(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a speech before The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference last week in Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced optimism regarding the future of Israeli relations with its neighbors and with the Palestinians.
“I believe that we have tremendous opportunities to advance new relationships in the region and beyond,” Netanyahu said. “I think we’ll reverse the equation that [posits]: We’ll get a breakthrough with the Palestinians and from there to the Arab world.
“More and more I think that it’ll probably work the other way around or with bootstrapping from these two paths. But I am hopeful; I’m hopeful as never before.”
Netanyahu pointed to the crucial influence of Israel’s contributions to the world in the fields of technology and anti-terrorism and how this was bringing about a radical change for the better in the way the Jewish state was perceived around the world.
More and more countries are interested in learning from Israel’s knowhow, and this creates opportunities for peace with long-time enemies – particularly in the Muslim world, Netanyahu said.
Instead of being a catalyst for peace with the world, improved relations between Israel and the Palestinians would be the outcome of improved relations with the world.
Perhaps there is something to this optimistic forecast in the long-term. However, in the short-term, there are signs to the contrary.
The IDF is expecting the year 2017 to be one of instability in the West Bank. Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, head of IDF Military Intelligence, reportedly said in a closed forum at Tel Aviv University on Sunday.
The instability, which is expected to include an uptick in terrorism against Israelis, is the result of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s waning influence.
Palestinian political leaders are preoccupied with the question of succession and political leaders within Fatah are vying for the position Abbas’s successor.
Men like Nasser Kidwa, the nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Muhammad Ghoneim, the second most powerful figure in Fatah, Saeb Erekat, the veteran negotiator and Jibril Rajoub, the former Palestinian security strongman all see themselves as options.
The infighting among them will likely weaken Fatah, which is already split over the clash between Muhammad Dahlan and Abbas.
Hamas could easily see this leadership fight within the Fatah as an opportunity to stage a power grab in the West Bank.
Another factor that could lead to unrest on the West Bank is the impact of a change in US foreign policy. Although it is still too early to know, there are signs that US President-Elect Donald Trump’s take on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict will be radically different from his predecessors. Jason Greenblatt, co-chairman of the Trump campaign’s Israel Advisory Committee, declared just a day after news of Trump’s victory in the presidential race that the incoming president does not view settlement activity as an obstacle to peace.
If the Trump administration implements this policy change, Netanyahu would come under tremendous political pressure from within the Likud and from his right-wing coalition members to advance settlement building not only inside established blocs but also in more isolated areas, something the prime minister has opposed until now.
Netanyahu has consistently supported a negotiated peace that would result in a creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state. This position acknowledges and attempts to solve the demographic threat presented by the Palestinian population if the West Bank were annexed.
Deterioration of the security situation on the West Bank combined with a radical change in US foreign policy vis-avis the Palestinians could, at least in the short-term, undermine Netanyahu’s optimistic forecast for the future. The interim between the end of President Barack Obama’s term and the beginning of Trump’s offers a unique opportunity for Netanyahu to take initiative. To the extent possible, Israel should attempt to stabilize the situation in the West Bank and prevent the infighting within the Fatah.
And if Netanyahu truly believes that only through a two-state solution with the Palestinians will Israel remain both Jewish and democratic, he must make this clear to the Trump administration.