Analysis: Netanyahu zigzags around Pal. unity deal, avoids real talk of peace

The Israeli prime minister is teetering on the edge of renewed diplomatic efforts, but by making sure to remain as neutral as possible, he's really not saying anything at all.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On surface-level, Tuesday's security cabinet decision not to negotiate with a Hamas-based Palestinian government following the reconciliation agreement between the rivaling Palestinian factions is a big drama.
After quipping noncommittally for about three days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a sharp turn to the right, half-leading, half-following in the footsteps of Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (as per usual). The prime minister declared that until Hamas disarms, acknowledges Israel's right to exist, cuts off ties with Iran and returns the bodies of dead Israeli soldiers as well as the reportedly kidnapped Israeli civilians, Israel will not hold a negotiation with the Palestinian Authority.
Not that such a negotiation is actually taking place anywhere. But over in Washington at the White House, US President Donald Trump is continuing to declare at every possible opportunity that he is serious and intent on presenting a peace imitative very soon, that he's convinced that the Palestinians want to achieve peace and that it's possible.
So it's either Netanyahu is discreetly aligned with Trump on the 'nothing will come of it because nothing is happening' agenda (Netanyahu's go-to line when confronted with the criminal allegations the police is currently investigating him on) or the premier is, as is his habit, playing it by year.
In the meantime he has to hold tightly onto the Right-wing base as he braces for the next round of investigations, so if anyone should approach him with a peace deal, he's just going to improvise.
At the end of the day, as Henry Kissinger once put it: "Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy." But what has changed since Kissinger's days as secretary of state is the fact that the current Israeli government has no Archimedean point to keep its balances in check.
Usually, the coalition is comprised of Right-wing elements, central elements and those that lean a bit more to the Left. The presiding Israeli prime minister, be it Netanyahu or his predecessors, tries to gravitate towards the political center.
But in the current Netanyahu coalition, which is the most Right-leaning coalition in the history of Israel, the prime minister has long ago given up the central position and is dancing to the tune of Bennett's threats. Which is not so bad if you think about it, because even farther Right from Bennett looms MK Bezalel Smotrich (who is known for his radical Right agenda and adamant support of the settlement enterprise). At least Bibi isn't leaning that far Right.
Israel's demands for Hamas are justified. There's nothing to negotiate with Hamas. It's a radical, murderous organization lacking any discretion or the ability to be truly pragmatic. On the other hand, the claims made by the Israeli Left have something to them: It can't be that when there's a rift between Gaza and the West Bank, Israel says that there's no partner because the Palestinian people are split up, but when finally there is unity, Israel will claim it doesn't have a partner for peace because Hamas is at the helm.
Even in the current coalition in Israel there are those who are opposed to a Palestinian state and don't see the Palestinian people as partners for peace (the Beyit Yehudi party and most of the MKs from the Likud party).
Granted, Israel isn't endorsing terrorism and the Beyit Yehudi is a democratic, legitimate political party. It may be that buried here are the seeds that could sprout in several weeks or months when President Trump shows up, if he does, with his political initiative.
At such a time, the new Palestinian government will declare that it is distancing itself from terror, Hamas will order its operatives to stop attempts at terror attacks in Judea and Samaria (bear in mind that Hamas hasn't sent out terrorists from Gaza since Operation Protective Edge in 2014), and the redeeming recipe to renew peace negotiations will finally be uncovered. Negotiations will begin, hit a wall, and the cycle will commence once more, all over again.
In the coming days, the curtain will be raised over the American reaction to Israel's callous move. The estimation is that last night Netanyahu conveyed to Washington the required messages, the gist of it being that Israel is willing to climb off of its high horse. Because while the security cabinet announced its decision not to negotiate on Tuesday evening, the IDF announced that it is extending Gaza's fishing territory and declared that other facilitations will be introduced in the financial and humanitarian fields.
Because that's how Netanyahu plays: One time he's the good cop, next time he's the bad cop. Dramatic cabinet decision followed by a kind wink and an attempt to appease. That's how he continues to zig-zag throughout his endless path in the hallways of the Middle East, which forever lead him to the very same place- the starting point.
Ben Caspit is an Israeli journalist and columnist with Maariv, writing about security, diplomacy and political affairs.