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MIDDLE EAST: Arabs assail new Israeli government

April 3, 2009 |  9:47 am

Mideast-israel Perhaps no one summed up Arabs' disillusionment and frustration with the new Israeli governmentof  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman better than writer Talal Awkal in Thursday’s edition of the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam. 

“If the outgoing government, which claimed it was committed to peace, continued building the racist Separation Wall, set up more military roadblocks, taking their number up to 650, sped up its efforts to Judaize Jerusalem, and expanded the construction of settlement housing units to unprecedented levels, what can we expect from a government of which Netanyahu and Lieberman constitute the main pillars?” Awkal wrote. 

Awkal was not alone in his wry, despondent assessment of the new Israeli team. 

Reactions from across the Arabic press show how recent statements made by Netanyahu and the controversial Lieberman have been taken as confirmation of what they describe as Israel’s expansionist agenda. 

While Netanyahu has said his government would “strive for peace” with the Palestinian Authority, he has yet to endorse the two-state solution, which Lieberman openly opposes.

In his first speech to the Foreign Ministry  on Wednesday, Lieberman dismissed the Annapolis conference as nonbinding, warning that those who want peace should “prepare for war.”

The anger in response was especially pronounced in the Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian and Jordanian press, with the Saudi-controlled London-based regional Asharq Al-Awsat and Egyptian papers devoting less space and vitriol to the subject.

“Yesterday Israel dropped the mask its wears from time to time and showed the world its true face as manifested in the new government led by Benyamin Netanyahu, which is the clearest Tel Aviv response to the Arab peace initiative,” began the left-leaning Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar’s three-page spread on the new Israeli government, which included an article titled “Lieberman: a man of ‘dirty jobs.’ ”

Fouwaz Trabulsi, writing for As-Safir in Lebanon, sardonically applauds Netanyahu for his ability to situate himself politically between Olmert and Lieberman, thus appearing to have taken the “moderate” position. He goes on to lampoon Netanyahu’s vision of a Palestinian entity granted “all the authority necessary” to rule but denied control over natural resources, transport and security.

Boycott, disinvestment and political isolation were cited by some as possible solutions, while Muhammad Ka’ush’s piece in the Jordanian paper Al-Arab Al-Yawm called for a revival of the “south-south alliance” with developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa against the West and Israel. 

The Egyptian press, which suffered a backlash recently for its stance during the Gaza crisis, was less categorical, saving some censure for the Palestinians themselves. 

“Perhaps the first lesson that the leaders of the various [Palestinian] factions should learn is that they should not provide Israel with a lifeline and allow it to extract itself from its commitments,” wrote Al-Ahram.

“[Israel] should not be willingly offered the opportunity to portray the Palestinians in the role of the criminal who attacks Israelis, thereby giving Israel and its barbaric killing machine the chance to appear as a victim.”

Neither the Wednesday nor Thursday editions of the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat ran an editorial on the subject. Thursday’s paper ran a story on Leiberman on the front page below the fold with an analysis of Netanyahu’s policy inside.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Israeli soldiers evacuate Palestinian demonstrators taking part in a protest to mark Land Day in the occupied West Bank village of Idna, north of Hebron, on March 30, 2009. Photo: Abed al  Hashlamoun/ European Pressphoto Agency