Ministerial visits to moderate Arab states, maybe another meeting between Netanyahu's advisor Dore Gold and Abu Mazen of the Palestinian Authority, maybe improved relations with some minor, moderate Arab regime like Qatar.

But in one pregnant phrase, Levi adds -- "maybe the new government will surprise us on the Syrian issue."

So, I think a national unity government is out of the question. A redeployment of the IDF in Hebron -- that's possible. A withdrawal from Lebanon -- not likely.

But keep your eyes on the Golan.

Letters from Readers
Editor's note: Okay, I wasn't being entirely fair here. I asked for reader's comments, but I never said that I might publish them. I hope no one is offended. In future issues, I'd like to maintain a lively letters column, and think that this is a pretty good start . I may now and then answer some of the letters published -- when I do, you'll see my answers in bold print like that.

* Pretty funny. I completely disagree, but I enjoyed reading it anyway. Keep it up. -- Stephen

This has to be the modern answer to Voltaire's quote about defending to the death one's right to say something. If it's funny, it has a right to be published.

* I look forward to your future issues, but I hope if Netanyahu does some things right, you will at least mention it. -- Larry Mark

Of course. In this issue, I try to prepare readers for the unlikely possibility that Bibi might surprise us.

* fuck you, self hating Jew. you can't belive [sic] you lost, can you? well! this is a JEWISH state -- Anonymous

Thanks for your comments, Limor. But seriously -- this lovely little bit of Likud-inspired political analysis came from Brooklyn, NY. It came from the email account of a religious Jew who does not share any of the views I hold, but when he found out that someone had sent this message from his email account, he wrote to me to apologize.

* An interesting paper you got. While I very strongly disagree with the analytical results, the concept is quite good. Where were you when Labor was in power? We could have used that analysis on the piece [sic] process, Rabin's view of settlers, Peres' proven incompetence in all matters Palestinian and permanent head-in-the-clouds approach to the safety of the populace, the rise in terror, and other things of that nature. Anyway, the fact that even with the Arab vote (in the US, a person who publicly renounces his connection to the country does not get the right to vote, but here an entire group of people who loudly announce in word and deed that they are not Israelis and would much prefer a despotic regime like Arafat's to Israel gets the swing vote -- it was only due to the moral integrity of a few Arabs by putting in blank slips that Netanyahu got in -- and gets to decide on key issues of life and death over their sworn enemies) Peres got less than 50% of the vote should say something. -- Yehuda G. Hahn, Israel

There are 92 words between the parentheses there. Read them again, carefully. This is the core of the Likud philosophy. And it's not just Mr. Hahn saying this. General Yitzhak Mordechai, who's probably our next Minister of Defense, was recently quoted as saying that while we must accord all due respect to Israel's non-Jewish minorities and full rights of course some solution must be found for this "problem" of so many Arabs voting. He really said that.

* What comments do you expect to get really ? While not denying your full right to hold the opinions you have, I find it pointless to contradict them. I really believe that most of the comments you'll get will be either of flametory nature or the exact opposite, of fervent support. It's written in a take it or live it manner. There is no place for discussion here, or for influencing each other.

I must say that composition of the flame, inaccuracies, or outright defamations in your web site, is assuring you a loyal readership, but so small that you'll probably will remain obscure for the wide public. If I may suggest you anything, then I'd like to suggest you to make it more accurate, give up the convenient rumors, and make it a real watch site. -- Amir Hermon, Israel

"There is no place for discussion here, or for influencing each other"? I beg to differ.

* Thank you very much about this "reminder of democracy". I just wonder if you would have doen the same if Peres would be the PM? By the way, was there any problem to get an Israeli web site? or is it just to be on the safe side (I mean it). I did not think that it could go so bad, I hope I am wrong. -- Dr. Ofer Chazen, Australia

No, I would not have launched this site if Peres had won the election. I think that Shimon Peres was one of the finest prime ministers we ever had, and that his government was perhaps our most successful ever. And there were plenty of loud and well-financed voices out there criticizing Peres, including the only English language daily newspaper in this country. As for your second question, I'm running this Web site off of a server in the U.S. and not Israel for financial reasons. Although if Limor Livnat really is named Minister of Communications and decides to check out this Internet thing, maybe this will turn out to have been a good idea . . .

* Your BiBiWatch (tm) is grrrrrrrrrreat! My only reservation is that the polically correct term for Limor Livnat is "Hatchet women" (and not "Hatchet girl"). -- Meron Lavie, Israel

You're right of course. Sorry about that, Limor. As Bob Dylan may have said, "But she breaks just like a little girl." What exactly it is that she breaks, we'll soon find out.

* Great job! I am sharing it with all my friends. Any chance there will be a BIBI mailing-list? -- Diane Ezer, New York, USA

There will be a mailing list -- but not right now. If anyone reading this page is a LISTSERV administrator, could you give me a call?

* Very nice! I like Bibi watch and look forward to more informative editionss. About How often do you plan to update the site? -- Avi (Allen) Glicksman, USA

Every Monday morning -- b'ezrat ha'shem. (We have to say that now.)

* I just read the first issue of Bibi Watch. It's great! It's witty and insightful. It's going to be a great help in keeping me informed about what's going on in Israel. -- Esther Gross, Syracuse NY, USA

* Good, very good. I hope that at the end, the name of the web site will be "Bye bye Bibi." -- Enrique, Israel

Me too.
* I like very much the BibiWatch idea, form and text. It is typical that leftists like us are playing media while the bastards are playing power. -- Moshe Sela, Kibbutz Cabri, Israel

* I liked very much your Bibiwatch first edition :-) I'll post it with your permission (or if you would rather post it yourself) to IL-TALK, which is an Israeli list on political subjects -- Yaki Beja, Israel

Thanks, but someone else already posted it. BibiWATCH got extensive coverage on the Net, thanks to efforts like yours. Please feel free to post both our URL and the complete text to any mailing list or newsgroup you'd like.

* I love what you are doing. Keep up the good work with the comments and commentary on the Netanyahu regime. Let's hope that these next four years are not as disasterous as 1977-1992. Don't lose the faith. -- Greg Apt

* Thank you. Keep up the good work. I'm one of the 29,840 (?) who are responsible for all of this, being away for my wife's and my own studies. Your newsletter will be my weekly reminder of what I did, should you persist in this. We could of course be surprised for the better, but somehow, I'm feeling you'll have a lot on your hands thru out this mabul [flood]. -- Eshkol Rafaeli-Mor, USA

* Keep it going, of course. If Bibi is coming down hard on the "liberal" media (incl. the Post???) at least we'll get some kind of perspective over the Web. Thanks. -- Bob Latzer, USA

* I am so happy that I found you (on the usenet soc.culture .Israel)I am forwarding your website address to lots of folks: friends, shlichim, relatives, LZA movement chaverim etc. Cant wait for future installments - go for it! Best of Luck to you. -- Debbie Salinger, USA

* Well done. I'm delighted that someone out there is willing to be a light unto the nations of the global village. As a committed, content and well-informed citizen of the Diaspora living in a country (South Africa) that recently chose to transform itself peacefully, I mourn the decision of the majority of Israelis to appoint as their principal representative and decision maker someone who not only is unwilling to recognise the moral, ethical and realpolitik need for an independent Palestinian state, but who also is unwilling to halt the settlement of the West Bank. Worse still, he claims he will further promote and escalate this territorial aberration.

P.S. You'll probably be delighted to hear that one of the premier SA mirrored online publications, Electronic Mail and Guardian, has an active link to BibiWatch. -- Michael Herman, South Africa