Two-state incoherence

Israel presents conflicting policy messages between those of PM and hawkish opposition on two-state solution.

June 13, 2013 23:01
3 minute read.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon of Likud

MK Danny Danon 311. (photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset)

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.”

In 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Still, 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 said.

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.”

These 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?

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