Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a joint session of Congress, May 24, 2011
© Avi Ohayun
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a joint session of Congress, May 24, 2011
Last updated: January 5, 2014
Netanyahu, Likud and the Right Wing debate

"He likes to be compared to Winston Churchill, who has been his political hero."

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John Kerry is breaking the record of one of his predecessors, Warren Christopher, who visited the Middle East 18 times during his tenure as Secretary of State between 1993 and 1997. In his first year, Kerry was in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) 10 times, and he promises to continue coming. The speculation in the US is that he is working hard to receive the Noble Peace Prize, but try telling that to PM Netanyahu and his Likud and Right Wing supporters. For them, each visit signals that the time is fast approaching for something which they dread the thought of doing; deciding what can be offered as a concession to the PA in order to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. In fact, many of these people dread the very thought of ANY agreement with the other side.

As the moment of truth is imminent, an internal debate is raging among Israeli Right Wingers, and it is likely to intensify with the probability of a split in the governing Likud Bloc, as well as the establishment of an alternative government, or even early elections. There are three important constituents who take part in this debate, which is no longer conducted behind close doors, rather it is wide open for the general public to watch, as well as to the Palestinians and the Americans.

Surely he objects to any recognition of the ‘’Palestinian right of return’’.

First, we have PM Netanyahu who is known for being ‘’hawkish’’, ‘‘intransigent’’, and ‘’ultra nationalist’’, definitions which may reflect an image of a sworn opponent of any compromise. But in reality, the real picture is much more complicated. Netanyahu represents today the more realistic down-to–earth approach in Likud, so here, as in many other cases, all is relative…

The PM understands the international arena, particularly the American one, but became as of late much more tuned to the Europeans and their particular role. He does not like what he hears and reads, he is suspicious of the true motivations of all those who urge him and Israel to take the plunge and make historic concessions, and above all he is imbued with a deep and sincere sense of mission to save Israel.

He likes to be compared to Winston Churchill, who has been his political hero, at least so far as we can judge it by his own repeated references to the great British leader. So, his inherent instincts are firmly in the nationalist side of things. But then, the PM is NOT a Churchill reincarnated, his ability to stand up to pressures is often called into question, he is experienced enough to know that the world at large is not viewing the Israeli situation the way they should, so Netanyahu, grudgingly and hesitantly has come to the realization that ‘’something’’ should be done by Israel.

What exactly is not clear to him, but it includes dramatic territorial concessions, surrender of a lot of the settlements and ‘’some’’ arrangement in Jerusalem. He will not budge though on various fundamental security demands, such as complete demilitarization of the future Palestinian state and Israeli and/or international presence along the Jordan valley, and surely he objects to any recognition of the ‘’Palestinian right of return’’.

In the last three years another demand became a trademark of his approach, and this is that the PA would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people. With this mix in mind, Netanyahu is NOT ready for signing a final peace treaty, which will inevitably include concessions far greater than those that he is ready to make. So he is pushing hard to achieve a prolongation of the talks beyond the original deadline of April 2014, by which time they were originally set to end, but by so doing, he is open to counter American pressure to conclude now a general framework of principles which will be guidelines for the final treaty, so that the Palestinians will be able to explain to their constituency the continuation of the talks without the conclusion of a final, binding treaty.

This is something that may be achieved, even very soon. Kerry will be the hero of the moment, but any such framework will have more holes in it than any small piece of Swiss cheese. Yet it will indicate Netanyahu’s relative flexibility, but at the same time will also indicate the almost built-in inability of the PM to move beyond interim arrangements.

This is so because within the Likud Bloc, consisting of Likud led by Netanyahu and Israel Beitenu led by the fiery Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, there is mounting opposition even to the concessions advocated by Netanyahu. That should not come as a surprise to those who know the internal combination of Likud and its long history of resistance to any peace plan which entails a huge, historic concession in Judea and Samaria.

Menachem Begin made peace with Egypt, but the concession there was in Sinai, never considered in Likud as part of Eretz Israel. When Ariel Sharon wanted to unilaterally disengage from Gaza he needed the support of opposition parties to carry the day in the Knesset, as Likud was split over this issue. Gaza is not Judea and Samaria, and still Likud could not bring itself to support its own leader, who then left the party and established Kadima. Sharon was Mr. Security and even he, with all his prestige and security credentials, could not unite the party behind him.

Netanyahu is NOT Mr. Security, and the one man in his cabinet who fits this bill is the Defense Minister Gen (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon, who is positioning himself as the leader of those who oppose any agreement, claiming that the Palestinians are not ready for any historic compromise, and still cling to the doctrine of stages, whereby any Israeli concession is taken to be the basis for more demands from Israel, leading in the end to its disappearance.

Ya’alon represents an interesting phenomenon of Israeli politics. He is a product of the Labor Movement, a former Kibbutznik, who has switched sides out of deep ideological convictions, and as many like him, he is currently very rigidly located in the hawkish wing of Israeli politics. When he, Lieberman and the young guard of the new Likud Members of Knesset (MKs) are on one side of the debate, Netanyahu is in very deep trouble, in fact in an untenable situation. He can try and repeat Sharon’s exercise and split Likud but this is like a voyage to the unknown, like entering into a dark hole filled with so many unexpected possibilities where he is not in full command. Possible, but still highly unlikely. He can try and establish a new coalition, with Labor, but his Likud party will not support it. In a situation of a deadlock, early elections can become a plausible prospect.

Likud itself may prove an insurmountable obstacle for the PM and when we add up the rejectionist camp, the Jewish Home party under Naftali Bennett with its 12 MKs and the militant Rabbis who call the shots there, we get a picture of a Right Wing camp in Israel which finds itself in a predicament; the need to make decisions which could shake it to the core and tear it apart.

Nor is Mahmoud Abbas a Nelson Mandela

Usually, political movements are shy of doing that, they play for time, they cling to the past, they recite historic precedents, but they refrain from crucial, historic changes. Here is where the power of the ONE leader may prove decisive, but alas, there is no such one in Likud today, not Netanyahu, at any rate, not even when he is invoking the Churchill example. As Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle in 1988, ‘’Senator, you ain’t Jack Kennedy’’…

Nor is Mahmoud Abbas a Nelson Mandela, as hardly anything that he says and does is concurrent with a real desire to peace. Will the Palestinians prove again the undeclared allies of Israeli Right Wingers? Well, when Abbas grants a hero welcome to terrible terrorists, when his official media keeps inciting against Jews, when his agents encourage and support boycott of Israel, when he demands the right to be recognized as the embodiment of Palestinian nationalism, but refuses to accept Zionism as the embodiment of indisputable Jewish right for national self-determination, he more than put spikes in the wheels of the negotiations. He basically works against any chance that they will come to a quick, reasonable, compromising conclusion.

We ought to bear this in mind when analyzing the tribulations and agonies of the Israeli Right Wing. The interconnection is too obvious to ignore.

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