Why Bibi may have to do a Tzipi

With Obama in the White House, hawkish policies just won't fly.

Bibi speaking 298.88 (photo credit: sasson tiram)
Bibi speaking 298.88
(photo credit: sasson tiram)
The election campaign is slowly gathering steam. The Likud's central committee met this week in a festive atmosphere, resplendent with its new stars and with a pervading sense that power is in its grasp. This may be the case, though Tzipi Livni is still the most popular politician in Israel, and the electoral appeal of Kadima must not be underestimated. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a new center-left movement, closely aligned with Meretz, has come into being after a group of leading intellectuals and politicians came together in Tel Aviv and reached the conclusion that the Labor Party had become irrelevant and had left a void that had to be filled. That spectrum of Right, Center and Left is reflected within the Likud itself, with Bennie Begin, Moshe Ya'alon, Moshe Feiglin and many other hardliners crowding into the right wing and Dan Meridor, whose views are closer to Meretz than to those of his friend Begin, making up the left side of the spectrum together with a surprising number of Likud supporters. But what of the leader himself? If Binyamin Netanyahu becomes the next prime minister, whose views will he represent - those of Begin, Ya'alon and Feiglin, or will he opt for a more moderate position, best defined by Meridor? Netanyahu has gone on record saying that Jerusalem will not be negotiated in talks with the Palestinians if he becomes prime minister. This is another way of saying that there will be no peace negotiations at all. He has said that he wants "an economic peace," implying that he does not intend to pursue a peace that would establish two states with clear borders dividing them. In other words, Netanyahu is fighting the elections based more on Begin's policies than on those of Meridor's. Those close to him, however, predict that if he does win the elections he will not remain true to his words; he will backtrack and find reasons for continuing the peace negotiations, and will move away from the ultra-hawkish stance he has adopted. There are a number of reasons for him to opt for continuing negotiations. The concept of a two-state solution - a Jewish, democratic State of Israel living in peace and security alongside an independent, economically viable Palestinian state - has the backing of a large segment of Israel's population, including many Likud supporters. That concept, however, is disappearing before our eyes. It cannot be postponed indefinitely. The alternative - a one-state solution for two peoples - is infinitely worse, while a solution to the Palestinian problem through Jordan, which many from Israel's right wing have espoused, is adamantly rejected by the Jordanians who believe it would endanger the Hashemite Kingdom. Moreover, Netanyahu or whoever else becomes our next prime minister will have to take into account the fact that the new administration in the United States will be pushing for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will be rooting for a two-state solution. Contrary to what our professional alarmists have been saying and writing ever since Barack Obama won the presidential elections in America, the next president will be dedicated to maintaining the special relationship that exists between the US and Israel. When he visited Ramallah after his whirlwind tour of Israel in July, Obama had this to say to a group of Palestinian students: "Look, I am sympathetic to you and the need for you guys to have a country that can function, but understand this: If you're waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional. Because my commitment, our commitment, to Israel's security is nonnegotiable." He repeated that commitment time after time in his election speeches. At the AIPAC convention he declared: "Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper - but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders." Our alarmists will, of course, immediately say that Obama made these statements only to gain the Jewish vote, but his advisers on the Middle East - Dan Kurtzer, Dennis Ross and others - insist that his statements reflect his true thinking. Obama also had this to say (to the Cleveland Jewish community): "I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship to Israel. If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress." Obama made it clear that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict is a vital foreign policy postulate for the US. "What I think can change is the ability of the United States government and a United States president to be actively engaged with the peace process and to be concerned and recognize the legitimate difficulties that the Palestinian people are experiencing right now," he declared in a speech in Amman. "And so, you know, my goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I'm sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs," he continued. "Starting from the minute I'm sworn into office" is a heady statement. He also said that he would take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all he could to do advance the cause of peace "from the start of my administration. "I won't wait until the waning days of my presidency," he said in an obvious aside to President Bush. Dan Kurtzer, a religious Jew who was formerly the United States ambassador in Israel, together with Scott Lasensky recently published a book titled Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East. The book reveals "an alarming pattern of mismanaged diplomacy." The authors spell out 10 lessons that can be learned from the past mistakes and end their book with recommendations for future administrations. "Don't waste time," they implore. "Prioritize the Arab-Israeli peace process," "make it clear in your first presidential address that the process is high on your agenda," and "get your team to develop an end of conflict strategy." In their words, "Washington needs to formalize and add permanence to US positions on the core endgame issues of Jerusalem, refugees, security and territory - in essence, putting forward a successor to the Clinton parameters." OUR NEXT prime minister, whether it is Tzipi Livni or Binyamin Netanyahu, may not like this new American activism that Barack Obama will, in all likelihood, adopt. She or he will, however, find it very difficult to ignore. Our government has, after all, embraced the Annapolis process and we cannot renege on it. When our new prime minister is installed after next February's elections, Obama will already have been sworn in. If the prime minister is Netanyahu, he will find it very difficult to put into practice the hawkish campaign he is leading now. One way or another, we may well be seeing a continuation of the peace policy being conducted by Livni - whether it will be Tzipi or Bibi who will be in the saddle.