The era of panic has begun: Avigdor Lieberman is foreign minister. All the flaws, failures, successes and the peace the Netanyahu government might forge hinge on that obstacle named Lieberman. His coarse pinky will set the universe in motion, shatter hopes and inflict a catastrophe. Alas, the finger resting on the red button belongs to Ivan the Terrible. Tomorrow the attack on the Aswan Dam will commence, and the day after Iran. And the world? It will look on with terror and amazement when faced with the new Genghis Khan.
A little proportion is needed now. The Israeli government, let alone its foreign minister, does not rule the world. Twenty world leaders met in London on Thursday to halt the financial crisis. The Israeli prime minister was not among them, but Saudi King Abdullah was. North Korea is threatening to launch a long-range missile, and Israel's voice is irrelevant. International forces have been fighting terrorism in Afghanistan for the last eight years. The Israel Defense Forces is not participating, and the Israeli foreign minister has not been summoned to give his input.
The U.S. president has conceived a new global strategy that will reshuffle the deck, replacing old titles with new. Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and, again, Saudi Arabia, blend together to the point where it's impossible to distinguish the moderate states from the axis of evil. The first outlines indicate that this strategy is not designed to solve conflicts, topple regimes, forge world peace or export democracy. It suffices with arrangements based on interests: dialogue with Iran and Syria that would not "alter their character" but allow for the situation in Iraq to be managed reasonably; an American concession on Iraq so it can focus on Afghanistan; understandings with "moderate" elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan without harboring pretensions of nation-building; and moderating policies vis-a-vis Russia over missile defense in order to agree on the Iranian nuclear issue.
This is the delicate tapestry in which Barack Obama defines a new Middle East, and it does not appear he is too impressed by Israel's reaction. In these developments Israel is just another noxious spectator, at times grabbing its head in disbelief and other times applauding. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is thus liable to be pushed to a corner reserved for other peripheral conflicts, like that between the Hutus and Tutsis, or, at most, the conflict between the north and south in Sudan. If there's a little time left, the world will turn its attention to it.
Yes, the United States is committed to Israel's security, but it is not responsible for the quality of life here. If the Israelis want to continue to flounder in their conflict, let them have fun doing it. After all, the conflict does not threaten the United States or its relations with the Arab countries, who understand that the White House presents a new opportunity, at least for some of them.
In the absence of a peace process - a situation that did not start with Lieberman's appointment - the Palestinian position is likely to improve, much to the dismay of Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu. When Israel becomes entrenched in the world's eyes as an obstacle to the peace process, thanks to Lieberman's shoot-from-the-hip statements, what will prevent Europe from easing the pressure on Hamas, funneling cash to Gaza without Israel's approval, requesting that Egypt open the Rafah crossing, freezing the upgrade in Israel's relations with the European Union (as the EU has hinted) and opening consulates in the West Bank? All this would be to signal that the Europeans recognize the principle of two states for two peoples.
What will happen if Washington does not automatically veto every resolution condemning Israel in the Security Council? Or worse, what if Washington decides to join the condemnation? After all, it will have a good excuse: Lieberman. Paradoxically, Lieberman is likely to become a part of Obama's new doctrine of global arrangements: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not end, but Israeli obduracy will enhance, not diminish, the United States' standing in the Middle East. While Lieberman can continue to bang on his tom-toms every time somebody mentions the phrase "diplomatic process," he will not be able to direct forces much larger than him or Israel. He will be the perfect excuse for these forces to act. This is his strength, nothing more.
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