Analysis: The flotilla dynamic

Crisis may lead Livni to the cabinet table.

Gaza boats 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Gaza boats 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted recently as saying the Mavi Marmara episode marked a turning point in the Middle East.
Assad, as is his wont, was exaggerating. As bleak as things now seem for Israel – and they do indeed seem bleak – there is a need here for perspective.
This isn’t the first time that Scandinavian dock workers have refused to unload Israeli goods, as Swedish dock workers did this week; or that certain countries did not want to see a visit from a high profile Israeli personage, as was the case when President Shimon Peres canceled a trip to Vietnam, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman postponed a trip to Costa Rica; or that rock groups have canceled appearances because of turmoil here.
We have gone through all of this before. We went through it during the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000 and the pictures beamed around the world that appeared to show IDF soldiers shooting 12- year-old Muhammad al-Dura, during Operation Defensive Shield and the Jenin “massacre” in 2002, and during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
And that was all during the past decade.
The international censure, the threats and the isolation we have weathered before. We will need to weather them again.
The addition of an extremely problematic Turkish prime minister throws a new, dangerous wrench into the works, but – as Lieberman rightly pointed out on the radio Sunday – Iran was also once a strategic ally.
Will it be easy if Turkey is added to our list of enemies? Obviously not. But will it bring about an end to the Zionist enterprise? Let’s all keep our heads about us.
But Assad was right in saying the event marked a turning point, though not necessarily in the way he meant it. The incident will likely be a turning point for the make-up of the Netanyahu government.
Just as the Second Lebanon War marked the beginning of the end of Ehud Olmert’s term in office, so, too, the Mavi Marmara incident will likely come to be seen as the catalyst for changes that will likely take place in the current government.
The early-morning incident off the coast of Gaza, where IDF soldiers were beaten and nine Turks were killed, has already set off a chain of events that will most likely end in a few months time with opposition leader Tzipi Livni – the same Livni who in the Knesset on Monday denounced the government – sitting with Netanyahu at the cabinet table.
The events of last Monday morning have had a traumatic impact on the Israeli psyche on two different planes.
The first was seeing the pictures of soldiers – youth with whom everyone here can identify – being lowered like guppies into a pond of sharks and then being beaten to within an inch of their lives. Initially, there was fury at the thugs for doing this to our boys, and then anger at the Israeli authorities for putting the soldiers in that nightmarish situation.
The second plane was the embarrassment this caused. What happened to the vaunted Israeli ingenuity, guile, wisdom and creativity? We like to think of ourselves as smart, relying on our wits – rather than our numbers – to survive in an extremely difficult neighborhood. And when something like this happens, something which on the face of it seems so stupid, there is bound to be a public backlash against the politicians who okayed the plan.
Which is where we are right now. The predictable argument currently raging over the nature of the investigative committee is not merely over what role the international community will play, but also about what authority the committee will have, and whether it will be able to make recommendations that might cost some people their careers.
Remember, the Winograd Committee that investigated the Second Lebanon War did in the end lead to Amir Peretz’s ouster from the Defense Ministry and his replacement by Ehud Barak. Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert held on, but his premiership was never the same.
Over the next few weeks there will be intense pressure on Livni to enter the government, both public pressure and from within her own Kadima Party. With it clear that it is nearly impossible for her to bring down he government, even if the Labor Party bolts – something unlikely as long as Barak remains at its head – she will likely find a way to get into the government.
And Binyamin Netanyahu, under extreme pressure from almost every quarter to take the initiative, will also likely find a way to bring her in. Almost every measured criticism of Netanyahu you read these days ends with a single suggestion: For Israel to end its isolation, Netanyahu needs to take the initiative and do something to throw the ball into the Palestinian court.
The problem is that it is difficult to take an initiative if the other side – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – has no interest in responding. It takes two hands to clap, and Abbas has no reason to want to clap with Netanyahu since he is probably thinking that all the pressure piling up against Israel will eventually bring the prime minister down. Why should he want to take Netanyahu’s coals out of the fire? Which means that if Netanyahu wants to initiate something, the only real place he can do so is domestically – by initiating a change of government, changing the coalition guidelines and bringing Livni into the cabinet as foreign minister.
Such a move would also likely improve Israel’s standing internationally, since Livni – unlike Netanyahu or Lieberman – is perceived as someone “committed to peace.” There is no little irony in the fact that the Olmert-Livni government was largely seen in the West as a government of peace, even though under Olmert’s watch Israel waged two wars: one in Lebanon and the other in Gaza. It was all a matter of perception, with Livni and Olmert benefitting because twice a week Livni met with former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei and Olmert met once a month with Abbas.
Netanyahu is not meeting with any Palestinians, though not because he doesn’t want to, and the perception is that he does not want to move the diplomatic process forward and that the current stalemate is his doing. Netanyahu may not be able to change the reality because he will need a cooperative Abbas (something he won’t get). But a coalition change, sparked by the current crisis, might actually lead to a change of perception.