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Nothing new in Israel
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 16 - 03 - 2013

The new coalition government cobbled together by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not look like it will take peace negotiations with the Palestinians seriously. It may look like it wants peace and will look like its pushing for restarting peace efforts, but the activity is all for appearance's sake.
From the outset, Jewish Home, a party linked to the West Bank settler movement led by high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, opposes concessions to the Palestinians. Bennett is a former leader of the West Bank settlement movement and has called for Israel to annex large chunks of the West Bank, the heartland of any future Palestinian state. His nationalist party supports building settlements, citing biblical and historic reasons. With control of the Housing Ministry, Jewish Home will have the budget to promote new settlement construction. Bennett is skeptical that an agreement will ever be reached with the Palestinians, but he has said he would not object to the government holding peace talks. That's the most the Palestinians will get out of Bennett.
Netanyahu's senior partner, the centrist Yesh Atid party, is vowing to at least make an effort to restart negotiations and its founder Yair Lapid has said he would not sit in a government that is not making a serious effort to reach peace. Yet Lapid's campaign made little mention of the issue, focusing heavily on his social and economic agenda, putting his commitment in doubt.
Netanyahu has appointed Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, to serve as his chief negotiator but it remains unclear how much authority she will have. Jewish Home has indicated that it does not want what it describes as the “dovish” Livni to handle the peace process, although Livni was the “dovish” foreign minister during the monstrous 2008-2009 Israeli attack on Gaza which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. We can only wonder what kind of person Jewish Home would prefer.
Netanyahu claims he is eager to restart negotiations with the Palestinians under his new government, but he has given no indication of whether he is prepared to hold talks with a difference with the Palestinians. He has made it clear that he will not tolerate the bulk of West Bank settlers being pushed out in order to let the Palestinians have their state. And he is emphatic that Israel must control the Jordan Valley as well as the airspace above the Palestinians. Moreover, he has never made a clear-cut commitment to the two-state solution. Regardless of what Netanyahu says, his Likud Party has refused to endorse the creation of any kind of Palestinian state. Most of its Knesset members have joined a “Greater Israel Caucus” that says the West Bank must stay part of Israel forever.
To sum up, proponents of a state of Israel that encompasses all or most of the West Bank are plainly the strongest force in the Knesset. Such a government will be unstable and unable to make strategic decisions pertaining to peace with the Palestinians.
The peace process remained frozen throughout Netanyahu's previous four-year term, when his right-wing bloc partnered with other hardline and ultra-Orthodox factions. Given bitter disagreements among coalition members as well as deep differences with the Palestinians, and since Netanyahu has already signaled that he will make the final decisions in any negotiations, it appears the status quo will continue.


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