Don’t read too much into the coalition guidelines

Netanyahu has no reason to detail any coalition guidelines, especially with a razor thin coalition resting on Bayit Yehudi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Bayit Yehudi chief Naftali Bennett (photo credit: TWITTER / TAL SCHNEIDER)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Bayit Yehudi chief Naftali Bennett
(photo credit: TWITTER / TAL SCHNEIDER)
The world, carefully watching for signals from Jerusalem as to where the new government hopes to take the diplomatic process, will find no clue in the coalition guidelines presented to the Knesset on Wednesday.
The guidelines, similar to the coalition guidelines of the last two Netanyahu governments in 2009 and 2013, has a rather anemic clause stating that “the government will move the diplomatic process forward and strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors, while preserving the security, historic, and national interests of Israel.”
If an agreement is reached, the guidelines continued, it will be brought to the cabinet and Knesset for approval, and if needed by law, to the people as well in the form of a referendum.
And that’s it.
No talk of a convergence of interests with the moderate Sunni states, no mention of any new Israeli diplomatic initiative, and – most important – no reference to the two-state solution. Just as there was no reference to two states in the two previous coalition guidelines.
Earlier in the day, US President Barack Obama, in an interview published in the London-based Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat , referenced the two-state solution and said that the US is looking to the new government and the Palestinians “to demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.”
Well, no such Israeli commitment was evident in the coalition guidelines. But no one should be surprised, or even read overmuch into this omission.
To those concerned that mention of the two-state solution was absent from the guidelines, so too were any references to building beyond the Green Line or in Jerusalem.
For instance, a sentence calling for the “expansion and development” of settlement activity throughout the country that appeared in the coalition agreements of both of Ariel Sharon’s government in 2001 and 2003 did not appear in the most recent coalition’s guidelines.
Nor, for that matter, did a line in both of Sharon’s guidelines that the government will work to ensure the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Those who may conclude that Israel has abandoned the two-state solution because it is not in the agreement, should – consequently – argue that the lack of reference to settlement construction means Israel has given up on that as well, and that the lack of reference to Jerusalem means that Israel is willing to divide the capital.
But those, obviously, would be erroneous conclusions.
Netanyahu does not live in a vacuum. He understands that the world wants to hear him recommit to two states, and he will surely find the proper time, place and venue to do so. He will want to relieve international pressure.
The world might not believe his sincerity, but he will articulate the policy, conditioning it – as he did in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech – on a number of conditions.
But there is no precedent or reason for him to do so in the coalition guidelines, especially with a razor thin coalition resting on the support of a party – Bayit Yehudi – that has articulated well its opposition to a Palestinian state. Why rock the boat? The coalition guidelines are just that – guidelines, not holy writ. They articulate general goals, not a detailed plan.
It is expected that within the next few months Netanyahu will give an updated version of his Bar-Ilan speech. And to those who will protest that this was not in his coalition guidelines, he will likely respond that he is prime minister and it is his prerogative to state the government’s overriding diplomatic goals. Defining these goals in high resolution in the coalition guidelines, however, would have simply prevented him from being prime minister.
Obama and other world leaders, despite their rhetoric and protestations, know this full well. After all, they too are politicians.