02 February, 2009

Livni-Barak Fail

The latest Israeli opinion polls suggest that Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud party are still on course to win the forthcoming elections in Israel. Ehud Barak (of Labour) and Tzipi Livni (of Kadima) seem to have reaped no obvious benefit from their Gaza war, despite the overwhelming support of the Israeli public for the strip's bombardment. This is not particularly surprising, as the results of the war have not been that great for the Israeli people. Not merely did the death and destruction meted out make Israel's elected leaders look like murderous psychopaths, but rockets are now still being fired from Gaza into Israel. Even in Israel's own terms, the Gaza war failed*.

There is a certain irony to Netanyahu coming into office like this (if he does indeed manage to win the election). In 1996, when he found himself elected to the Israeli premiership it was after another failed attempt by his incumbent opponents to bolster their popularity through extreme violence. In that case, it was Shimon Peres' "Grapes of Wrath" campaign of indiscriminate shelling against southern Lebanon that served as the prelude to Netanyahu's victory.

A Netanyahu premiership will prove interesting. He a right-winger and is likely to pursue an uncompromisingly hard line against all Palestinians (and, possibly, also against Syria and anyone else he takes exception to). That does not make him an unusual figure in Israeli politics. What makes him a bit more unusual is his forthright manner and his unwillingness to even verbally play ball with whatever waffle the Americans are currently pushing in the Middle East. Last time round, the Clinton administration was very glad to see the back of him. It will be fascinating to see how Netanyahu gets on with a new American president who seems interested in building bridges with the Arab World.

*not that Hamas can really claim much of a victory either – while they have managed to keep rockets firing out of the strip, it has happened at such a terrible human cost to their people that you would really have to wonder whether the time has come for them to change tactics

More: Israeli governing parties face poll battering amid Gaza scepticism (Guardian)

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