No change for Muslims as Barak the nice guy takes over from Netanyahu the nasty

Developing Just Leadership

Iqbal Siddiqui

Safar 16, 1420 1999-06-01

Occupied Arab World

by Iqbal Siddiqui (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 7, Safar, 1420)

There was undoubtedly a certain satisfaction in watching the Israelis tearing into each other for a change, instead of tearing into Palestinians, Muslims and just about anybody else they don’t like. The election campaign which ended in Benyamin Netanyahu being conclusive defeated by Ehud Barak was vicious to say the least, and highlighted all the fundamental flaws and divisions in Israeli society which are thinly papered over by the Zionists’ common hatred of Muslims and the US’s open-handed sponsorship of them, regardless of who is in office in either Washington or Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu was so totally dishonest, hypocritical and unreliable in all his dealings, inside and outside Israel, that virtually everybody with any interest in the outcome of the elections was praying for him to lose. This included most Israelis (as the result indicated), Washington and other western capitals, Yassir Arafat and the leadership of the PLO, and the governments of the Arab countries. Perhaps the Islamic movement was the only truly disinterested party; Shaikh Ahmad Yasin commented shortly before the polls took place that the results were an irrelevance as Israel would be an enemy whatever happened.

If anything, a Netanyahu victory might have been better. Anything that is so unwelcome among so many enemies of Islam must be good news one way or the other. In Netanyahu’s case, the up-side may have been that the ‘peace process’ by which Arafat and the PLO are selling Palestine for a handful of silver would probably have been more difficult; but, having said that, the result would have been that the Palestinians would have been forced to give up even more to satisfy him.

In any case, the election of Barak has been universally welcomed as ‘rescuing’ the peace process. Netanyahu had all but jammed it by refusing to keep any of his promises, even when the west bent the Palestinians backwards to extract as much as possible for him. Barak, from the western point of view, is likely to be easier to work with -- more likely to keep to Washington’s script. He is lauded as the natural successor to the ‘peacemaker’ Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by a Zionist zealot in 1995 for dealing with the Palestinians. This is probably a fair assessment: when Rabin pledged, in the 1980s, to ‘crush the bones’ of Palestinian children taking part in the intifadah, it was Barak as his military chief of staff (and the youngest general ever in Israeli military history) who fulfilled the pledge.

Like virtually all Israeli politicians, Barak’s military career as a senior officer is central to his political profile. But the images promoted, of him rescuing Israelis from hijacked aircraft and infiltrating Beirut disguised as a woman to assassinate PLO officials, are far more glamorous than than those of Israel’s failure to defeat unarmed Palestinian youth during the intifadah or their defeat to the Hizbullah in Lebanon.

Since his election, Barak worked hard to say the right things for the international media. He has promised, for example, to accelerate negotiations with the Palestinians; resume the ‘withdrawals’ from the West Bank that Netanyahu promised and then suspended; and start talks on the ‘toughest’ issues, such as borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

However, as is often the case in Israeli affairs, the truth of his position can be gleaned from what he says to Israelis in Hebrew rather than to the west in English. Here his tone is quite different. His object, he wrote in the Jerusalem Report shortly before the elections, was to achieve ‘physical separation’ between Israelis and Palestinians rather than co-existence. Later in the same article he wrote that ‘our neighbours will have to learn to bend to Israel’s needs.’ He has also promised Israelis that any agreement with the Palestinians would be presented for approval in a referendum before being finalised. This, almost Netanyahu-like, is likely to work as another ploy for wringing further concessions from the Palestinians once a deal is supposedly done.

More broadly, Barak has also promised Israelis that he will withdraw Israeli troops from south Lebanon within a year as part of a broader accord with Syria. This is clearly not going to be the ‘unconditional withdrawal’ demanded by the UN, which resolution Israel claimed to accept last year.

It is a cliché of interrogations and negotiations that the best teams consist of a nasty guy and a nice guy. The nasty guy roughs you up, then the nice guy persuades you to give up. As far as Palestinians are concerned, Barak’s taking over from Netanyahu can be seen as the nice guy taking over once the nasty guy has done the dirty work. The welcome Barak has received from Arab leaders - Arafat, Egypt’s president Mubarak, and Syria’s Hafez Al-Asad among them - indicates they are ready to cough up.

An incidental interest in watching the elections is seeing the exposure of the deep flaws and splits in Israeli society, between ‘secular’ Jews and religious, oriental and western, and rich and poor. In desperation, Netanyahu appealed to the religious Jews to help his electoral chances, a tactic which backfired on the contempt on the rabidly secular majority. In the state of the Jews, for the Jews, Judaism is looked down on and feared! Perhaps nothing better exposes Israel for what it really is: an artificial settler state, based on a lie, that would collapse but for the self-interested sponsorship of the US.

Muslimedia: June 1-15, 1999

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