Benyamin Netanyahu faction meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
When this week began, it looked like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition was doomed.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett was threatening to remove his party from the coalition if Israeli-Arab prisoners were released as part of a deal to extend talks.
Both Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid said they would bolt the coalition if no diplomatic negotiations were taking place.
Two of Israel’s three highest circulation weekend newspapers ran front-page screaming headlines from their top columnists warning Netanyahu that he had to choose between keeping his coalition and maintaining the support of the international community.
Then Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas came and threw Netanyahu’s coalition the lifeline it needed.
The deal Abbas reached with Hamas was the best present he could have given Netanyahu, short of a nuclear-free Iran.
Instead of having to make difficult concessions to keep the Palestinians at the negotiating table, Netanyahu got to go on CNN and MSNBC and declare that Abbas had proven he was uninterested in peace.
The prime minister looked like he was having the time of his life portraying himself as a jilted lover, a peace partner who had been shunned.
In his conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Netanyahu probably had to restrain himself from saying the four words the Americans dread hearing from him the most: “I told you so.” The only four words they might dread hearing from him more are “I just bombed Iran.”
The only man who might be happier than Netanyahu is his former protégé, Bennett, who should be googling flower shops in Ramallah right now to send Abbas roses.
Bennett faced the toughest juncture of his political career.
He went out on a limb on the issue of Israeli Arabs being freed, which is not exactly his party’s bread and butter.
He was facing a choice between losing the job he loves in the Economy Ministry and losing his credibility by using a pathetic loophole to keep his cabinet seat. The Almagor Terror Victims organization was ready with a campaign blasting Bennett, had he caved in.
Instead, Bennett can have a nice, relaxing Shabbat and celebrate his victory over both the believers in the diplomatic process and those on the Right who doubted his strategy of enabling the talks in hopes that they would fail.
What about Livni and Lapid? Don’t they look foolish remaining in Netanyahu’s coalition when there are no peace talks? The answer is no.
It could have been yes had the talks ended over a debate that was gray. They would have looked terrible had they been forced to justify a decision by Netanyahu to end the talks for questionable reasons, or if Israel could be blamed for the negotiations’ failure.
But suspending the talks because of Abbas making a deal with Hamas can be easily justified by even the strongest proponents of the two-state solution. Livni fought interviewer Yonit Levi defiantly on Channel 2 Thursday night.
When Levi asked the justice minister what opposition leader Livni would say about the current Livni, she responded in English: “I really don’t care.”
Livni said she would remain in the government in an effort to get talks restarted. Perhaps after the Palestinian election is held, the PA will have a government that will be easier to deal with.
Hamas’s popularity is at a nadir, due to the Egyptian crackdown on smuggling into the Gaza Strip. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Palestinians will finally elect new leaders in their first presidential election since January 2005.
So if Netanyahu and Bennett are happy and Livni and Lapid don’t have to be too upset, which Israeli citizen is the loser in the Abbas-Hamas deal? The answer is Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
He might have gotten his hopes up to be home in time for the Passover Seder. The April 29 deadline for extending the talks could have also been a reason for optimism.
Now, with no Israeli-Palestinian deal on the horizon, his only hope is for US President Barack Obama to show him mercy and commute his life sentence to the 28-and-a-half years he has served.
Netanyahu’s coalition got its lifeline. Pollard has not.