So finally, after weeks of seamy backroom maneuvering, Benjamin Netanyahu has formed the new Israeli government, so bloated with ministries doled out as party favors that it was beginning to look as if Bibi would name a Minister of Public Toilets, or perhaps Deputy Premier for Parking Violations, just to placate dissatisfied rivals from his restless Likud stable.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni made the mistake of assuming that Labor, in particular leader Ehud Barak, still retained some smidgen of principle and would thus stand by its avowal not to take part in a government liberally stocked with rejectionist bigots like Avigdor Lieberman. She should’ve known better. There may be a few decent souls left in the party, but common references to it, especially in the US media, as "center left" are laughable and have been for some time, as Daphna Baram pointed out recently in the Guardian.
Barak himself has always been a rejectionist warrior. As chief of staff of the army in the early 1990s, he opposed the Oslo Accords. As prime minister in 1999-2000, he approved a massive increase in settlement construction and then destroyed what remained of the Oslo process by making outrageous demands of the Palestinians at Camp David. Then, in response to overwhelmingly unarmed rioting after Ariel Sharon’s provocative peacock-strut on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, Barak ordered a murderous fusillade of live ammunition to suppress demonstrations all over the territories.
Not only has Barak consistently opposed serious negotiations with the Palestinians, he’s not even a good military strategist, despite being Israel’s most highly decorated soldier. As defense minister in Ehud Olmert’s now deceased government, Barak just oversaw the disastrous Gaza massacre, now condemned round the world as involving multiple war crimes (see the devastating February 11 report, A/HRC/10/20, by Nation editorial board member and UN Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk). All that, and the campaign didn’t even seriously damage Hamas’s rocket capability.
So what kind of government is Bibi leading? Observers should keep an unpleasant fact in mind as they wade through the media verbiage: Netanyahu and his partners have no intention of engaging in serious negotiations–and there should be no illusions that Barak or the other Labor cabinet members will put a serious brake on this. The new government will do everything it can to kill any chances of a two-state solution, including acceleration of settlement construction. See Helena Cobban’s posting on our site about the latest spate of house demolitions in East Jerusalem. And Israeli Army Radio has reported a secret agreement between Netanyahu and Lieberman to build 3,000 units of housing in the crucial E1 area, between East Jerusalem and the giant Ma’ale Adumim settlement. The colonization of E1 would cement the bantustanization of the West Bank, not only severing the Palestinian northern West Bank from the southern but choking off Palestinian access to Jerusalem, the necessary capital of any future state.