(photo credit: AP)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, better known as Elaine Benes of Seinfeld fame, is starring in a new TV series: The New Adventures of Old Christine. Israel has its version of the same theme, featuring its very own prime minister: "The New Adventures of Old Bibi." The advantage with a TV show is that you can either change the channel or shut it off. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Binyamin Netanyahu tragicomedy.
Netanyahu has been in office a sufficient amount of time for us to pass judgment on his actions thus far. Let's begin with domestic issues. As expected, he has given us nothing but old gifts in new wrappings - having us believe that something novel is about to take place. For example, while he promises to the weaker elements in society a "compassionate conservatism," he has maintained his foolhardy policy of the past, steamrolling a budget through the Knesset that will further widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots that he already set in motion when he was prime minister before.
He has declared he will navigate an inclusive ship, addressing the needs of all segments of the population, and will not capitulate to partisan political demands. And yet, to satisfy the racist inclinations of his senior partner in the coalition, Avigdor Lieberman, he introduces through the back door a loyalty oath, whether it be swearing allegiance to a Jewish state or making the study of Zionist history a mandatory part of every school's curriculum or forbidding the commemoration of Nakba Day. Such legislation is primarily aimed at Israel's Arab citizens, but also anyone else who would dare to exercise the most basic element of a democratic society - freedom of speech.
Further, Lieberman's appointment as foreign minister is definitive proof that Netanyahu considers his personal survival more important than the good of the state, as Lieberman is justifiably considered persona non grata in many of the world's capitals.
BUT LET'S leave internal matters aside and concentrate on the diplomatic front, as that is where the action is. In his belated response to US President Barak Obama's landmark speech to the Muslim world, Netanyahu shrewdly presented his acceptance of previous international agreements, an alleged freeze on the establishment of new settlements and a begrudging recognition of a Palestinian state as grand gestures to rejuvenate the moribund peace process.
Since when should honoring international agreements be considered a goodwill gesture? As for new settlements, it was obvious that he was just paying lip service to a freeze on them, as no one in his coalition raised an eyebrow when he made the assertion. He exhibited this same worn exercise during his first go-around as prime minister when he promised president Bill Clinton at Wye Plantation to halt new settlement construction, only to personally oversee the building of Har Homa. But what could one have expected, as Netanyahu has always ascribed to the political philosophy of the late prime minister Levi Eshkol: "I never promised to keep my promise."
And then there is the matter of illegal settlements, which Netanyahu did not mention in his foreign policy manifesto. As the chief law enforcement officer in the land, just as he is obligated to fulfill international commitments, so too is he obligated to order the appropriate arms of the government to tear down these settlements.
Netanyahu has never acknowledged the issue of illegal building within recognized settlements. According to the Civil Administration, from 1997 to the present, more than 3,500 demolition orders for nonlicensed structures in the settlements were issued, but barely 200 have been carried out.
Netanyahu would have us believe that the only settlement building that would be tolerated is the expansion of existing ones to accommodate "natural growth." This is a cynical ploy to pull the wool over the world's eyes. Natural growth is no more than a euphemism for surreptitiously establishing new settlements, hilltop by hilltop, even as his government continues the inequitable and cruel policy of bulldozing Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem to prevent Arab natural growth.
RECOGNIZING HOW CRITICAL the matter of settlements is to the Obama administration, Netanyahu is desperately trying to downplay the settlement controversy. However, no manner of diplomatic spin will fool President Obama, any more than political sweet talk conned president Clinton. Focusing on the threat from a nuclear Iran or the present unrest there - no matter how real - will not deflect American concern about the settlements. Seizing Palestinian land to build a Jewish community cannot be explained away to an American government that sends us aid annually to the tune of 2.8 billion US tax dollars.
Any kind of settlement building, no matter how it is framed, will draw sharp rebukes from the American administration like the one Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently issued: "The United States wants a stop to settlements - not some settlements, not illegal outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions. That is our position, and we have communicated this very clearly to Prime Minister Netanyahu."
If there is anything less than a total settlement freeze, Israel will be blamed for undermining American-sponsored peace efforts, which are to be crowned by the only feasible solution to the conflict: Two states for two peoples. This is the essence of the road map to which Israel is committed: Guaranteeing Israel's security in defensible and recognized borders and establishing a viable Palestinian state that has territorial integrity and contiguity, which Netanyahu's settlement policy prevents and which exposes his bogus claim that he accepts the idea of a future Palestine.
When the late Richard Nixon ran for president the second time, he peddled himself as the "New Nixon," a mature Nixon who had learned from his mistakes. But as the Watergate affair proved, the electorate not only got the same old "tricky Dick," but an even more slimy and dishonest Nixon. Similarly, Israelis, frantically wishing for a "New Bibi," have gotten, after his short time in office, not only the same old arrogant Netanyahu, but an even more oily and deceitful Netanyahu.
There is a yawning gap between what he says and what he does. As in the past, his mind goes on vacation while his mouth works overtime. Maybe he suffers from a bipolar personality.
And yet, I can confidently state that there is a "New Netanyahu." For that matter, there is a "New Adventures of Old Bibi." However, in this latest reincarnation, what we have is a new Netanyahu we never dreamed of - more chilling and terrifying - who is leading us on a frightful adventure (read: misadventure) filled with confrontations with friends and foes alike, and who is hell-bent on defying international agreements, undermining the country's rule of law, fueling prejudice and marginalizing society's already disenfranchised, all of which make a mockery of Israel's democratic nature.