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July 25, 2013 - Image 44

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-07-25

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oints of view

Commentary

Is Netanyahu Turning Left?

W

ith Syria and Egypt aflame,
why is U.S. Secretary of
State John Kerry return-
ing to the Middle East for his sixth
visit since February to focus on more
Israeli-Palestinian shuttle diplomacy?
In part, because he and other liber-
als think that the Arab and Iranian
(and now Turkish?) war on Israel boils
down to an Israel-Palestinian conflict
and, therefore, they over-emphasize
this dimension; in part, too, because
he subscribes to the liberal illusion
that Israel-related issues constitute
the "epicenter" of the region (as
James L. Jones, then Obama's nation-
al security adviser, once put it), so
their resolution must precede dealing
with other Middle Eastern problems.
But there's another possible reason
for Kerry's enthusiasm; he took the
measure of Israel's Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and found him
indeed serious about reaching an
accord with the Palestinians, and not
just pretending enthusiasm to please
Washington.
This, anyway, is the thesis of David
M. Weinberg of Bar-Ilan University
writing in Israel Hayom: "Netanyahu
has been making uncharacteristi-
cally passionate statements about
the diplomatic process; statements
that go beyond the expected chatter
about Israel's desire to engage the
Palestinians and negotiate a two-
state solution."
Weinberg finds Netanyahu "desper-

up center- and left-electoral support,
and presumably coast to another
electoral victory.
This explanation does not convince
me. Iran poses a potentially existen-
tial threat to Israel, and coping with it
quite suffices to "sustain his
prime ministership."
The Israeli public is focused
on Tehran, not Ramallah,
and Netanyahu, who boasts
that he spends 70 percent of
his time on security issues,
hardly needs diplomacy with
Mahmoud Abbas to prove his
leadership.
Rather, his motives prob-
ably lie elsewhere. Like other
prime ministers of Israel,
Netanyahu suffers from what
I have dubbed the "Ben-
Gurion complex," a desire to go down
in Jewish history as a renowned
leader. (David Ben-Gurion oversaw
the founding of modern Israel). In
his third term and (after Ben-Gurion
himself) the country's second-longest
serving prime minister, Netanyahu is
all the more susceptible to this aspi-
ration.
Post-1948, the Ben-Gurion complex
translates into ending the external
threats to Israel. Unfortunately,
this worthy ambition has inspired
repeated duplicity and distortion.
As I described the phenomenon
in 2004, "First, every elected prime
minister [since 1992, being Yitzhak

Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon,
and Netanyahu] has broken his
word on how he would deal with
the Arabs. Second, each one of
them has adopted an unexpectedly
concessionary approach."
Netanyahu made a campaign prom-
ise in 1996 that, were he in charge,
Israel "will never descend from the
Golan"; but a mere two years later
he tried to offer Damascus the entire
Golan territory in return for a mere
slip of paper. (Had Netanyahu suc-
ceeded then, imagine the consequenc-
es today, what with Syria aflame and
Al-Qaeda units approaching Israel's
borders.) Fortunately, his cabinet col-
leagues obstructed him from imple-
menting this folly.
These days, a center-left consensus
intones that eliminating the external
threat to Israel requires a two-state
deal with the Palestinians. (I dis-
agree.) Will Netanyahu turn to the
left, defy his constituency and sign
such an accord to win re-election?
The pattern of wayward prime min-
isters plus Netanyahu's biography
has caused me, since 2009, to worry
about such a betrayal of his mandate.
But perhaps we will be spared from
learning an answer. Palestinian intran-
sigence is annoying Kerry and might,
yet again, take the diplomatic pres-
sure off Israel.

Those of us in the anti-hunger move-
ment are very concerned about this major
change. After all, families who are poor
don't have a voice, money or the politi-
cal clout to make their case
by educating legislators. If the
nutrition legislation is debated
on its own, spending alloca-
tions could be reduced dra-
matically by legislators, which
would endanger the welfare of
the 40 million Americans who
rely on SNAP (Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program),
formerly known as food
stamps, the "cornerstone of
our nation's food assistance
safety net."
Practically, splitting the bill into two
creates a larger divide between the House
and Senate, who ultimately have to ham-
mer out a compromise. It doesn't seem

that the Senate will agree to a Farm Bill
that doesn't include the nutrition pro-
gram. Likewise, the president has already
stated that he will not sign a bill that
doesn't include the nutrition component.
When all is said and done, it seems
that our legislators need to sit down
together, do what they were elected to do
and come up with a reasonable compro-
mise.
While cost cuts on all sides are predict-
ed to rein in the deficit, the majority of
the cuts should not be on those who are
most vulnerable. One doesn't need to be a
policy wonk to figure that out.
Please contact Congress and tell them
to work out an agreement that doesn't
jeopardize the lives of vulnerable fami-
lies.

ate for diplomatic movement, [having]
bought into the left-wing argument
that the status quo is unsustainable."
Weinberg perceives preparations
now under way for "a unilateral Israeli
initiative to concede significant parts
of Judea and Samaria."
Why should Netanyahu,
who emphatically did not
campaign on this plat-
form, make such plans?
Weinberg looks mainly to
domestic politics:
Netanyahu has no other
national agenda item to
sustain his prime minis-
tership. He needs a new
message that will reposi-
tion him as a leader in
the public mind, and the
Palestinian issue is all
he's got to work with. The lead on
economic and social matters has
been grabbed by [political competi-
tors Yak] Lapid and [Naftali] Bennett.
There's little Netanyahu can do about
the hot situation in Syria or Iran. His
job is to react wisely and cautiously
to developments on these fronts, not
lead Israel into confrontation.
A unilateral Israeli withdrawal,
Weinberg notes, "would blow the
Lapid-Bennett alliance out of
the water – something which is
Netanyahu's highest political priority."
The prime minister would then
"bask in the glow of praise of
Washington and Tel Aviv elites," pick



Daniel Pipes is president of the the

Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.

Looking At The Farm Bill

I

am not a policy wonk. Put some
legislation in front of me, my eyes
glaze over and I start thinking about
donuts. Unfortunately, the House of
Representatives is forcing me to forgo
donuts and read up on its proposal to
split the Farm Bill into two separate
pieces of legislation — one that addresses
agricultural programs and one that
addresses nutrition.
The first Farm Bill was created in 1933
to establish crop prices and income sup-
ports for farmers. In 1964, the Food Stamp
Act was included in the Farm Bill to pro-
vide food support for Americans. Since
the connection between agriculture, food
and nutrition is obvious, the Farm Bill has
continued to include both farming and
nutrition legislation. An added bonus was
the idea of encouraging rural and urban
cooperation, resulting in political expedi-
ency among legislators.

44

July 25 • 2013

Congress reviews the Farm Bill every
five years to negotiate funding for the
programs within the legislation. Drafts of
the bill are discussed and voted on in both
Houses. Then a (revised) joint
version of the bill is created,
which then gets voted on by
both Houses. The resulting ver-
sion is then sent to the president
to sign. Assuming presidential
support, the bill becomes a law.
This time around, the House
and Senate continue to be very
far apart in their recommen-
dations, and even the Super
Committee (a bipartisan group
of legislators) can't reach an
agreement. House members
decided to split the Farm Bill into two
separate bills by removing the nutrition
legislation, which cuts out the food stamp
program (SNAP) to get the bill advanced.



Lea Luger is executive director of Berkley-

based Yad Ezra.

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