Sunday, February 08, 2009

Democracy Speaks - Unhelpfully

Israel's elections next Tuesday will be closely watched by the new Obama administration. The last thing they will want is a firebrand government determined to up the ante of Middle-Eastern tensions by calling for more all-out war against the Palestinians. Which is why Avigdor Lieberman must be causing a few headaches for the new foreign policy team. He's the Russian born West Bank emigre who leads a right-wing party ("Israel our Home") that manages to out-tough the notoriously tough talking Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and it looks as if he might just sweep to a powerful electoral position next week. Such is Israel's current temperature that Lieberman, who called for the execution of any member of the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) who spoke to Hamas, is riding a wave of positive public opinion. Despite launching the recent Gaza offensive, the governing Kadima and Labour coalition's leading figures seem to have failed to capitalise on the Israeli public's desire for strong action. By ending the offensive relatively quickly, Defence Minister Ehud Barak (Labour) has weakened his position.

This is an interesting conundrum for the West. While we salute the seeming triumph of a nascent democracy in Iraq, it is worth remembering that the people's voice is rarely exercised in favour of moderation. Not only could Netanyahu and Lieberman be in an unholy alliance come next Tuesday, but their theocratic near neighbour Iran could well re-elect well known Israel hater Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president as well. Democracy may be the 'least worst' system of government as Churchill suggested, but combined with the bitter historical memories of different peoples it is never easily conducive to good diplomacy.

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