Israelis snarl as Palestinians move toward unity

Israelis snarl as Palestinians move toward unity

The fast-changing delicate balances over the course of deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian politics have taken another swift turn with unusual remarks by the former chief of, by tradition, the close-lipped Israeli internal intelligence service that have stirred a great tempest among top officials.

His criticism was followed by a huge and rare Fatah rally heralding long-lost unity among Palestinians in the Hamas-held Gaza Strip.

Yuval Diskin, former chief of Shin Bet and a former candidate for the top post of MOSSAD, staged a blistering assault on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies late this week, accusing them of being too weak to lead Israel, of endangering the country by their self-interested acts, of mismanaging the response to the Iranian threat and of missing opportunities in talks with Palestinians.

While the former Shin Bet chief said he had no political agenda while attacking the prime minister and his inner circle, his attack came a few weeks before the snap Israeli elections, after which, recent opinion polls say, Netanyahu will take a bittersweet win while falling short of securing a landmark victory to form a Cabinet solely based on his right-wing coalition.

Speaking to Israel’s leading Yedioth Ahronoth daily, which has often taken an editorial stance against Netanyahu, Diskin hit his former boss below the belt by mocking his “zig-zag” style fueled with a deep fear of taking responsibility and his untrustworthy character while also leveling a similar bashing on Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who the former chief said is more ego-driven than Netanyahu.

On the issue of Israel’s biggest security nightmare, Iran, Diskin said Netanyahu and other top government officials acted “illegally” while still trying to convince the military and intelligence services on a possible Iranian attack. He also blamed them for being reckless while discussing such a serious security issue.

While Netanyahu’s office dismissed Diskin’s remarks as “ridiculous,” other Israeli political leaders took a different tack, with opposition leaders who are waiting in line for top posts in Israel after elections moving to capitalize on his remarks. Nevertheless, their attempt may bear no fruit since the election race has chiefly centered on domestic issues rather than external threats to Israel, while Diskin’s past has been tarnished by his widely known anger at being passed over to assume control of MOSSAD.

Due to the shortcomings of the government, Diskin said Israel “upgraded” its arch-enemy Hamas while “humiliating” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently moved closer to the Islamist group after being shunned by Israel in peace talks. He defended his attacks by saying: “He has to do something before the third Intifada becomes a fact,” and his offensive coincided with a rapprochement between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah.

Amid the deep political crack caused by Diskin’s perfect storm, Fatah marked its 48th anniversary with a rally in Hamas’ stronghold Gaza five years after Civil War-like clashes between Palestinians, which limited the secular Palestinian group’s authority in the West Bank. The Fatah rally in Gaza was not only a signal of unity among rival Palestinian groups but also a show of confidence by Hamas, which has seen a political boost by its ideologically same-minded allies’ takeovers in the region.

Both Diskin’s remarks and Hamas-Fatah rapprochement may give the sense that the wind of disharmony appears to be turning the tide over course of Israeli-Palestinian politics, but it will not be a surprise if the tide takes a reverse turn again in the near future.