Netanyahu brings falling interest rates

British press misses out on the significance of Israel’s political swing to the right

By Alex Brummer, February 26, 2009

After the deluge of Gaza media coverage and the lengthy profiles of Avigdor Lieberman, the choice of Benjamin Netanhayu as Prime Minister was barely recorded in the UK press. Such coverage as there has been has largely been confined to the foreign pages — and comment has been sparse.

If one was charitable, this reluctance to say very much at present might be attributed to Israel’s Byzantine electoral process, with no one really clear what kind of government will eventually emerge. Israeli democracy, offering such huge advantages to minority parties and interests, is difficult to follow against the backdrop of Britain’s first-past-the-post tradition.

Despite the near obsession with Gaza in the British media, the papers have found it difficult to connect the dots and recognise the impact of the turn of the year conflict on Israel’s political swing to the right. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni may have emerged with the largest number of seats but it is Likud and its allies in Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas which were the beneficiaries.

The Mirror, which never takes prisoners when it comes to Israel, describes the choice of Netanyahu as “a major blow to hopes of peace in the Middle East”, even though history suggests the opposite. The most durable peace agreements have been forged from the right. Indeed, Uzi Mahnaimi in the Sunday Times, who is generally extremely well informed on Israeli defence and intelligence matters, says that Netanyahu could come under early pressure from military chiefs to forge a deal with Syria.

During the campaign, he reports, Netanyahu took a belligerent tone. But according to documents quoted by the paper, both the head of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, and his Mossad counterpart, Meir Dagan, advocate a deal. They argue that such an agreement would create a split between Damascus and Tehran. It would keep Syria neutral in the event of a conflict with Iran as Israel seeks to eliminate its nuclear capacity.

The Economist suggests that the 20,000 Druze population scattered through the Golan could be critical to an Israel-Syria peace, which it says is also on President Obama’s agenda. It notes that trade relations, with Israel’s consent, already exist with Druze apples exported to Syria with a subsidy from Jerusalem.

The Guardian gave emphasis to Netanyahu’s call for a unity government, stressing the “unprecedented challenges” of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the economic crisis and the threat from Hamas and Hizbollah.

This is also a point picked up by the BBC website which notes that the “serious horse-trading now begins”.

Covering the BBC Trust’s ruling on the decision not to broadcast a Gaza humanitarian appeal, the Guardian online noted that 400 BBC staff had signed a petition to protest against the Corporation’s decision, expressing “strong disappointment”.

What supposedly impartial reporters and technicians, paid out of the licence fee, were doing lending their names to a protest is not made clear.

The decision of the BBC Trust, its regulator, to support director general Mark Thompson’s decision not to allow the broadcast was carried at the bottom of the report. One has to consult the BBC website to find the trust’s explanation that it had been “impossible in this case to separate the political causes from the humanitarian consequences”. So Thompson’s view that it might damage impartiality was reasonable.

And there have been no headlines or heated debates on Today or Newsnight about this vital ruling.

Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail

    Last updated: 12:06pm, February 26 2009