By Mel Frykberg | Inter Press Service
RAMALLAH, Feb 12 (IPS) – “The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions,” said Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel’s extreme right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which will dictate the formation and political course of the next Israeli government.
“These include the assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.”
Lieberman’s politics and ideology fly in the face of international law, various UN Security Council resolutions, the basis of all Israeli peace agreements with the Palestinians, moderate Israelis, and the U.S. government.
Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu emerged from Tuesday’s Israeli elections the big winner even though it came in third behind the centre-left Kadima party led by Tzipi Livni, which netted 28 seats, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud party which won 27.
The tiny gap between Israel’s two main parties could narrow completely as there are over a 100,000 absentee votes yet to be counted. Many of these include the votes of Israeli soldiers in the field who traditionally vote for the right, and would presumably support Netanyahu.
Likud and Kadima were always expected to be the main contenders for the next Israeli government as the Labour party led by defence minister Ehud Barak continued to weaken and limped in, in fourth position.
Yisrael Beiteinu’s meteoric rise to power and increasing popularity reflect the growing mood of militancy in Israel as the voters veer increasingly to the right, especially in the wake of Israel’s recent bloody assault on Gaza.
Although Lieberman garnered 15 seats, fewer than the 20 predicted by political analysts on the eve of the elections, his strong showing will enable him to strongly influence who leads the next government.
During the next few weeks Kadima and Likud will be scrambling to try and win support for a coalition government to secure the necessary 61-seat majority in Israel’s 120-member Knesset, or parliament.
Israeli President Shimon Peres will then decide which party is more likely to form a coalition and elect that party’s leader as the next prime minister who will then have to form a coalition.
Both Livni and Netanyahu are currently courting Lieberman furiously and although he has said he is open to both parties, he also stated that he preferred a strong national far-right government, in other words Netanyahu’s Likud.
In the unlikely event that Yisrael Beiteinu agrees to form a coalition government with Kadima, Livni would still need to shore up either Labour’s support, or the ultra-orthodox Shaz party, as well as some of the smaller parties.
The ideological and political differences between Kadima and Labour are not insurmountable but more an issue of personality clashes between the respective leaders.
It is uncertain what Labour will do, and it appears that Netanyahu will emerge as the next prime minister. This doesn’t portend well for the future of the peace process. Netanyahu has stated that he will crush Hamas should he lead Israel again.
This is despite the plethora of evidence and growing international, regional and even domestic opinion that there is no military solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and that Hamas can no longer be ignored and sidelined from any political equation.
Netanyahu is also on record as saying that he would continue to support the expansion and establishment of new illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
This is a major bone of contention with the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel’s peace partner which controls the West Bank.
Lieberman, who lives in a settlement in the West Bank himself, is even more extremist than Netanyahu, and will provide even further political succour for a far-right government.
Besides being an extremist, Lieberman, who is currently being investigated by the Israeli police for fraud, has also been accused of racism. While foreign and Israeli reporters were permitted to cover his election campaign, Arab reporters were banned by Yisrael Beiteinu.
Moldovan-born Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer and immigrant to Israel, also wants the transfer of the Arab populations in several Israeli-Arab towns in northern Israel to a future Palestinian state unless they “prove their loyalty.”
He has promised to bring in a new bill requiring all Israeli-Arabs to swear loyalty to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship.
He regards the anti-Gaza war sentiment of Israel’s Arab citizens, who saw thousands of their Palestinian brethren killed and maimed, as an act of disloyalty.
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab-Israeli Knesset member accused Lieberman of being a racist immigrant who was fighting against Israel’s indigenous population, the Israeli-Arabs or those Palestinians with Israeli passports.
Former leftist Israeli politician Yossi Sarid asked, “What’s the difference between his party and all the fascist parties in Europe? It’s the same message, the same technique, taking advantage of the same fears.”
The Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, said it was willing to negotiate with any new Israeli government if it was committed to peace.
PA officials did state off the record, however, that they hoped Livni would ultimately triumph after the final count of outstanding votes.
The problem, however, is that the Yisrael Beiteinu leader is not thrilled with the idea of a two-state resolution to the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Israel needs to explain that the demand for a Palestinian state and the refugees’ right of return is a cover for radical Islam’s attempt to destroy the State of Israel,” said Lieberman.
Any hope of a compromise with the leadership of Hamas in the wake of the Gaza military operation appears even more remote as Lieberman has ruled out any ceasefire with the Islamic resistance organisation, and advocated its destruction instead.
Meanwhile, on the Palestinian street the indifference to any new Israeli government was evident. Palestinians have seen the settlements grow and the continued expropriation of their land and other resources under all Israeli governments from the supposedly leftist Labour to the rightist Likud. (END/2009)