US PRESIDENT Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they pose in the Rose Garden at the White House this week.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
While media laments an Israeli “shift to the right” that it insists portends a nation doomed to fester in anachronistic, anti-democratic theocracy, consider several factors:
Having long been blessed by the absence of a vibrant opposition (it having imploded some years ago, relieving Netanyahu of any meaningful critique from his opponents), the PM would nevertheless from time to time encounter rough sailing created by his own coalition, handcuffing him with the weapon of choice: threats to bring down the coalition. Witness his reneging on the women’s prayer solution.
But the election results might just have been an enabler for some form of peaceful coexistence, if not an inadvertent vote for real peace itself. There are two types of “right wingers” – one with a domestic-first orientation (concerned primarily with benefits for their constituents, funding for pet projects, etc.) The other “right wingers” are the nationalistic vanguard. The prime minister could usually keep the first group “in the family.” But the latter affected foreign relations and in particular, the sacrosanct relations with the United States.
Although the current election is being widely described as a rightward move by the nation, it will now be doing so without the nationalist leaders Feiglin, Bennett and Shaked, who were defanged by the electorate, thus providing a relatively open field for the PM to do things he previously would have been handcuffed from doing by the former members of parliament who are now watching from the sidelines.
Will Prime Minister Netanyahu take advantage of the wiggle room afforded by the election loss of the likes of Feiglin, Bennett and Shaked? Perhaps. Why? Bibi’s perfect storm.
Legacy and Legalities. Although it didn’t work for predecessors Sharon or Olmert, many (probably including the PM) believe being reborn as a leader committed to finding a semblance of peace will somehow (not yet known) beget an end to the legal clouds lurking above the Prime Minister’s Residence. Netanyahu will be able to retain his legacy as well as the largesse of untold thousands of people and their organizations willing and waiting to pay millions of dollars in honoraria.
Hesitation vs. Motivation. Israel will soon learn the real cost of Santa Trump’s stunning array of gifts recently bestowed upon the Jewish state, from allowing the so-called ‘settlement enterprise’ to flourish; to sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; to moving the embassy; to (possibly) annexing the West Bank. Lost in the euphoria of the gracious trove is its inevitable price tag. Surely the going rate will demand nothing less than obedience, cooperation and acceptance of whatever terms are to be revealed in the as-yet-unknown document.
And absent Feiglin, Bennett and Shaked to lead the shakedown to the breakdown of the plan, Prime Minister Netanyahu could find himself on the same page as the novice leadership of the newbie Blue and White contenders — whose lack of experience beyond the military will make even the Bibi saddled by I.O.U.’s to President Trump willing to become “a partner in peace.”
This, of course, only speaks to the Israeli side of the equation. But knowing that vast sums await Palestinian participation in the forthcoming Trump plan along with resolution to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s own legacy issues, the Israeli election’s alleged rightward shift could just conceivably push the region peace-ward.
Michael Friedson is Executive Editor of The Media Line,
the American news agency covering the Middle East. Visit themedialine.org.
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