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Bill Berkowitz: Will Netanyahu Surge Oust Olmert?

Will Netanyahu Surge Oust Olmert?

By Bill Berkowitz

Oakland, California, Feb 11 (IPS) - One day after the Jan. 30 release of the Winograd Commission report, which in part detailed some of the failures of the Israeli government and the military during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign.

"The [Winograd] committee concluded 'we assign personal blame to the three captains'," said Netanyahu. "While two of the captains [former defence minister Amir Peretz and former chief of staff Dan Halutz] have stepped down, the political echelon and its leader [Olmert] refuse to take responsibility and exhibit personal integrity and leadership -- which is what the decisive majority of the public expects them to do."

The Likud Party's Netanyahu, a close ally and friend of U.S. Christian Zionists, "is waiting in the wings, talking tough on Gaza and Iran, saying Olmert should strike hard and fast with 'disproportionate force' against Palestinian terrorists," Joel C. Rosenberg, a one-time aide to Netanyahu, recently reported on his blog.

Netanyahu has said, according to Rosenberg, that, "In a war of attrition the enemy strikes and you react, the enemy strikes harder and you retaliate harder. This gradual increase in violence is the antithesis of deterrence...Deterrence always means using disproportionate force. We need to move from a concept of attrition to one of tough deterrence that will eventually lead to the removal of the Hamas regime, because as long as it exists it will continue arming itself and continue its attacks."

Netanyahu is also calling for a new leadership which can only be accomplished by early elections to replace Olmert.

Some pundits believe that if early elections were held, Netanyahu would be a slam dunk to be chosen the next prime minister. In a recent Haaretz piece titled "Fear of Netanyahu", Yossi Sarid, a member of the Meretz-Yachad party in the Knesset until he withdrew from politics shortly before the 2006 elections, argued that what is keeping Olmert clinging to his post is the fear that a Netanyahu administration strikes in "the political establishment, and the weekly surveys only reinforce it: Anyone who doesn't want Olmert will get Netanyahu, and there is great panic."

Joel Rosenberg is a longtime Christian Zionist and the best-selling author of several novels and the non-fiction "Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future." According to the author, the book is "the nonfiction version of the [Book of Ezekiel] prophecies, explaining what ... the prophecies mean and what's really going on in the world that suggests that we may be closer to the fulfillment of those prophecies than most people realise."

Of major importance to Rosenberg and other Christian Zionists is Netanyahu's opposition to any peace accord that would divide Jerusalem. "We must not repeat this mistake [of the South Lebanon and Gaza withdrawals]," Netanyahu said on Jan. 21. "This time we're going to have an Iranian base facing Jerusalem and the Dan Bloc, which includes Tel Aviv. We have to prevent Iran's armament and not let it establish new bases on our territory."

During a late January appearance at the convention of the New York-based World Jewish Congress (WJC), Netanyahu said that Israel cannot continue the policy of a "virtual peace process with a virtual partner". Instead of trading land for peace, Netanyahu advocated the improvement of the Palestinian economy as a way of preventing groups such as al Qaeda and Hamas from taking over PA areas of Judea and Samaria.

"If we develop the [Palestinian] economy, we are depriving militant Islam from getting new recruits," The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as saying on Jan. 30. "Economic prosperity will do more for peace than 1,000 economic conferences," Netanyahu said.

Earlier in the month, Netanyahu told Ynetnew.com that "It is clear that if we leave Judea and Samaria, it is Hamas that we will find on the other side of those pre-'67 borders and they are already in possession of those Katyusha rockets."

The political situation in Israel may be best described as uncertain. "All three major parties are headed today by failed prime ministers -- Olmert, [Ehud] Barak, and Netanyahu," Gershom Gorenberg told IPS. "Despite Olmert's failures, new elections aren't likely this year."

Gorenberg, the author of "The Accidental Empire" and correspondent for The American Prospect, pointed out that "elections are usually moved up by a few months, not a couple of years. Once a real campaign begins, all three major parties will again choose their leaders. Netanyahu's failures will be recalled by his rivals within the Likud Party and from the other parties -- including the far right, which was unhappy with him last time because he made compromises at Wye."

Only during the actual election campaign will "poll figures become relevant". And by that time, "there will be a new U.S. president [and] the road map will go into the archives, to be analysed by historians of diplomatic failure." Hopefully, the influence of Christian Zionists will no longer be so significant, Gorenberg added.

While Netanyahu is playing the political card, the fight against Olmert appears to be moving into Larry Flynt territory. Over the past few years, Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, ran advertisements offering up to a million dollars to anyone who could provide "documented evidence of illicit sexual or intimate relations" with a high-ranking U.S. government official.

Citing a story that appeared on Channel 2 in Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported last week that "unidentified right-wing figures in the U.S. and Israel are willing to pay big money to anyone who comes up with evidence against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that will be cause enough for him to step down as prime minister."

The Channel 2 report featured "a recording of a conversation between an unnamed businessman and a private investigator hired to garner the information" that could "incriminate Olmert". "In the beginning you may be a bit put off, but think about it, you don't have to give me an answer now," the investigator told the businessman. "A number of senior personages on a global level are behind this initiative. The situation today is that Olmert is bad for the Jews. You know no less than me that he's very bad for the Jews."

"And there is a group of people who have taken upon themselves [to oust him from power], very wealthy people -- on a global level."

Although the private investigator would not identify the investors, he did allow he was looking to "find material in all different places; that Olmert received bribes, that he deceived."

ENDS

**************

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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