Thursday, March 30, 2006

Yisrael Beytenu

[Election results in Israel got me looking into the surprising fourth-place finisher...]
Yisrael Beytenu (Hebrew: ישראל ביתנו, lit. Israel Our Home) is a right-of-center political party in Israel with support from immigrants to Israel who came from the lands of the former Soviet Union. It takes a hard line against the Arabs and Palestinians based upon a realpolitik view that the Arabs and Palestinians do not support the right of Jews to maintain a Jewish state in the Middle East. One of its founders and leaders is Avigdor Liberman, a former member of the Likud who is known for his plan to redraw the Green Line border with the Palestinian Authority in such a way that the "meshulash" ("triangle") area of Wadi-Ara (which was transferred to Israel from Jordan as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreement) will return to Arab sovereignty. He justifies his idea of giving up a part of the State of Israel by arguing that the residents of the area are all Arabs who see themselves as Palestinians and therefore should be re-united with the Palestinian Authority as part of establishing two separate national entities: One for Israelis and one for Palestinians. Yisrael Beytenu received 12 seats in the Israeli parliment in the March 2006 elections, but it is uncertain whether it will be an integral part of the new Kadima-led coalition government....

Yisrael Beytenu was formed by Liberman to create a plank for Russian immigrants who support a hard line in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Much of his motivation was inspired by the concessions granted by his former boss when he was director-general of the Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu, to the Palestinian Authority in the 1997 Wye River Memorandum that included the division of the West Bank city of Hebron.

One of the partners in Netanyahu's coalition was Yisrael BaAliya, a new immigrants' list led by Natan Sharansky that also had right-of-center leanings. Liberman himself had resigned from the Likud as a result of the Wye Accord, and he registered great disappointment when Sharansky did not, as did two of Sharansky's colleagues in Yisrael BaAliya, Michael Nudelman and Yuri Shtern, both of whom broke from that faction to form Alia - for a Renewed Israel....

Essentially, the two key principles held by the movement are the creation of an encouraging socio-economic environment for new immigrants to Israel, while at the same time taking a hard line on all negotiations with the Palestinians and other Arab states. Part of the academic argument in the movement's platform are the numerous studies published by faculties in Israel that warn of a danger posed by the rising percentage of Arabs in the state's population to the Jewish character of it. The only solution, argue many of their supporters, is an increased effort to bring more Jews to Israel by immigration, and/or convincing as many Arab Israelis to leave. By giving in to Yasser Arafat's demands, argued Liberman, the government would aggravate the threat by strengthening the Palestinians' resolve to demand the Right of Return of Palestinians to Israeli territory.

The party came to attention in 2005 by proposing the Liberman Plan, an alternative to the Gaza Withdrawal plan that would see large blocs of land in pre-1967 Israel bordering the West Bank and Gaza populated by Arabs transferred to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for recognition of Israeli sovereignity in the larger settlements including Gush Katif which was evacuated by the withdrawal. The areas that were to be transferred to the PA included the "triangle" in central Israel of Tayibe, Tira, and Umm al-Fahm. Although the plan was condemned by most members in the Knesset as racist, it broke with a long tradition on the Israeli far right that saw transfer of minority populations between states as the only solution to deal with a perceived threat of disloyalty by Arab Israelis to idea of a state of Jewish refuge in the Middle East. It was also the first proposal for the transfer of pre-1967 lands to the PA in exchange for peace. The Liberman plan also caused a stir among Israeli Arabs, many of whom identify with the Palestinians as compatriots, yet at the same time call for equal status in Israel as citizens, what Yisrael Beytenu states is a trojan horse for Israel of citizens with dual loyalty and the potential for radicalization by Hamas and other militant elements on the Palestinian side.


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