F.E. Felson writes:
For the past year, I've dreaded the inevitable election of a Netanyahu-led government, which, despite Kadima's tiny plurality, it looks like we're going to get. But the more I think about it, Bibi returning as P.M. might be the best thing that could happen for the Palestinian cause.
We've been conditioned to hope for a Livni victory, because she's the less unreasonable candidate – the one actually willing to profess support for a two-state solution, negotiations with Fatah, and the removal of (some) of the West Bank settlers. She's highly imperfect, the thinking goes, but she's our best chance.
But let's suppose Livni somehow forms a government now; or better yet, let's suppose she had actually won a clear victory yesterday: Would it actually mean real, meaningful progress for real peace between Israel and Palestine? Of course not.
Sure, she'd be welcomed in Washington by Barack and Hillary, where undoubtedly she'd mouth all the right words about the need to create a viable Palestinian state living in peaceful coexistence with Israel. And she'd pose for the obligatory hand-shake photo-op with Abbas. Obama would cheer, the American press would hail the new push for peace, and Congress would happily fork over its annual blank check to Jerusalem.
But we've been down this road before, haven't we? There'll be no negotiations with Hamas ("a terrorist group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel!"), onerous and impossible demands on Abbas ("Before we start serious talks, you must single-handedly stop all Palestinian violence, even as we refuse to give you the economic or political resources to actually do your job"), and no budging on Jerusalem or the right of return. The process will stall, Hamas will launch a rocket, Israel will kill a dozen civilians, and Livni will throw up her hands and tell the West: "I did all I could. These people just don't want peace." And, of course, while all this is happening, more and more Palestinian land in the West Bank will be appropriated by Israel for settlements.
To Congress and to the American media (and, by extension, the general public), it will seem like the same old story – those irrational Palestinians, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Nothing will change. Congress will keep voting 420-5 to condemn the Palestinians, Obama will stick to the script about how we'd do the same thing if militants from Quebec were showering Plattsburgh with rockets, and most average Americans won't even look up. This is roughly how the post-Oslo period has gone.
But Netanyahu, especially if he teams up with Lieberman, could be a wild card. As worthless as it might be, Livni would at least be smart enough to put some kind of peace plan on the table, giving American politicians cover to talk about how hard she's trying. But Bibi will skip the pretense. Settlements will be accelerated, with his blessing. Overtures from Obama and George Mitchell will arrogantly ignored. What happens when the Arab population finally passes the Israeli population? Will the news start to look different to Americans – finally – if Arabs peacefully take to the streets within Israel while, say, Defense Minister Lieberman hurls racial epithets at them? What if Iran elects Khatami in June and he seeks with Obama the same grand bargain he pursued in vain with W in 2003? And what if Obama bites, only for Netanyahu to blow it all up? How would Americans react?
Glenn Greenwald actually ran this scenario by Mustafa Barghouti earlier this week. Might a Netanyahu victory, he asked, "actually highlight what Israeli policy is to the world, and make world opinion more opposed?" Barghouti's reply:
But at the same time, accepting the election of Netanyahu, and again accepting this move towards a person like Lieberman, is going to mean that Israel probably will have even larger license to kill Palestinians. During the war on Gaza, Israel conducted several very serious offenses against international law. They launched a war, they created this war, they started it, it wasn't Hamas that started it. They deliberately targeted civilians and killed 1,350 people, most of whom were civilians. They conducted and they still conduct collective punishment. They used illegal weapons like white phosphorus, DIME weapons and the "flechettes." And they prevented even care for the injured people and attacked medical facilities, including thirteen of doctors and nurses who were killed in the attack.
And, not only did they use disproportionate force, but Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel, comes out declaring - declaring, with full courage - that he is going to continue to use disproportionate force. And not only that he's violating the international law, he's declaring that's he's violating international law. And many world community leaders remain silent. This feeling of impunity is responsible for what is happening.
A fair point. Even if Netanyahu's election ultimately changed American minds, the human cost for Palestinians would be grave – worse than what they just experienced in Gaza. Who am I to wish that upon them? Maybe I'm just searching for some excuse for optimism here. But can you blame me? The reality of yesterday's results is too depressing.