Livni’s Obama strategy

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With Senator Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential race, the stakes have been raised for Israel's February 10 general elections.

Whatever the Obama administration's position on Israel may be, it will not be more supportive of the country than the Bush administration has been. And over the past year, the supportive Bush administration has decided not to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and not to support an Israeli effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

If Israel's next prime minister intends to prevent Teheran from acquiring the means to implement its stated aim of destroying Israel, he or she must be prepared to stand up to America. Indeed, the greatest diplomatic challenge he or she will likely face will be standing up to a popular new President Obama, supported by large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and the overwhelming majority of American Jewish voters.

Over the past few days, the two contenders for the premiership – Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu – have demonstrated their starkly contrasting views of how to deal with a potentially hostile administration in Washington.

Reacting to Obama's electoral victory on Wednesday, Livni made clear that from her perspective, the best way to deal with an unfriendly White House is to preemptively surrender Israel's national interests.

In her words, Israel's election results "must reflect the country's interest in advancing the peace process, otherwise the international community, headed by the US, will try and push us in this direction."

For their part, Netanyahu and Likud have shown that if defending Israel's national interests requires a confrontation with Washington, they will not shy away from it. Last week, Netanyahu surrogate MK Yuval Steinitz informed both US presidential campaigns that in the event that outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledges to surrender the Golan Heights to Syria, a Likud-led government will not respect his commitment.

Livni understands that she cannot win the election by preaching preemptive surrender, and so she and her colleagues are ardently seeking to change the subject. They recognize that for Livni to win, she must persuade the public that she is not the hard-core leftist she has governed as for the past five years, but a centrist. To accomplish this goal, she is seeking to distinguish herself from Labor and Meretz while still maintaining her leftist support base. And she is trying to convince voters that Likud is not a credible alternative.

Distinguishing herself from Labor and Meretz while keeping faith with the Left has been tricky for Livni, because it requires her to constantly contradict herself. She must make clear that she supports an Israeli retreat to the 1949 armistice lines and abdicates responsibility for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons to the US and Europe, while appearing to reject the 1949 armistice lines and accepting that given the stakes, Israel is ultimately responsible for preventing Iran from going nuclear.

Unable to renounce policies she herself has advanced and indeed invented, Livni has opted simply to refuse to disclose her positions to the public. She refuses to tell us what she has offered the Palestinians in her negotiations with Ahmed Qurei, or how she intends to deal with Syria and Iran, claiming unconvincingly that telling us what she stands for would damage Israel's national interests.

Much to Livni's dismay, the public is already certain that she is a leftist. Consequently, her greatest challenge is convincing centrists who lean right that they cannot support Likud. To persuade them that Likud is unworthy, she seeks to define Likud as a party of extremists, hell-bent on destroying Israel's reputation in Europe and the US and on killing all hope of peace.

TO DEMONIZE Likud, Livni and her colleagues operate on two tracks simultaneously.

First and most importantly, they have instigated violent confrontations with the hardcore fringe of the ideological Right. These confrontations serve to convince the public that the far-right fringe constitutes a threat to the state.

Second, they seek to create a public perception of Likud as the sponsor of the hardcore fringe. By accomplishing this they hope to persuade the public that Likud itself is a threat to the country.

On October 25 the government ordered the police and the IDF to carry out a surprise, middle-of-the-night expulsion of well-known right-wing hard-liner Noam Federman and his family from their home in Kiryat Arba, and to demolish their home. According to eyewitness accounts, the police used excessive violence against the surprised couple and their nine children.

As could have been anticipated, the Federmans and their hot-headed, radical friends were enraged by the unprovoked onslaught. And as expected, Federman's supporters reacted by making offensive statements about the police and the IDF.

The government pounced on these statements in a bid to castigate the far right, (of which Federman and his supporters comprise a small faction), as the greatest threat facing the country. Cabinet ministers were warned that these hard-line activists may try to assassinate them, attack IDF soldiers, or commit terror attacks against Arabs. Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced he will enact draconian measures against the far right in a bid to strip its activists of their civil rights and demoralize their followers. (In the meantime, the torching of a yeshiva in Acre and a synagogue in Ramle by Israeli Arabs went unnoted by the cabinet.)

Presenting Federman and his colleagues as a strategic threat to the country will not suffice to bring victory to Livni. She must also link Likud and its leader to these far-right "enemies of the people."

To this end, Livni and her colleagues accuse Likud of rejecting "peace." Likud's extremism, Livni argues, is demonstrated by the fact that "extremists" such as former science minister Bennie Begin and former construction and housing minister Effi Eitam are joining its ranks.

Livni's strategy of projecting herself as a moderate by criminalizing the Right and claiming that there is no distinction between Likud and far-right activists is a reenactment of Olmert's strategy for winning the 2006 general elections.

In February 2006 Olmert sought to define the Right in general and Likud specifically as a coalition of extremists by provoking violence between security forces and the far-right when he ordered the destruction of a number of homes in Amona. Hundreds of policemen and border guards were deployed to Amona where they essentially carried out a pogrom against hundreds of children and teenagers who were there to defend the homes from destruction.

Initially, the events at Amona were misrepresented to the public as an example of right-wing fanaticism and violence against security personnel. Due to the media's open collusion with Olmert, it was only after the elections that the public learned the full extent of the police's premeditated brutality. In the meantime, Olmert invented a convenient right-wing bogeyman with which to scare the public and demonize Likud.

Olmert's Amona strategy, which Livni seeks to implement today, advances the political fortunes of the Left in two ways.

First, it directly promotes the fiction that Israel's chief enemy is the Right and so induces the public to feel uncomfortable supporting Likud.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Amona strategy deflects public attention from Israel's real enemies – Iran and its Palestinian, Lebanese and Syria proxies – against which Kadima has taken no effective action. In 2006, the government's pogrom at Amona removed Hamas's electoral victory in the January 2006 Palestinian Authority elections from the top of the news. Hamas's electoral triumph had laid bare the folly of Israel's withdra
wal from Gaza the previous summer and demonstrated that Kadima's entire electoral platform, based on repeating that withdrawal in Judea and Samaria, was a recipe for disaster and war.

Today, with banner headlines decrying the right-wing menace filling the front pages of the papers, news of Hamas's transformation of Gaza into a new Hizbullah-stan, replete with bunkers built with concrete supplied by Israel, is relegated to the back pages.

IN 2006, Likud was in no position to counter the Amona strategy. It had just sustained a near-mortal blow when Ariel Sharon bolted the party to form Kadima. But now the tables have turned. Today it is Kadima that is in shambles. Sharon has been forgotten. Olmert resigned in disgrace. Livni failed to form a government.

Today, Likud can discredit Livni's self-characterizations as a moderate by pointing to her far-left record as foreign minister. Netanyahu can reject her characterization of Likud as a far-right party by showcasing leftists like Uzi Dayan, Dan Meridor and Assaf Hefetz who are flocking to the party together with rightists like Bennie Begin and Effi Eitam. Likud, he can say credibly, is not a fringe party – but a big-tent center-right governing party that welcomes all patriotic Israelis.

If Livni's Amona strategy fails her, she will be forced to discuss her plans to preemptively surrender to the US, the Palestinians, Syria and Iran. And for Livni, a debate about her actual plans and current policies is a recipe for defeat.

In certain respects, Livni's embrace of Olmert's Amona strategy toward the Right and her attempt to hide her far-left policies while presenting herself as a new sort of clean politician and engine of political renewal, echoes the strategy that Obama employed with such success in his bid for the White House. Like Obama, Livni wishes to convince the public to support her by not telling us who she is and what she intends to do, sufficing instead with her claim to be different from the other guys.

It is far from clear that Livni will be able to pull off an Obama-like victory. She lacks his charisma. Unlike Obama, she has a public record of far-left governance and policy failure going into the election. And unlike Sen. John McCain, Israelis trust Netanyahu more than they trust Livni to protect the country's economy.

Moreover, Obama benefited from the public support that the Democratic Party enjoyed after eight years of Republican control of the White House. In contrast, between its failed leadership in the war with Hizbullah and the corruption probes and criminal convictions of its leaders, Livni's Kadima is the discredited incumbent party. But still, all is not lost for Livni.

Like Obama, she enjoys the full support of the media in her bid for power. In the past, media collusion has repeatedly sufficed to bring leftists posing as centrists to power.

With all that is at stake in February's elections, it must be hoped that Livni's Obama strategy will fail her. Facing Iran on the one hand and a potentially hostile Obama administration on the other, Israel requires a leader like Netanyahu who understands that if preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons means butting heads with Obama, so be it.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.

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13 Comments

  • marcel cousineau 11/07/2008 at 17:38

    The U.S. has said for many years that Jews building homes on their land is an obstacle to peace but never the Islamic terrorist Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah killing Jews and fireing missiles indiscrimanently into Israel cities.
    The U.S. always finds a way to reward these murderers and portray them as victims of Israel homebuilders.
    The focus on making settlers the enemy is part and parcel of the U.S. policy to steal Jewsih land and reward it to the Islamic hordes without a fight.
    And yet every Israeli political party including Likud has been stuck on stupid for so long they still continue this insanity as they continue to bend their knees to the will of the fasle god they have chosen to religiously serve.
    The pressure for Israel to vacate Jewish land for the U.S. no peace agenda continues up to this day with Secretary Rice making sure Livni and Netanyahu understand who they serve above Israel’s interests.
    Livni is perferable to the U.S. and the arabs as she is easily led with a tight leash.
    Watch for U.S. interference in Israel’;s sovereignty to make Livni the next dog on a short leash for the Empire.
    Sadly Netanyahu proved he was a loyal lap dog and continues to do so today in his meeting with Secretary Rice.
    The truth is there seems to be no one in Israel with a spine who will not fold under U.S. threats and intimidation.
    Even the once great General Sharon capitulated under U.S. pressure and surrendered to the Islamic terrorists for President Bush’s mad nightmare for Israel.
    Israel has no leaders only weak Jews who have more faith in the delusions of Washingtons fraudelent peace scam than they have in the Holy One of Israel.Livni and Netanyahu are both equal in thant they understand their position of vassal serfs under the thumb of the Emperor’s of Washington and they always have done what they are told to do.
    Both are proven loyal lap dogs,one a bitch in heat for power and one a neutered Benji.

    Reply
  • davis,br 11/07/2008 at 18:08

    The next four years are not going to be fun; it will depend upon entirely naive people opening their eyes, whilst their eyes are being welded shut by a media which – in the main – no longer even pretends to fact-based journalistic integrity. Pravda, writ large.
    How secure is your position in the media, Caroline?
    Not good, these next four years.
    …we are living in interesting times.

    Reply
  • marcel cousineau 11/07/2008 at 18:38

    ‘With Abbas at her side, Rice cautioned Israel about continued building activity in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, calling it damaging to peace prospects.’
    What she really meant was ‘it’s damaging to the destroy Israel process.’

    Reply
  • exdissident 11/07/2008 at 18:55

    I am not convinced of the wide Jewish support that Obama enjoys. I accept the voting figures, but unless my friends and neighbors are lying to me during casual conversations, his support among the Russian-born Jews is minimal. The biased media is a major factor and it will be very difficult to overcome it. This was the case in USA. It is also possible that the large Russian population failed to demonstrate a significant ability to vote. Obama had an incredible and still unbelievable ground campaign. There were areas with 100% registration and voting rates. I don’t understand how 100 percent is achievable without cheating, but that is what occured in the USA. The republican side also voted but not this effectively. I do not believe that the USA has become a socialist, far-left country, and still believe that the majority of American voices were silenced by the media and not heard at the ballot. This is something that we need to work on here. You have an enormous task in Israel. As a reminder to those who believe that doing nothing will not affect their lives much, please see the fast pace of events unfolding in the USA. A government web site is already set up to solicit campaign contributions to Obama, it is called change.gov. There was a ban issued on accurate language use in the Arizona courtroom, to be more sensitive to illegal aliens. Obama has sent emisaries to Gaza, Syria, and likely Iran. He wants to assure these countries that their interests will play a larger role in American foreign policy. What are their interests? A-crazy-jad spelled them out in his congradulatory letter to Obama: push the Jews down. This is just 2 days after the election. Unless we show some back bone, these thugs will move for a seconf holocaust.

    Reply
  • Marc Handelsman, USA 11/07/2008 at 19:52

    Israel’s relationship with the Obama Administration may be similar to that of PM Shamir’s premiership. Under the Bush I Administration, Israel’s Likud government had frosty relations with America. With President Obama, the special US-Israel relationship could deteriorate. Hopefully, FM Livni would lose against Likud because of her weak coalition-building skills. The best scenario for Israel would be for Likud to retake the premiership, and not compromise on security with the Obama Administration. To his credit, President Bush II was friendlier towards Israel than some of his predecessors.

    Reply
  • marcel cousineau 11/08/2008 at 17:13

    ‘To his credit, President Bush II was friendlier towards Israel than some of his predecessors.’
    After reading this delusional fable from a supposed supporter of Israel it has become even clearer to me why Israel is in the condition it is now in.

    Reply
  • Fran Meaney 11/09/2008 at 2:10

    Obama will sell out Israel for “peace” with Iran, so it’s imperative that Netanyahu get elected. He has a shaky emotional connection with the U.S.( he thinks we’re bad); imagine what he thinks about Israel now that he’s won with 78% of the American Jewish vote.

    Reply
  • Jay Di Napoli 11/09/2008 at 9:34

    According to NY Times best selling author Joel Rosenberg, Israel is now facing the most hostile U.S. presidential administration ever. Israel’s will to live will be tested in ways that will not be pretty. Many of Obama’s foreign policy team and Middle East advisors see Israel as the obstacle to “peace.” What’s more numerous anti-Israel members of the U.S. Congress are looking forward to President-Elect Obama cutting off U.S. aid to Israel, much as French President Charles de Gaulle did back in the 1960s.
    What’s scary to me is that Russian-Islamic coalition outlined in Ezekiel 38 and 39 also happen to be staunch supporters of Presiden-Elect Obama. As a former member of the U.S. armed forces and veteran of the Iraq War, I look to the Obama administration to initiate deep cuts in U.S. foreign military and economic aid to Israel. Sadly, It is time for the IDF to become self-sufficient and self sustaining, in terms of its military.
    Obama is also pushing hard for the division of Jerusalem and the creation of an independent Palestinian state just as President George W. Bush has. I pray that Jerusalem will become the unmovable stone that will cut to pieces Barack Obama, Rashid Khalidi, and anyone else who tries to move it.
    In the meantime, President-elect Obama will have many challenges to solve when he takes office on January 20th. But Russia and Iran may be the most serious and the most difficult.

    Reply
  • michael moore 11/09/2008 at 19:34

    thank you for considering me to respond to caroline’s articles.

    Reply
  • michael moore 11/09/2008 at 19:34

    thank you for considering me to respond to caroline’s articles.

    Reply
  • Ron Grandinetti,USA 11/10/2008 at 2:06

    Israel now is the RIGHT time to move to the RIGHT.
    You must be strong and united. Don’t allow destruction of Israel come from within. Just what the so called good neighbors want to see happen.
    Cease all negotiations. When the Syrians rid themselves of their president and his cronies and outlaw Hizbullah and Palestinians do likewise, also outlawing Hamas, then and only then seek peace with civil governments.
    At present it’s a waste of time and Israel is on the short end of any appeasement. Don’t allow other nations to dictate terms.
    Don’t give up the Golan Heights.
    I am not sure what to expect from our new president. However, I believe the majority of all Americans support you.

    Reply
  • marcel cousineau 11/10/2008 at 14:36

    Check out this video.This is what Israel’s capitulation and appeasment for the fake U.S.,Quartet peace has brought.
    Israel’s weakness and surrender has not brought peace but the opposite.Your enemies are encouraged by beggardly,groveling ,weak Jewish leaders who only see themselves as grasshoppers.
    Grow some teeth and show some teeth and stop trying to please the unpleasable nations with your surrender tricks.
    IT IS HAVING THE OPPOSITE EFFECT OF WHAT YOU INTENDED.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDVaJXmCIjk&eurl=http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/191066.php

    Reply
  • Timothy Kriete For Israel Forever More AMEN 11/12/2008 at 2:41

    AMEN MARCEL, STAY STRONG BROTHER

    Reply

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