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Ilan Pappé on Israel's crisis after the Lebanon war

Leading Israeli anti-Zionist Ilan Pappé looks at how Israel’s historic defeat after its recent attack on Lebanon has affected its society

Issue No. 2026

As could have been expected, the Israeli political system moved to the right as a result of the last Lebanon war.

The Israeli press, even before the fighting was over, delineated the boundaries of the public Israeli debate on the Lebanon fiasco.

Out of the frame of discussion was the very decision to go to war, let alone the crimes committed once the operations commenced.

The press, and later the public at large, were worried about the clumsy performance of the army on the one hand. On the other hand they were concerned about the lack of governmental attention, during and after the war, to the material needs of one million Israelis who live in the north of the country.

The political implication of such an internal critique was translated into the reformation of the parliamentary coalition that runs the government.

The message, as articulated by the tabloids, was, if the war was a failure, and it was, then you need a tougher and more nationalist government. This was the logic behind the public support for the reformation of the coalition.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, is a petite statesman but a shrewd politician. He sensed that the public wanted him to weaken the “dovish” influence in his government and strengthen the “hawkish” one.

This is not to say that any of the previous coalition members, such as the Labour Party, could seriously be terms as “doves”, but then in the local parlance, they are.

This is background for the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman to the Olmert government. He was appointed a minister of strategy with a particular stress on preparing Israel for the next war against Iran. Lieberman is a Russian Jew. He resides in the occupied West Bank and openly subscribes to notions of ethnic cleansing, bombing indiscriminately Palestinian areas and neighbouring Arab countries.

In short this is the ultimate fulfilment of the desire described above for “tougher” Israeli military actions against the Middle East as a whole and the Palestinians in particular.


But he has additional ambitions. He conditioned his entry into office with governmental support for a constitutional reform in the political system that would replace the prime minister with a very strong president.

This is a fascist version of the US democratic system. Lieberman has the aim of installing himself one day in the seat of such a presidency.

He may not succeed, but his appointment is important as an indication for a consensual policy in the making. This aims at more aggressive policies towards Iran and Syria and oppressive ones towards the Palestinians.

There are two factors that complicate the picture and may affect the grim reality that is unfolding in front of our eyes in the Gaza Strip, ever since the fighting in Lebanon subsided.

In Gaza massive Israeli killings of Palestinians continue daily, with added zeal and determination in the last few days.

As I close this article Israeli forces had killed 42 Palestinians in four days including, as always, women and children.

What may delay or slow down, if not counterbalance altogether, such escalation is the unprecedented corruption of the current Israeli political elite.

Each day from the prime minister down to top level officials, cases of embezzlement, sexual abuse and bribery are exposed. Citizen number 1 of Israel, the titular head of the country, the president, is accused by the police of indecent assault and is also likely to be charged with rape.

This all is translated into public disgust at the political system, despite the overall backing for its ideology and attitudes towards the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular.

Electoral apathy in unprecedented proportions is expected to cripple decision making and policies in the future. This also opens the way for someone like Lieberman to offer himself as a dictatorial saviour.

The second factor is Israel-US relations. They have suffered a setback since the Lebanon war. This is not to the point that we can expect this administration to change its fundamental policy - it will not.

But it will widen the gap between what most Americans consider to be their national interest and the state’s unconditional reliance on Israel. This was a point made forcefully by John Mearshimer and Donald Watts in their recent London Review of Books article.

The US’s relatively poor economic performance may also translate into a measured weakening in the Israeli grip on US foreign policy.

This, in its turn, may have a chain effect within Israeli society that would be transformed into a significant change in the political system and orientation.

This will mainly be in the socio-economic realm.


Israel has the widest polarisation gap in the Western world between the 25 percent of its citizens (all Jews) who live probably better then most people in Europe and the rest who live in deteriorating poverty and hardship.

The social revolution has so far been averted by wars, constant security alerts and a “nation in arms” mentality and indoctrination.

With a deeper crisis these shields may not be sufficient and the society as whole, for the first time in its history, will have to confront these issues. For this Israeli society needs to be genuinely involved in a reconciliation process with its surroundings.

Other factors with a potential to counterbalance Israel’s policy in the region, such as the Arab regimes or Islamic movements with a global reach or with an Iranian base, are too weak at this point to be considered as effective in the short run.

But they may strengthen their impact in the future. If they do not, and the grim scenario I describe nonetheless materialises, the Palestinians more than anyone else would be once again the victims of this tragic war. They have been the victims of all those which preceded it.

Ilan Pappé’s new book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, for £16.95. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

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Sat 11 Nov 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2026
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