On Unity, Diplomacy and Israbluff

The political upheaval that shook the Knesset last week has resolved itself with a quick switch of Defense Ministers: former IDF Chief of Staff Bogie Ayalon out, Yisrael Beiteinu Chief Avigdor Liberman in. Personal matters between Avigdor and Bibi aside, prospects for a “stable coalition” now look better than before.

With Ayalon’s removal, no one has to listen to him say that he lacks faith in Bibi or bemoans the nationalist camp’s decline to extremism. Under Bibi-Liberman, the ultra right-wing government can go on doing what it does best: alienate our American allies, thumb its nose at Europe and above all avoid negotiating with the Palestinians. Bibi has once again proven that the survival of his coalition and chances of getting re-elected ad nauseam dwarf the pressing needs of the State of Israel.

This is no great revelation for anyone who aspires for true change in the state of the nation. But for those who seek to preserve the status quo at all costs, i.e. Bibi’s support base, change of any real consequence is always ruled out.

In effect, slightly more than half of Israel’s Jewish voters like things just the way they are. Of course they can’t be too happy with the security situation that Bibi promised to solve, as he hasn’t even come close. But they must like being cast in the role of occupiers and accused of turning Israel into an Apartheid state, though they disparage anyone who suggests that our presence in the West Bank constitutes an occupation or that our government even remotely resembles that ill-reputed South African regime. To be sure, they must be snug with these condemnations as they love to say “the whole world’s against us.” There is nothing like a dose of national isolation to reaffirm the “us and them” outlook that keeps Bibi and his coalition partners fenced in their own intransigence.

As the front-runner of the Israeli right, Bibi knows that winning the political center is vital for his continued success. That is why every so often he puts on an elaborate charade to show that beneath his jingoistic bearing there is room for some diplomatic leeway. But who even remembers that in 2009 Bibi agreed to a settlements freeze in the occupied West Bank, a policy he had no intention of implementing, and even paid lip service to the two-state solution in his Bar-Ilan speech? Most Israelis, including Bibi’s winking supporters, understand that such overtures amount to so much Israbluff.

A whimsical term coined by the legendary comic trio Hagashash Hahiver, Israbluff is just what it sounds like, a con job orchestrated by top Israeli officials. Bibi, the master of Israbluff, reestablished this dubious mark of excellence in the political commotion that rocked the Knesset last week.

With reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were clamoring for an Israeli unity government which would be more conducive for a diplomatic atmosphere with the Palestinians, Zionist Union-Labor leader Yitzhak “Buji” Herzog opted to give unity a fair shot. Facing strong opposition from within his own party, Herzog, who was offered the Foreign Ministry portfolio, countered claims that that the Zionist Union would serve as “window dressing” for the Likud and justified the move as an “historic opportunity” that would lead to a political settlement with the Palestinians.

But Bibi, who of course was just dangling Buji to bait Liberman, did an about-face and offered his old rival the Defense Ministry, precluding any chances for a unity government or serious diplomatic activity.

In spite of the animosity between them, Bibi knows what he can expect from Liberman. A strong proponent of settlement expansion in Judea and Samaria, Liberman and his six mandates can both ensure the survival of the nationalist government and spare Bibi the unpleasantness of negotiating with the Palestinians, which he seemed to advocate until the unity ploy ran its course.

In the aftermath of the recent Knesset follies, the Israeli public can decide who acted in bad faith: Buji, an easy target politician who came up empty handed and managed to alienate many of his supporters, or Bibi, whose pretenses of national unity and a renewal of the diplomatic option smack of Israbluff.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.