Two of Them Going Nowhere

The decision by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to renew their old alliance is good news for the peace camp, democracy and humanism in Israel.

The decision by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to renew their old alliance is good news for the peace camp, democracy and humanism in Israel. The transparent game of good cop/bad cop is now over. We shall no longer hear, "It's not important what Lieberman says, but what Netanyahu does," or, "What do you want from poor Bibi? If he fires Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu will bring down the coalition." There is no longer any "moderate right wing" and "extreme right wing." Birds of a feather flock together. The two were destined for each other from time immemorial - ever since young Bibi absorbed extremist Revisionism from his father and Yvet grew up on Soviet Bolshevism.

The parting between the prime minister and his director-general in the second half of the 1990s was not caused by an ideological clash. Lieberman preferred to anoint himself as head of a troop of foxes rather than be a tail on the lions of Likud. Yisrael Beiteinu was a shortcut to the top of the mother party, just a mere heartbeat from the premiership. In the game of politics, Lieberman does not like to play doubles. At the first opportunity, he will kick Netanyahu off the court. Let's hope that will happen soon. It would be a good idea for him also to send home those like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Reuven Rivlin who serve as make-up for the face of Likud.

In what way is Netanyahu preferable to Lieberman? True, his English is better and his style is more refined. Netanyahu wraps his rejectionist positions in clothing that is more pleasant to the eye, particularly for those watching from a distance. His speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which he promised the Palestinians a state of their own, became one of the pillars of his foreign policy and his public information campaign. He succeeded in persuading the Israeli public and many people abroad that the peace process is stalemated because of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' refusal to meet with him.

This is no longer the case. It suffices to glance at the political program of Yisrael Beiteinu to see that Lieberman believes a Palestinian state is part of a plot to get rid of Israel as a Jewish state. It suffices to recall his proposals to replace the formula of "land for peace" with the innovative approach of "peace for peace plus population exchanges," along with the offensive names he called Abbas and his calls to overthrow him.

As everyone knows, with Lieberman "a promise is a promise." What reason would anyone have to suspect that because of a merger with Likud, a man like him would betray his principles? But if Lieberman is loyal to his worldview, Netanyahu will have to change his "moderate" message for the Yisrael Beiteinu platform. The voter will know that there is no longer the old Netanyahu of "the left wing doesn't know what it is to be Jewish" and the new Netanyahu of the Bar-Ilan speech. Leaders of the world will know that the true face of Netanyahu is the face of Lieberman. Netanyahu will no longer be able to tell the German chancellor that the foreign minister's speech does not reflect his party's position.

If the merger between Netanyahu and Lieberman neither improves nor harms the prospects of peace with the Palestinians, the establishment of a government headed by these two can be expected to push off the threat of war in the region. The appearance of moderation that Netanyahu presented, together with his partnership with Ehud Barak, who was considered a level-headed statesman, opened doors in the capitals of the world for the outgoing government. Owing to his big mouth, a government in which Lieberman is showcased (perhaps as defense minister? ) will find it even more difficult to enlist the support of the United States and European countries for a military attack on Iran. Only a madman would risk a regional conflagration without international support. Netanyahu and Lieberman are extremists, but not madmen.

Thus, there is no more need to fear Netanyahu and Lieberman together than there is to fear them separately. On the contrary, they are likely to pull each other down. The Israeli political skies will now clear and our color-blind public will be able to choose between black and white - between the prospective Likud Beiteinu (Likud Is Our Home ) and any one of the parties that will promise to keep away from it.

And perhaps Lieberman was sent to Netanyahu to realize the Leninist vision that the worse things get, the better they get? Could this mean that the worst is already behind us?