Looking at the mess left in Britain following the electorate’ shock decision to pull out of the European Union, for once we Israelis can bask in the relative stability of our own political system. For the first time in decades, Israel has a government coalition whose members, broadly speaking, see eye-to-eye with each other on the major issues facing the country.
Unfortunately, in the long term, this most right-wing government in Israel’s history will likely lead the country to disaster. As the report issued this weekend by the Quartet on the Middle East (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) highlights, the two-state solution is in danger due to continued Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.
Most pertinently, the report notes that continued settlement expansion and the designation of land in the West Bank for exclusive Israeli use “raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions,” adding that this is “compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state.”
Since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009 and made his famous Bar-Ilan speech in which he pledged his allegiance to the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, his successive governments have worked assiduously to ensure it will never happen. As the Quartet report points out, between 2009 and 2014, the West Bank settler population has increased by over 80,000, including at least 16,000 deep in the West Bank.
Overall, according to the report’s figures, there at least 370,000 Israelis living in some 130 settlements in Area C of the West Bank (which forms around 60 percent of the whole area and is under almost complete Israeli control), including at least 85,000 deep in the West Bank. At a certain point, if not already, this mass of Israeli presence in Palestinian territory makes the possibility of Palestinian statehood a non-starter.
Given the extensive settler lobby at the heart of Netanyahu’s government, we all know what Israel’s response will be to the Quartet’s call to “cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development.”
The government will seize on the first half of the report which rightly condemns the Palestinian Authority and its leadership for not doing enough to fight terrorism, stop incitement and condemn attacks, and conveniently ignore its second half, which concentrates on the negative impact of Israel’s settlement activity.
BUT WHILE Netanyahu knowingly leads the country into an apartheid-style state, the platform his stable government provides does lend to some short-term advantages, for example the welcome rapprochement with Turkey.
Had the terms of the deal been presented to the Israeli public in the form of a referendum, there can be no doubt it would have been rejected. The idea of paying compensation to the families of Turkish militants killed by IDF soldiers during the raid on the Gaza flotilla is hard to swallow, particularly when the deal also failed to secure the return of the remains of IDF soldiers who fell during the 2014 Gaza war.
It’s easy to imagine how, had Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett been in opposition, they would have incited the masses against this agreement, calling it cowardice, giving in to terrorism and groveling to Turkey.
Instead, Liberman and Bennett meekly voiced their opposition to the deal for the record, while Netanyahu lobbied hard for its acceptance by the cabinet.
In fact it was opposition leader Isaac Herzog who, in another badly placed move, attacked the deal in a Facebook post, arguing that “restoring relations with Turkey is an important diplomatic goal but compensating the attackers of IDF troops is inconceivable.”
Really? Would a Herzog-led government not done exactly the same thing if it enabled the restoration of ties with one of the leaders of the Sunni Muslim world and a vital player in the front against Iran? There are times, hard though it may be for Netanyahu’s critics on the Left to admit, that the prime minister is right, and the deal with Turkey is one of them. One can criticize Netanyahu for taking so long to achieve it, given it could have been made on more or less the same terms some years earlier, but better late than never.
With the Middle East in chaos, some regional stability is of the utmost importance, and an alliance with Turkey will help in this regard.
Alongside the rapprochement with Jerusalem, Ankara is also seeking to improve relations with Cairo, replacing what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once labeled a “moral foreign policy” with one that is markedly more pragmatic.
In this, the lure of the Leviathan oil and gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, in which Israel is a major player, has also been a major factor, as a potential joint pipeline deal with Israel, Egypt and Cyprus could solve, almost overnight, Turkey’s over-dependence on Russia for its energy needs.
The deal with Turkey might not have passed the public popularity test, but it is an important one for Israel’s diplomatic and economic future. Sometimes, as British prime minister David Cameron discovered to his cost, it’s best not to ask the people what they think.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.