There is a worrying lack of coherence in our policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
On one hand, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has publicly supported on
numerous occasions the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip. He said so in his foundational June 2009 Bar-Ilan
University speech. And he has remained consistent. Just this week, while in
Poland, he reiterated his support of a two-state solution: “My goal is to see a
historic compromise that ends the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians
once and for all,” Netanyahu declared. “This will entail a demilitarized
Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state, with iron-clad security
arrangements for Israel – recognition, security, demilitarization.”
contrast, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) said last week that not
only did he personally oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and that most
members of the Likud and the government coalition felt the same and would block
attempts to implement such an idea, he further stated, in an interview with The
Times of Israel, that Netanyahu’s calls for peace talks are made – despite his
government’s opposition to them – only because Netanyahu knows that nothing will
come of them, at least not anytime soon. In other words, according to Danon, the
prime minister does not truly believe in a two-state solution.
Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud), considered a close ally and political
protégé of Netanyahu, told Army Radio on Thursday that Palestinians were not
ready for expanded autonomy, let alone statehood.
So which is it? Is
Israel honest in its call to the Palestinians to negotiate immediately a
two-state solution? Obviously, statements made by a prime minister carry much
more weight than those made by lower level politicians.
It is Netanyahu
who determines foreign policy, particularly at a time when he is also foreign
minister. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, nominal head of the yet-to-be-started
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, has chosen to focus on Netanyahu’s public
statements, rightly arguing that they reflect official policy.
while Danon’s or Akunis’s personal opinions on the advisability or feasibility
of creating a Palestinian state might not determine official Israeli policy, one
should wonder – we certainly do – what Netanyahu was thinking when he appointed
the outspoken Danon as deputy defense minister. Netanyahu must have known that
Danon would continue to speak openly of his opposition to the creation of a
Palestinian state in the West Bank and that he would do so as a fairly senior
representative of the security establishment. Indeed, Danon’s appointment –
along with the appointments of other opponents of the two-state solution such as
Bayit Yehudi’s Uri Ariel as construction and housing minister, the Likud’s Ze’ev
Elkin as deputy foreign minister and the Likud’s Yariv Levin as coalition
chairman – reflect undeniable hawkish realities both within Likud Beytenu and in
the government coalition.
Netanyahu might be prime minister, but he needs
a coalition to govern.
Further complicating Israel’s policy message are
reports that since the beginning of the year there has been a de facto building
freeze in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem located beyond the 1949
armistice line. The housing minister confirmed these reports on Thursday in an
interview with Army Radio. But Akunis, in charge of liaison between the
government and the Knesset, said last week that there was no policy of holding
up building in the capital. “There is no decision, there has not been a
decision, nor will there be a decision to freeze building in Jerusalem,” he
A freeze – if it exists – goes against an election campaign pledge
made by Netanyahu that Israel would continue to “live and build in Jerusalem”
and that the city would remain “united under Israeli control.”
contradictory messages are expedient politically.
The prime minister can
continue to pronounce his support for a two-state solution and freeze building
in Jerusalem, thus partially deflecting international pressure and providing US
Secretary of State John Kerry with tangible gestures as part of his attempts to
jump-start the peace process.
At the same time, hawkish politicians whose
opinions reflect the majority in Likud Beytenu are advanced to key positions and
are permitted to speak freely, thus preventing a situation where Netanyahu’s
faces a rebellion from within his own party. In the process, however, Israel’s
policy loses its coherence. Who knows how long this state of affairs can go on?