A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Let's Hope Fuad is Right

Remember Binyamin Ben-Eliezer? He actually was head of the Israeli Labor Party for a while in 2001-2002, between Ehud Barak and Amram Mitzna (another good trivia question in his own right). Ben-Eliezer has served as Defense Minister, and is currently the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. He was born in Baghdad, speaks fluent Arabic and is usually known in Israeli political circles by the Arabic name "Fuad." He's never had much of a profile among American commentators, in part I suspect because most Mizrahi ("Oriental") Israelis seem a bit alien to American Jews, but he's still a force in the Labor Party.

An interesting commentary quoted in Haaretz:

"Netanyahu is going to surprise us all," said Ben-Eliezer, who is industry, trade and employment minister, after several tete-a-tetes with the prime minister over the past month.

He said Netanyahu had assured him, both before and after he set up the government, that he would continue negotiating with the Syrians.

Regarding the Palestinians, Netanyahu's plan will be based on a two-state solution, said Ben-Eliezer.

"It's not the same Bibi," Ben-Eliezer said. "He's much more open, patient and relaxed. He's not alarmed or dogmatic. Something happened to him. He realizes that he cannot afford another crash like the one in his previous term.

"He understands that there's a new administration in the United States, which is neither the Clinton Administration nor the Bush administration, and that if we don't come up with a peace plan, someone else will call the shots for us."

"If we find that Bibi lied to us, we'll quit [the coalition]," said Ben-Eliezer, who is a member of the security cabinet.

I have no idea if he's right, but let's hope he is. Go ahead, "not the same Bibi," and "surprise us all."


Jonathan Edelstein said...

I also hope Fuad is right, but I fear that even if Bibi has changed, the upper echelons of the Likud Party haven't. You don't have to go very far down the Knesset roster to encounter some seriously delusional thinking, and there's enough of it about to restrict the PM's freedom of action.

It's one of Israel's perennial curses: even when a prime minister ascends the learning curve, he has to deal with a party that's still at the bottom.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Amen. I'd almost wish for the days of direct election of the Prime Minister, but that didn't work well either. I never thought I'd be looking to Bibi as the hope of the Likud, but then I never thought I'd think of Ariel Sharon as the potential deGaulle of Israel, but I did before his stroke. It's odd how things develop, but strange how even when a leader changes, his followers don't.