Forth in a series of sevenparts: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
No discussion of the Palestinian component is complete without discussing the settlements component. As a part of the reality on the ground, the settlements and the outposts do have the ability to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state – yet the settlements are not an obstacle to peace. As Israel has proven twice in its history it can remove them if it believes it is of its interest to do so. And for settlement blocs that cannot be removed due to their size, both sides accepted the concept of territorial exchange as a substitute.
The problem is not the settlements per se. The settlements serve as a political symbol, representing right wing Israeli policies, and the power center of some of Israel’s right wing political forces. However, not all settlers are rightwing, or extremists. And not all the right-wingers in Israel who support the settlements project are settlers, and that includes extremists and even fringe elements. But to those fringe elements the West Bank is the main attraction for mischief, hooliganism, and as history shows, their own brand of brutal terrorism. This is a well-recognized obstacle to peace, but first and foremost it is an internal threat to Israel as a law-abiding state and a sovereign state.
This threat to peace is not the main challenge the advocacy of peace faces when engaging the Israeli right. The Israeli right is an integral part of Israeli society and politics. With power and influence in the Knesset, the Israeli street and within the current coalition government. It is an important and legitimate competitor in the contest to win over the Israeli public opinion, over a multitude of issues, among them the peace process. It has three main assets in that debate, the emotional attachment many Israelis have to the West Bank, known as Judea and Samaria, the security concerns, and its position in the government, which adds an aura of authority to their arguments.
When forming this government Benjamin Netanyahu knew he had to choose between the heart, a right wing coalition, and the brain, a centric coalition. A coalition with all the big parties in the new Israeli parliament, Likud, Kadima, Labor, Israel Beitenu, and the major religious party Shas. But the smart choice has its drawbacks: The personal animosity between Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, the head of Kadima, the bad blood between the two parties since the split over the disengagement from Gaza, and the uncomfortable situation that would have taken place in such a coalition, where the largest member of the coalition, Kadima, is not the political party of the Prime Minister. These are understandable difficulties but ones that can be overcome if there is a will to do so by the two political parties and their leaders. Perhaps a greater will then the one that held together, barely, Israel’s national unity governments in the 1980’s. Then Shamir, Peres and Rabin had their share of deep personal and ideological differences. And between the Likud and the Labor party there was resentment and bitterness that went back five decades. But in spite of all of that, they held two governments together.
The choice Netanyahu did take was a compromise between the brain and the heart, dropping the most extreme right wing party, ‘Ichud Leumi,’ and taking in the Labor party. In this coalition the Labor party has two roles. The first is to provide a link with the international community, whic has a known disapproval of extremist governments. And the second is to balance the extremists that are in this coalition. In order to support this task he brought his own personal import into the Likud party: The seasoned politicians Dan Meridor and Beni Begin, and former chief of staff of the Israeli army Moshe Yaalon. These respected politicians could offer moderation or an ability to reason with the extremists and hardliners in the coalition and within the Likud party itself. But due to the Israelis disillusionment with the peace process, the Labor party, just like its natural ally Meretz, is at its weakest position ever, and the Likud itself radicalized. The result is an inability of the Israeli government to create political initiatives. This is a serious political handicap for Israel, which most of the time was overshadowed by Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to enter direct talks during the ten month settlement freeze. But when negotiations do take place, the extreme right in the Israeli government and in the coalition can act as an internal opposition, limiting the Prime-Minister's ability to maneuver. And when that happens the public debate over those issues, which never truly ends, goes into high gear.
In this debate the right wing emphasizes security concerns from a future Palestinian state. The leftovers of the hard-core Zionist left, emphasize demographic concerns. They fear that if the situation remains as it is Jews will be minority in their own state, undermining Israel’s democratic character and turning it into an apartheid state. The Israeli center, mainly the Kadima party, expresses security concerns emanating from the conduct of the Palestinian side, Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority; and demographic concerns: The fear that an Arab majority will undermine Israel’s Jewish character and Jewish sovereignty.
It is a debate where the United States government's known position is an important argument in favor of the two-state solution, but not the only important argument. This puts the United States in a position where it has to work out how to take part in the debate without getting involved in internal politics. This is something that will be a lot easier for the Americans to do if Israel had its own imitative. But this is unlikely due to the nature of the current Israeli government.
The fact that the Israeli right wing, and the American administration, any American administration, doesn’t like each other very much is stating the obvious. Although the Israeli right has political and ideological allies in American political arena, their reach and influence over the shaping of the American foreign policy is limited. This known ideological dispute opens to interpretation what is considered involvement in Israel's internal politics. The right has a maximal interpretation and the left, minimal. These ulterior motives are common knowledge in the Israeli society; therefore neither claim is automatically accepted. This gives the American side the ability to ignore these charges when the Israeli right makes them, as long as the fundamental concerns of all Israelis are respected, such as security and national sovereignty. Ignoring them will only vindicate the right wing accusations. And the trust of Israelis in such an administration will be a ‘no,’ add a storm to that policy and the ‘no’ will have an exclamation mark.
|Obstacle to peace? |
Clockwise: evicting a settler, Gaza Strip 2005, the ruins of the settlement of Kfar Darom, evicting a settlement, Gaza Strip 2005, the eviction of Yamit, Sinai 1982.
US Israel relationships a seven parts series:
The public debate, correcting a favorable picture
The public debate, Israel and the war on terror
The Palestinian component
The right wing component
The Israeli exclamation mark, Obama's triple inheritance
The Israeli exclamation mark, unbalancing outreach w go-between
The peace process' beggars' choice