How much wiggle room does Netanyahu have?

Hanegbi: Prime minister will keep dialogue going, but don't expect anything dramatic.

Netanyahu cabinet meeting 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu cabinet meeting 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
As US envoy George Mitchell reaffirmed American support for a Palestinian state during his governmental rounds here on Thursday, it remained unclear how far Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can and is willing to go in order to acquiesce to such a vision without destroying his own coalition. Ministers from Shas and within Netanyahu's own Likud Party asserted - almost simultaneously with Mitchell's statements - that they were categorically opposed to a Palestinian state. "The preferable course of diplomatic action at this time is two economies for two peoples and not two states for two peoples," Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Army Radio. "The American emissary also knows that forcing the region into virtual diplomatic discourse will only breed the opposite results." Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, a longtime Likud MK, also entered the fray, telling Israel Radio that agreements reached between former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Annapolis Peace Conference in November 2007 were obsolete. His remarks were a near word-for-word repetition of a statement made at the beginning of the month by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which made diplomatic waves with both the US and European Union. "The Annapolis outline has failed and is no longer binding," Katz said, emphasizing that Netanyahu would "formulate a diplomatic approach that takes into account all of the different elements, first and foremost Israel's security." Both Israeli and US officials have said there was wide understanding in Washington that the Netanyahu government was still in its "policy review" stage, and that at this point what Mitchell would hear in Jerusalem was mostly broad outlines, but few details. Still, it appeared as though Netanyahu may have a very narrow space to maneuver between the view set out by the American envoy and the perceived red lines of hawks within his own coalition, not to mention his own. "I don't think [Netanyahu] will say that [he's committed to a two-state solution], because he himself doesn't believe in it," Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post. "Regardless, because of his deal to bring Labor into the government, Netanyahu is essentially tied to the Road Map. So between those two positions, he'll try and make something happen." However, Hanegbi also played down the idea that Netanyahu's position would contrast starkly with the Americans'. "The Americans are also not so optimistic about the abilities of the PA," Hanegbi said. "That said, I don't think they will ever give up on the demand of ongoing, genuine dialogue with the Palestinians, nor will they forgo the negotiations on the so-called 'core issues'. "So I think [Netanyahu] will create a dialogue, but he won't necessarily commit, especially on issues such as Jerusalem, settlements or the nature of the Palestinian Authority," he continued. "But that's the test for the prime minister. He'll have to show the Americans some progress." Hanegbi added that having served as justice minister in Netanyahu's previous government, he knew the premier to be less of hard-liner when it came to actually formulating agreements. "Look at Hebron in 1997," Hanegbi said, refering to Netanyahu's agreement to withdraw from most of the West Bank city. "That was the first time Israel pulled out of a city under a right-wing government, and the first time it was done at all since Rabin was in office." Hanegbi also dismissed the possibility of right-wing parties leaving the coalition if Netanyahu did, in fact, make significant concessions to the Palestinians. "The National Union would have possibly left, but they're not in the government," Hanegbi said. "Habayit Hayehudi won't leave, nor will United Torah Judaism. "And Shas, remember that Shas sat with Olmert, who brought up things that were much more controversial than Bibi is willing to consider. Even within the Likud, sure, they have their more ideological members, like Moshe Ayalon or Bennie Begin, but that won't be Netanyahu's problem. "All [Netanyahu] has to do is continue dialogue with the Palestinians," Hanegbi said. "He has a lot of experience with the Americans, including senators and congressman, and the American media. "My guess is that we won't see anything very dramatic for at least the next two years, and I don't believe that we'll see any dramatic changes to the previous progress made by previous governments." Herb Keinon and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this article.