Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Now, the Israeli electorate must have its say | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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If the Israeli people choose Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election, then we will see another four years of security mismanagement in Israel, as well as further postponement of the settlement negotiation. In either case, the Israeli citizens will be the biggest losers.

The radical Netanyahu is today gambling with the attacks on Gaza in order to win the elections, however he was previously defeated by Ehud Barak in the 1999 elections. Besides this, he failed to win the requisite majority in the 2009 elections against his opponent Tzipi Livni, whose party may have won the most number of votes, but this was insufficient to allow her to form a government. In the end, President Shimon Peres charged Netanyahu with forming a coalition government. This, however, means that Netanyahu is prime minister by appointment rather than election, and so he will fight desperately in order to avoid encountering a third defeat, particularly as he is not facing stiff opposition this time around.

The Arabs are unlucky that Netanyahu’s assumption of the post of prime minister coincided with Obama’s US election victory, for he was keen to remedy the harm that befell Arab-American relations caused by his predecessor George W. Bush. In fact, Obama brought Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu together at the White House to urge them to start negotiations, although ultimately nobody was happy about this meeting’s outcome. The Palestinians had stated that all settlement construction and the issuance of construction permits must stop as a precondition to any negotiations, whilst the Israelis mocked this point by saying that every day that passes without negotiation allows them to build even more settlements. Eventually, neither negotiations nor the cessation of settlement construction was achieved. With the emergence of the Arab Spring, the cards were shuffled and the Palestinian issue was put on the back-burner.

The Hamas movement, which is in charge of the Gaza Strip, is not innocent regarding the attacks that Gaza is suffering today because it is well aware that its modest combat operations are a pretext that gives legitimacy to Israel’s savage retribution. In addition to this, the ousted Hamas government has attracted a lot of criticism for acting along the lines of Hezbollah in 2006 when it installed missile launch pads against Israel in the midst of residential areas, including mosques and schools. This means that Palestinian civilians have become legitimate targets of the enemy’s fire. Hamas, with all the weapons it has received, should have built shelters for the civilians who were not consulted regard the initiation of this war.

It is important to view what Hamas is doing with a sense of realism, specifically in terms of the significant change in the group’s circumstances. This is to say that the collapse of Hamas’s relations with the Syrian regime was a sudden blow to it, namely its leadership abroad, which had been using Damascus as an administrative headquarters and believed that they had the upper hand against the Gazan leadership. It was the leadership abroad that was responsible for financing the movement and protecting it politically. Hamas did not choose to separate itself from the al-Assad regime in order to then remain uncovered; this is very improbable, particularly as it took its stance in support of the Syrian uprising approximately one year after this revolution first erupted. This is despite the fact that the al-Assad killing machine did not stop for a single night during this period and its arm even reached the Palestinian camps. It is clear that Hamas took its stance towards the Syrian revolution only after it became reassured regarding the strength and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Hamas is exercising extreme pragmatism to maintain its political gains, for it has been harmed by Israel’s targeting of its leadership and claims that it has fallen victim to Israeli electoral calculations. This may be true but it is also true that Hamas has electoral calculations of its own, particularly as half of the Egyptian street is furious with the group after being convinced that Hamas must bear part of the responsibility for the security unrest in the Sinai Peninsula, and that it must have a hand, whether directly or indirectly, in what is happening there. The victim role being played by Hamas has helped it earn the sympathy of the nationalists and leftists in Egypt, in addition to the Islamists, and has saved the Egyptian leadership from embarrassment. This has resulted in diplomacy and compassionate language thriving.

However, the worst thing about managing the Gaza crisis is that Egypt – the spearhead – is not confident in what it is doing. It is managing the crisis in an intensely emotional manner, listening to demands urging it to activate its Brotherhood view, regain the stolen Arab rights and win back the Arab dignity destroyed by the Camp David Peace Accords. Such demands are impossible for Egypt to achieve at present, thus the Egyptian leadership’s response involved a clear and sincere message to everyone. This was made clear in the visit paid by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, together with the Egyptian Minister of Health – rather than the Defense Minister, for example – to the Gaza Strip for a period of no more than three hours to oversee the transfer of wounded to Egyptian hospitals.

The Freedom and Justice Party was mistaken to state that they reject Egypt’s previous role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and were wrong to emphasize that they are no longer a mediator but on the Palestinian people’s side. In fact, mediation is not something negative, nor is it an abandonment of one’s Arab duties. Rather, this is the most important duty Egypt can do for the Palestinian Cause, for it is the only Arab state that has the historical, geographic and political attributes required to play such a significant role. As for political bias, these carry with it huge expectations that Egypt will not be able to meet, and the Brotherhood leadership will have nothing to offer in this regard but more promises and promotional speeches in return for modest work.

The Israeli voters are keeping their eyes on all these variables: the confused Egypt, crises-stricken Jordan and the tense situation in the Golan Heights. This is not to mention their lack of satisfaction about the domestic economic situation, unemployment rates, and the Israeli prime minister’s inclination to exaggerate the dangers of the economically weak Iran and its armed adherents purely for political reasons. Thus, the security issue remains the trump card in the race for power.

In view of all these challenges, it does not matter if Ahmed al-Jabari is to Netanyahu what Bin Laden was for Obama. This is because Obama won his election battle only after the US troops withdrew from Iraq, unemployment rate decreased, social justice and women’s rights were consolidated and health services improved. These are the issues that the Israeli electorate must be concerned with when taking shelter from Hamas’s aimless and stray rockets.