NEWS & VIEWS: February 6

Hardline populist Lieberman could be surprise kingmaker in Israeli election

The home town of Avigdor Lieberman, the surprise star of Israel’s election campaign, sits on a hilltop deep in the Judean desert looking out over the occupied West Bank. One of Israel’s smaller settlements – home to about 700 Israelis – Nokdim was built in 1982 near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Beyond are smaller caravan outposts of even more hardline settlers, the frontline in their increasingly successful project of territorial expansion.

From here, Lieberman, 50, has engineered an extraordinary rise in Israeli politics, his hardline, populist rhetoric catching the public mood and elevating his party, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), to third position in opinion polls ahead of next Tuesday’s election.

Lieberman – a former nightclub bouncer born in Moldova who arrived as an immigrant to Israel 31 years ago – is likely to secure a major cabinet position in what will probably be a rightwing dominated government. Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of the opposition Likud, is projected to become the next prime minister.

Lieberman’s broadening appeal stretches from the Russian immigrant community through the secular end of the settler movement to mainstream Jewish Israelis who are attracted to his tough manner at a time when the country feels itself under grave threat and in need of a strongman. Last month’s war in Gaza only helped deepen his support. [continued…]

Netanyahu: Lieberman will be pivotal minister in my government

A week before general elections, the front-runner in the polls Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he plans to appoint Yisrael Beitenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman to a pivotal ministerial position in the government that he will establish once elected. [continued…]

Israeli Arab election boycott gathers speed

The debate in the Israeli Arab community on the question of boycotting the elections is growing in intensity. As of this week, all public debates between the two Arab and one Arab-Jewish party now include another participant arguing for a boycott. [continued…]

Where empires go to die

It is now a commonplace — as a lead article in the New York Times’s Week in Review pointed out recently — that Afghanistan is “the graveyard of empires.” Given Barack Obama’s call for a greater focus on the Afghan War (“we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq…”), and given indications that a “surge” of U.S. troops is about to get underway there, Afghanistan’s dangers have been much in the news lately. Some of the writing on this subject, including recent essays by Juan Cole at, Robert Dreyfuss at the Nation, and John Robertson at the War in Context website, has been incisive on just how the new administration’s policy initiatives might transform Afghanistan and the increasingly unhinged Pakistani tribal borderlands into “Obama’s War.”

In other words, “the graveyard” has been getting its due. Far less attention has been paid to the “empire” part of the equation. And there’s a good reason for that — at least in Washington. Despite escalating worries about the deteriorating situation, no one in our nation’s capital is ready to believe that Afghanistan could actually be the “graveyard” for the American role as the dominant hegemon on this planet.

In truth, to give “empire” its due you would have to start with a reassessment of how the Cold War ended. In 1989, which now seems centuries ago, the Berlin Wall came down; in 1991, to the amazement of the U.S. intelligence community, influential pundits, inside-the-Beltway think-tankers, and Washington’s politicians, the Soviet Union, that “evil empire,” that colossus of repression, that mortal enemy through nearly half a century of threatened nuclear MADness — as in “mutually assured destruction” — simply evaporated, almost without violence. (Soviet troops, camped out in the relatively cushy outposts of Eastern Europe, especially the former East Germany, were in no more hurry to come home to the economic misery of a collapsed empire than U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa, Japan, are likely to be in the future.) [continued…]

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