Analysis: Two unity governments for two peoples

Israel and the Palestinians are in near-identical processes to unite their largest ideological blocs.

February 23, 2009 01:26
Analysis: Two unity governments for two peoples

abbas haniyeh pals 248 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])

Much of the international community's hope for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians currently rests on the formation of two national unity governments, one in Israel and one in the Palestinian territories. Both the Israelis (represented by the Likud and Kadima parties) and the Palestinians (represented by Fatah and Hamas) are currently absorbed in near-identical processes to unite their two largest ideological blocs. On the Palestinian side, one of the blocs is represented by a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel, disavow violence or respect previous signed agreements. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and the most it is willing to countenance is a long-term truce, not a two-state solution. Hamas's inclusion in a Palestinian unity government with which the world can engage is by no means a foregone conclusion, nor is Israel's engagement with such a Palestinian national unity government should it arise. America, Europe and Egypt are pushing Fatah and Hamas very hard to form a unity government, but Palestinian reconciliation will not be easy to achieve, perhaps proving even harder than the formation of an Israeli unity government. Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni is leaning toward taking her Kadima party into the opposition, calculating that a narrow right-wing government led by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu will not last long, thereby paving the way for Kadima's return to power. Netanyahu is trying to coax Livni into a coalition by offering her half of his kingdom. However, Livni doesn't want to save Bibi from a tortuous year or year and a half at the helm of a narrow right-wing government. Netanyahu can't make progress on peace with the Palestinians as the head of a narrow right-wing government of 65 MKs; the best he can hope for is conflict management with the Palestinians and with an American administration that is gung-ho on advancing the Annapolis process. Bibi's diplomatic outlook, which posits an "economic peace" while the Palestinians build their institutions toward a demilitarized state that cannot threaten Israel's security, will not be enough for the current PA leadership, let alone a Fatah-Hamas unity government. Stagnation on the diplomatic front, or even a rollback, will strain a Fatah-Hamas coalition, should one arise. To get Livni in his coalition, Bibi will have to agree to compromise on his government's coalition guidelines relating to the two-state solution, and thus sacrifice his right flank, which negates any mention of a Palestinian state in those guidelines. Livni cannot enter a coalition government without the promise of advancement on the Annapolis process, and Netanyahu can't live with Annapolis. On Sunday, Likud dove Dan Meridor said the differences between Kadima and Likud were not that great - much smaller than the differences between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres in 1984, and they managed to form a unity government. But the differences between Meridor and more hawkish MKs like Bennie Begin are greater. And the differences between Kadima and the ultra-nationalist Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party are much greater. Even if Livni joins a unity government under Bibi, there is no guarantee that progress will be made on peace talks. The Likud itself has a strong right wing, Shas is against any talks on Jerusalem, and the far-Right parties will bolt the second an outpost is evacuated. A unity government will have very little room to maneuver on the Annapolis process; its main function will be to deal with the Iranian issue and the worsening economic crisis. As Meridor said Sunday: "There will be negotiations with the Palestinians [under a Likud-led government] - not with Hamas, but with the PA. We need to find a way to advance the diplomatic process while safeguarding Israel's security. But even during the years of negotiations of the previous [Kadima] government, no agreement was reached [with the PA], so why should we [Likud and Kadima] fight now over eggs that haven't hatched yet? There are other things we can do together." Livni will always be pushing a Likud-led government to the Left - toward progress on the Palestinian, and perhaps Syrian, tracks. And Livni will find it increasingly difficult to stay in a government that does not make any progress on the Annapolis process - she will be constantly attacked by the Left while seeing her party's centrist platform slowly erode as people who voted for her in this election make their way back to Labor and Meretz for the next election. If she opts for the opposition, Livni has a chance to replace Netanyahu in the next elections, whenever they may be held. If she opts for a coalition, she'll be blamed for stagnation on peace talks and her centrist image. Kadima hawk Ya'acov Edri said Sunday that Kadima would not enter a coalition unless the two-state solution was part of the guidelines. "We have to have two states for two peoples in the coalition guidelines. We already have agreements with the Americans on this. There have been previous government agreements with the Palestinians on this," Edri said. On the Palestinian side of the equation, the Obama administration will work to "create a partner for Israel" by pushing for Hamas and Fatah to reconcile. But there is bad blood, much of it fresh, between the two sides. Hamas no longer recognizes PA President Mahmoud Abbas; Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has called for replacing the PLO. Hamas and Fatah haven't even begun negotiating over coalition guidelines; they're still stuck on Hamas's demands for a release of "political prisoners" held in PA jails. Hamas wants its supporters in the West Bank freed so they can continue spreading Hamas's influence. Abbas wants to keep Hamas in the West Bank weak so that his divided Fatah party can maintain control. If and when the prisoner issue is resolved, then the two parties can get to talking about ideological issues and coalition guidelines. As The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh reported Sunday, "Hamas and Fatah are expected to form five joint committees to resolve issues such as control over the border crossings into the Gaza Strip, reconstructing the PA security forces and forming a new unity government." In the meantime, America has made its intentions clearer, sending Senator John Kerry to Damascus, which hosts Hamas's hard-line leadership. "Syria could be, in fact, very helpful in helping to bring[ing] about a [Palestinian] unity government," Kerry told reporters after meeting President Bashar Assad. "If you achieve that, then you have made a major step forward not only in dealing with the problems of Gaza, but you have made a major step forward in terms of how you reignite discussions for the two-state solution." The international community will find it hard to work with a fragile Israeli government whose coalition threatens to fall apart at every hint of progress on peace, as well as a Palestinian unity government where Hamas refuses to stop trying to destroy Israel. Two national unity governments will not necessarily mean a two-state solution. For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs

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