By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
The political horse-trading in Israel seen over the past eight weeks, which went down to the wire to form a new government, was, in the main, a struggle over who would get what position, regardless of their qualifications and irrespective of what is best for the country.
Given that the new government is composed entirely of right-wing and religious political parties, it will be impossible to resume the peace negotiations in earnest, which of necessity requires significant concessions to which Prime Minister Netanyahu and his coalition partners, especially the Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett, sternly object.
The makeup of the new coalition gives the Palestinian Authority (PA) no reason to believe that Netanyahu will advance the peace process; in fact, it will further stifle any efforts to revive the negotiations. Moreover, the Obama administration has basically given up on its efforts to resume such talks as it sees no prospect for any breakthrough.
The new government will now further push the Palestinians to “briskly peruse its activity on the international stage…and [draft] new proposed resolutions for the UN Security Council” in order to seek recognition of the Palestinian state and sue Israel at the International Criminal Court to bar the expansion of the settlements, while charging some of Israel’s political leaders with war crimes.
In addition, the government creates a precarious environment far more conducive to renewed violence with the Palestinians, as neither the PA nor the Palestinian public have much hope left that the prospect for peace remains viable. The Israelis should keep in mind what JFK once articulated, that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
To be sure, the new Netanyahu-led government was created to serve its own political agenda, which is far removed from Israel’s national interests. Indeed, in Israel the politician’s personal interest comes first, the interest of the political party comes second, favoritism comes third, and the country can wait.
Although Bennett’s Jewish Home lost four seats from the previous election, he used his position as king-maker (without his party, Netanyahu could not have formed the new government) to extort from Netanyahu the coveted Justice Ministry, as well as Agriculture and Education. Netanyahu conceded to all of Bennett’s demands out of sheer desperation to stay in power.
Is there anything more absurd than appointing Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister and a member of the security cabinet? This is the same bloodthirsty Shaked who called for the annihilation of every Palestinian man, woman, and child.
This is a call for genocide that Netanyahu has been shamefully silent about, while willfully ignoring the message that her appointment sends to the international community.
Furthermore, Netanyahu submitted a bill to the Knesset to allow him to appoint more than 18 ministers (which is the limit mandated by law) to create more ministerial positions to satisfy several power-hungry Likud members at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to taxpayers.
Netanyahu’s hypocrisy seem to be limitless; he is now trying to lure Isaac Herzog, of the opposition Zionist Union, to join the government only to put a moderate face on the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Although in Israel politics and policies rest with the personal ambitions of those who are in power (or aspire to be), Herzog may prove to be the one leader who puts the nation’s interests first. He may well stick to his position and refuse to join a government that provides Netanyahu with the political shield he needs and be party to the destruction of the peace process altogether.
At no time in its history has Israel been more in need of strong, visionary, and courageous leadership than today. What the Israeli public has ended up with, however, is a government that offers nothing but more insecurity, uncertainty, greater prospects for violent conflicts, and a bleak future.
The half-consolation is that this new government has a razor-thin majority in the Knesset and is not likely to last the full four-year term.
Fearing the loss of some public support, however, any political party that hopes to receive a relative majority of votes shies away from making peace with the Palestinians the centerpiece of its platform and committing to reaching a peace agreement.
The Israeli public, however, must face the reality of the occupation and its devastating repercussions. No sane Israeli should believe that time is in Israel’s favor. Any newly-elected leader must have a clear vision of where Israel will be 10 or 15 years down the line; only on that basis will he or she develop a strategy that would realize that vision.
Certainly there are issues and developments beyond the control of any Israeli leader. Whether or not the Palestinians are willing or capable of meeting Israel halfway, or even if they still seek Israel’s destruction, Israel – and only Israel – has the power to determine its own destiny.
Israel has the military power, logistical and technical capabilities, and financial means to take unilateral action, if it must, by systematically withdrawing from Palestinian territories. There will be no Palestinian leader who will object to any partial territorial withdrawal and refuse to cooperate with Israel on all security matters.
Even under the current circumstances, there is full security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This level of cooperation can only increase if more territory is evacuated and settlements activity is suspended while the negotiations are in process.
Given the composition of the government, the Israeli public should wake up and realize how corrupt the Netanyahu government is and how he and his gang are undermining Israel’s very existence by clinging to a dogmatic ideological/religious belief that they can have it all.
The time is overdue for the rise of new leadership that pursues peace with vigor, seeks social justice and equality, and lives up to the promise behind Israel’s creation: as a proud, just, and progressive Jewish state at peace with itself and with its neighbors.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for
Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies.