BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Enter, Stage Right

The Minister from Moldova
Who is he? Is he the twenty-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova? Is he the student of International Relations and Russian Studies? Perhaps he is the nightclub bouncer and manager. We know that he is no longer Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu’s campaign manager and chief of staff; he promoted himself. Is he savvy politician who has touched on the nerves of practically every segment of Israel’s population?

Avigdor Liberman is Israel’s new Foreign Minister and has already broken the mold in less than two weeks in office. He certainly lacks the craven need for attention that characterized Tzipi Livni’s term in office (and that of Likud party stalwart David Levy). He doesn’t have the patient, Old World smoothness of former Foreign Minister, now President, Shimon Peres. Mr. Liberman has been likened to a “breath of fresh air,” a “purgative,” and the proverbial “bull in the china shop.”

Human beings seem to have a need to label things, other human beings in particular. So, in all likelihood, he will continue to be all of these things until he successfully defines himself – or someone else does so for him.

Slogans

Mr. Liberman believes, rightfully so, that much of the public discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been conducted in the form of slogans. “Peace for Land” and “Two State Solution” are the two most often heard slogans. We cannot know what diplomats and world leaders say behind closed doors, press leaks not withstanding. However, in their public pronouncements these same diplomats and world leaders speak to the public in slogans. This has several ill effects.

First, it gives credence to these slogans. If everyone is saying them, then they must be true. This is the curse of conventional wisdom. It results in the general public outside of the Middle East remaining ignorant about the complexities of the issues involved.

Second, it reinforces the perception that these slogans actual constitute a well thought out policy. Crafting an approach to any problem, large or small, requires an understanding of the people involved, what has been attempted in the past, the setting in which the problem must be solved and the tools available for addressing it. Slogans do none of these things, and therefore are tantamount to political laziness.

Third, parroting slogans over and over leaves no room for discussing alternatives. While there are not many alternative solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it must be acknowledged that there are some. Many of these have been rejected out-of-hand by one side or the other. And just as often, the alternatives themselves are offered in terms of slogans. Anyone truly interested in seeing the conflict peaceably resolved should reject all slogans. Furthermore, much of the “negotiating” that takes place via television screens and press releases must also be rejected.

More Slogans?

So far, there has not been much in the way of new initiatives from the Netanyahu government. Whenever asked for specifics, all that the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister or their advisers will say is that they are conducting a policy review. As Martha Stewart would say, this is a good thing! Hopefully, what is being discussed behind closed doors is the entire panoply of alternative proposals and counter-proposals. The previous Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert, and even Ariel Sharon, were actually weak in terms of developing policy.

Two things have emerged, however. Mr. Liberman has been making a concerted effort of dismantling the expectations built upon previous diplomatic “accomplishments” such as the Wye River Accords and Annapolis (November 2007). His contention is that neither the cabinet nor the Knesset endorsed by vote the contents of these conferences. Hence, they do not have any standing as agreements or treaties. He has also been making a concerted effort at re-establishing the April 2003 “Road Map.”

Unfortunately, some of this has already started to take the form of slogans. We are likely to hear “Security, Development and Stability” or some form there of, being repeated more and more in the lead-up to the Prime Minister’s scheduled May 18th visit to the White House. The linkage between these three concepts is genuine. However, repeating them ad nauseum will only result in their becoming part of the pantheon of slogans that dominates all discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment