Monday, March 23, 2009

Lieberman's Status Quo

Reasonable people, from President Shimon Peres to historian of European fascism Zeev Sternhell, have argued fervently that Kadima's Livni and Labor's Barak should join Netanyahu's coalition--that not doing so, in effect, means that Avigdor Lieberman will get the Israel he wants; that the economy and Iran require national solidarity. Barak is trying.

Actually, there is almost nothing the Israeli government can do about the recession. What can the mayors of Silicon Valley do? The government can tweak some budgets and, if it is sane, try to save the educational system (about which more soon). Kadima and Labor can support such tweaking from Knesset committees and the opposition. Regarding Iran, moreover, there is nothing unilateral Israel will be allowed to do, as America tries to engage more creatively with the Islamic Republic. We will hear a lot about centrifuges and 1938. We may have some columnists who think they are Winston Churchill. But the sun sets on our empire pretty much at the same moment that it sets on us.

THE BASIC QUESTION is Lieberman. And the basic answer, which supporters of joining the coalition seem to miss, is that for Lieberman to get what he wants (settlements and Greater Israel, exclusive sovereignty in Jerusalem, the relegation of Israeli Arabs to second class citizenship, the subordination of the judiciary to the imperatives of Jewish "security") all that he needs to have happen is, well, nothing. The status quo serves him perfectly, whether he is in government or not. In fact, his demagogy is so much a product of the status quo ("let's do what we are doing, only harder") that it should bear his name.

And so, therefore, it should bear his face. Read Akiva Eldar's trenchant column on this point. 

To deny Lieberman his victory, the country has to make significant changes: reorient itself away from the occupation, coordinate strategically with the Obama administration--not try to finesse it. If Livni joins, Eldar shows, she only continues to give his status quo a confusing legitimacy. Let Lieberman try being foreign minister in world that shuns him for saying what so many here just take for granted. Let his supporters see the world shunning him.

Lieberman will desperately try to change perceptions. He will speak, plausibly, of Israel in the European Union. The speed with which he will try to transform himself from Zhirinovsky to De Gaulle will leave some reporters spinning. Do not be fooled: we keep going as we are and he wins.