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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Enclosing balconies

By Gideon Levy

I remember the image from my childhood: the amputee salesman knocking on our doors in the evening and offering his forlorn-looking wares - floor rags and razor blades from a wooden suitcase. He would arouse a mixture of terror and compassion in us, but no one wanted his merchandise. I was reminded of him last week when I saw pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knocking on the doors of the leaders of Italy and France, among the last friends of Israel.

From capital to capital, our Benjamin Netanyahu went around suggesting that the open balconies in the settlements be enclosed. Everywhere he went, he heard the same thing. The doors were slammed in the face of the salesman, and Netanyahu for his part persevered, suggesting an arrangement maybe like the Italian hill town of San Gimignano, with its houses built upwards, trying in vain to continue juggling. Even Silvio Berlusconi, whose pro-Israel positions are sometimes ridiculous and embarrassing, slammed the door in his face.

But lest we do injustice to the amputee salesman of our childhood: He tried to make an honest living. Netanyahu, however, is trying to deceive. They'll enclose balconies and build another 100 houses, too.


This grotesqueness would be funny if it didn't involve such a fateful matter. In 100 days, Netanyahu has managed to turn the whole world against him, including his last remaining friends. Washington sent his envoy, Isaac Molho, who had also tried to ply the balcony solution, home in disgrace. The meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell was canceled, and Netanyahu made himself a laughing stock in Paris and Rome. And all over a balcony - another desperate Israeli prank designed to deceive the world.

Netanyahu was left stark naked. A prime minister without an agenda is the worst possible news for Israel. "Mr. Terror" without terrorism, "Mr. Iran" without Iran. Even a Thatcherite without Thatcherism, which has breathed its last breath. All the fears that he had generated, and upon which he built his career, were dissipated or dismissed in one fell swoop. Netanyahu was left with nothing. He has nothing to offer. His suitcase is empty. You can no longer scare the world with Palestinian terrorism, because - what to do? - there hasn't been any for a long time, touch wood.

Netanyahu's second career, as "Mr. Iran," has been indefinitely postponed as irrelevant. When the Iranian regime has been split in the face of such impressive and courageous popular protest, and with U.S. President Barack Obama trying to change course, can Netanyahu continue to wag his tail over the danger of the bomb, as he again tried to do in such a ridiculous way on his European tour?

It's a case of beating on an empty vessel. There are no buyers for Netanyahu's Iranian goods. Bomb or no bomb, we've been left with enclosing balconies.

What a pathetic sight: An Israeli prime minister, who was just elected with new promise, travels around the world with such moldy wares. While Obama talks big, Netanyahu talks about the smallest of the small. While Obama is portrayed as the harbinger of historic change, Netanyahu is seen as dealing in trivialities, a petty merchant trying to sell defective trinkets that no one wants.

Thanks to Obama, we have returned to the fateful, fundamental question: Will the Israeli occupation last another 40 years, or has the world become totally fed up with it, having decided to put an end to it? Obama is sending signals that he has chosen the second option. The controversy over freezing the settlements is therefore indeed a "waste of time," as Netanyahu declared in Europe. The time has come to get to the heart of the matter: evacuating them. Netanyahu's words at Bar-Ilan University are therefore also seen as futile. Two states don't begin with enclosing balconies, but with evacuating them.

To Netanyahu all that is left, sooner than expected, is survival - in the face of the United States and the Habayit Hayehudi party. In March 2007, I wrote the following: "The prime minister, what does he have in life? He rises in the morning, but the morning doesn't arise in him. He gets into bed at night and what does he think? That he again managed to satisfy the American administration and reject Syrian signals? What will the prime minister say to himself at the end of his first year in office? And the second? What does he think he will leave behind other than surviving?"

I was writing about Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert. A year and a half later, Olmert is finished, leaving behind only battlefield remains from two unnecessary wars. But my words, to my great sorrow and shame, apply twofold to Olmert's successor.


Israeli newspaper, haaretz

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