The Great Gamble

By Uri Avnery – Israel

Iacta alea est – the die is cast – said Julius Caesar and crossed the River Rubicon on his way to conquer Rome. That was the end of Roman democracy. We Israelis don’t have a Julius Caesar. But we do have an Avigdor Lieberman. When he announced his support the other day for the setting up of a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, that was the crossing of his Rubicon.

I hope that this is not the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy.

Until the last moment, Lieberman held the Israeli public in suspense. Will he join Netanyahu? Will he join Tzipi Livni?

Those who participated in the guessing game were divided in their view of Lieberman.

Some of them said: Lieberman is indeed what he pretends to be: an extreme nationalist racist. His aim is really to turn Israel into a Jewish state cleansed of Arabs – Araberrein, in German. He has only contempt for democracy, both in the country and in his own party. Like similar parties in the past, it is based on a cult of (his) personality, the worship of brute force, contempt for democracy and disdain for the judicial system. In other countries this is called fascism.

Others say: that is all a façade. Lieberman is no Israeli Fuehrer, because he is nothing but a cheat and a cynic. Police investigations against him and his business dealings with Palestinians show him to be a corrupt opportunist. He is also a friend of Livni. He cultivates a fascist image in order to pave his way to power.

The first Lieberman would support the setting up of an extreme Right government by Netanyahu. The second Liberman could support a Livni government. For a whole week he juggled the balls. Now he has decided: he is indeed an extreme nationalist racist.

For appearances’ sake, he told the President that his proposal to entrust Netanyahu with the setting up of a government applies only to a broad-based coalition encompassing Likud, Kadima and his own party. But that is just a gimmick: probably such a government will not come into being, and the next government will be a coalition of Likud, Lieberman, the disciples of assassinated extremist Meir Kahane and the religious parties.

So we on the Left say: Excellent. The voters will get exactly what they deserve. At long last, there will be an exclusively rightist government.

One of the proponents of this attitude is Gideon Levy, a consistent advocate of peace, democracy and civil equality.

He and those who think like him say: Israel simply has to pass through this phase before it can recover. The Right must get unlimited power to realise its programme.

In this view, such a government cannot last for long. The new American administration of Barack Obama will not allow it. The world will boycott it. American Jewry will be shocked. And if Netanyahu strays – even slightly – from the Right and narrow path, his government will fall apart.

After the fall of the government, according to this prognosis, the public will understand that there is no rightist option. Only thus will they arrive at the conclusion that there is no alternative to the path of peace.

This is a seductive theory. But it is also very frightening. How can we be sure that the Obama administration will indeed put irresistible pressure on Netanyahu? That is possible. Let’s hope that it happens. But it is not certain at all.

Obama has not yet passed a real test on any issue. In several matters, he is continuing the policies of George W. Bush with slight alterations. That was, of course, to be expected. But when Netanyahu mobilises the full might of the pro-Israel lobby, will Obama surrender? The components of the Rightist coalition have already declared that they do not agree to a ceasefire in Gaza because it would consolidate the rule of Hamas there. Netanyahu’s talk about an "economic peace" is complete nonsense, because no economy can develop under an occupation regime and hundreds of roadblocks. Any peace process will grind to a halt. The result: the Palestinian National Authority will collapse. Out of desperation, the West Bank population will turn further towards Hamas, or the Fatah will become Hamas 2.

The positive side of this situation is that the Knesset (parliament) will once again include a large opposition. Perhaps even an effective opposition.

Kadima came into being as a government party. It will not be easy for it to adapt to the role of opposition. But if it manages to undergo such a transformation successfully – which is very doubtful – it may become an effective opposition. Labour, too, will have to undergo a profound transformation.

All these are theoretical possibilities. What will happen in reality? What will be the consequences of a "pure" rightist regime, if Livni maintains her determination not to join a Netanyahu government? Will Israel set off down a suicidal road from which there is no return, or will this be a passing phase before the wake-up call?

It is a great gamble, and like every gamble, it arouses both fear and hope.

– Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He contributed this article to

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