October 2006

The furore that briefly flared this week at the decision of Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to invite Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party into the government coalition is revealing, but not in quite the way many observers assume. Lieberman, a Russian immigrant, is every bit the populist and racist politician he is portrayed as being. Like many of his fellow politicians, he harbours a strong desire to see the Palestinians of the occupied territories expelled, ideally to neighbouring Arab states or Europe. Lieberman, however, is more outspoken than most in publicly advocating for this position.

The Middle East, and possibly the world, stands on the brink of a terrible conflagration as Israel and the United States prepare to deal with Iran’s alleged ambition to acquire nuclear weapons. Israel, it becomes clearer by the day, wants to use its air force to deliver a knock-out blow against Tehran. It is not known whether it will use conventional weapons or a nuclear warhead in such a strike. At this potentially cataclysmic moment in global politics, it is good to see that one of the world’s leading broadcasters, the BBC, decided this week that it should air a documentary entitled “Will Israel bomb Iran?”. It is the question on everyone’s lips and doubtless, with the imprimatur of the BBC, the programme will sell around the world.

The message delivered to Condoleezza Rice this week by Israeli officials is that the humanitarian and economic disaster befalling Gaza has a single, reversible cause: the capture by Palestinian fighters of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in late June from a perimeter artillery position that had been shelling Gaza. When Shalit is returned, negotiations can start, or so Rice was told by Israel’s defence minister, Amir Peretz. If Peretz and others are to be believed, the gunmen could have done themselves and the 1.4 million people of Gaza a favour and simply executed Shalit weeks ago.