Does rise of Lieberman send a message to Obama and Mitchell?


There’s been much talk that the rise of Avigdor Lieberman will put a strain on U.S.-Israel relations and hurt Israel’s image. Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s director of public policy, plays contrarian in the Jerusalem Post, arguing that the rise of Lieberman is actually "good for the Jews" — at least for how it might affect U.S. policy in the Middle East. One reason: Lieberman’s succes makes it difficult to cast Bibi Netanyahu as an extremist.

First, if Bibi Netanyahu is the next prime minister of Israel — even in a "centrist" coalition with Kadima that excludes Lieberman’s party — he will benefit greatly from not being "the most right-wing" Israeli leader on the scene. (And if Tzipi Livni becomes prime minister, such a "rejection" of Liebermanism will be similarly beneficial to Israel’s profile.) Of course, Netanyahu’s critics — in Israel and abroad — will seek to cast his policies on the peace process, settlements and more as "dangerous" and "extreme." But this will ring hollow and be seen as typical political gamesmanship if Netanyahu’s government is indeed pursuing policies that are well within the mainstream of Israeli politics and has Lieberman out there speaking in more extreme terms.

In addition to this "tactical" gain for Israel in world opinon, Diament offers anoth reason that Lieberman’s strong showing could end up being a good thing:

To borrow from a classic movie: Israelis are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it any more. More soberly said, the surge of votes for the Center-Right parties and the collapse of Labor and the far Left can and should be portrayed as the electoral embodiment of a message to policymakers, in Israel and abroad, that the old formulae for addressing the Israeli-Arab conflict cannot be mindlessly pressed yet again. …

Many in Israel and in the American pro-Israel community are concerned that Mitchell will dust off his 2001 report and its recommendations for Israelis (an immediate settlement freeze) and Palestinians (eradication of terror cells) and use it as his blueprint. This is certainly what Clinton administration alumni like Kurtzer and Aaron Miller, as well as the activists at J Street and Americans for Peace Now, advocate.

In this context, the vote for Lieberman is a useful, strong and clear message to these government officials (as well as those in Europe and elsewhere) that they cannot pick up where they left off in late 2000. New realities, on the ground and in Israeli — not to mention Palestinian — politics, require new strategies and tactics, not recycling old ones.

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