By Joharah Baker
As the Palestinians continue to grapple with one another and have failed to reach a unifying position that would end the internal strife, which has plagued our society for months, Israeli politics is taking an extremely dangerous turn. Last week, in a bid to save his own skin after the scandalous botch up in Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert closed a deal with extreme right-wing party Israel Beytenu (Israel Our Home) inviting it to join the government. Today, the Knesset will vote on the appointment of the party’s head, MK Avigdor Lieberman, as deputy prime minister as well as minister of strategic threats, which deals with the Iran file.
The Palestinians have experienced a wide array of Israeli governments from right to left. In 1993, under Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords and believed they had embarked on the beginning of the end of Israeli rule. Nothing was farther from the truth. These accords not only further shackled the Palestinians to Israeli dominance, they paved the way for even more oppressive bilateral agreements between the two sides. In 1999, the Wye River Agreement was signed under then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which divided Hebron into Israeli and Palestinian controlled areas, ultimately to provide protection for the city’s approximately 400 extremist Jewish settlers.
Still, almost every former Israeli government will pale in comparison to the one currently in formation. Lieberman is notoriously known for his anti-Palestinian sentiments, which for the record, he does not bother to candy-coat. Lieberman, who emigrated from Moldova, in the former USSR in 1978, first served in the Likud Party in the early nineties before founding Israel Beytenu in 1999.
One of Lieberman’s proposals is to redraw the Green Line to exclude Palestinians living inside Israel (dumping them into Palestinian Authority-controlled areas and stripping them of their Israeli citizenship) while annexing all illegal Jewish settlements to the state. He justifies his position by claiming that the “Arabs” are more loyal to the Palestinians than to Israel and so do not support a Jewish state.
Lieberman has even gone as far as calling for the execution of Arab Knesset members for talking to Hamas parliamentarians. His racist views are so extreme that in 2002 he said all Palestinian political prisoners should be drowned in the Dead Sea, even offering to provide the buses.
Where does this leave the Palestinians? Even though the so-called peace process has been in a state of comatose for years now, only temporarily brought back to life with an occasional quick shock of international diplomacy, the inclusion of Israel Beytenu in the government will surely be this process’ death certificate. It is not only the fact that Lieberman’s party has joined the government with the consent of even the Labor Party that is concerning but that the international community has not batted an eyelash at such an appointment.
Even the European Union, traditionally more neutral than the United States in terms of Israel and the Palestinians, opted not to politically ostracize Lieberman for his positions, something both western powers have done to the Hamas-elected Palestinian government. Instead, during his six-day Middle East trip, the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana met with Lieberman even though he conceded that he has disagreed with him “his entire life.”
Such a move does not bode well for the Palestinians. While they have suffered as a result of the international boycott of their government ever since Hamas took power last March, Israel has brought in one of its most extremist politicians to a decision-making position without even the tiniest voice of concern.
Of course, Arab Knesset members have made some noise about Lieberman joining the bandwagon. The three Arab parties in the Knesset have submitted no-confidence motions in protest of Lieberman’s invitation to join the government. Arab MK Ahmad Tibi called Lieberman “a dangerous politician; clever fascist and racist.”
While the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman to the government is technically an internal Israeli matter, there is no denying that anything that transpires in the corridors of Israeli power impacts the lives of the Palestinians. The government and parliament should not disregard this new and explosive development as merely internal Israeli politics. Yes, the Palestinian situation must always be a priority and nothing should get in the way of putting our own house in order. The internal situation has descended to catastrophic levels with vigilante groups resorting to kidnappings and killings with no respect for the rule of law. This is definitely the most pressing issue for us because such incidents should not be tolerated.
However, at the same time, it is very important that we assess the situations of those around us, particularly the events and developments involving our oppressor. This is the time when public relations and the media come in handy. The Palestinians should take advantage of today’s high technology world to disseminate as much information about the harmful and venomous views of Lieberman and how his presence in mainstream Israeli politics will adversely influence any possibilities of reaching a just settlement to the conflict.
While it is unrealistic to think that the Palestinians may be able to change the course of Israeli politics and somehow keep Lieberman out of the cabinet, it is definitely within their capacity to expose this man’s extremist stances towards the Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general to the world. In this regard, they are sure to make some difference.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2006 MIFTAH (www.miftah.org)