2017-01-04 / Home

After Obama, what Netanyahu and his rivals expect from a ‘new era’

By ANDREW TOBIN JTA


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) arriving at his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Dec. 25. JTA photo by Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) arriving at his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Dec. 25. JTA photo by Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images. JERUSALEM—

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expects a “new era” when U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

He said as much in late December when he addressed the United Nations Security Council resolution passed against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem that the Obama administration declined to veto.

“The resolution that was passed at the U.N. yesterday is part of the swan song of the old world that is biased against Israel, but, my friends, we are entering a new era,” he said, mixing outrage with hope. “And just as President-elect Trump said yesterday, it will happen much sooner than you think.”

Trump has publicly given Netanyahu reason to be optimistic, at least on his terms. Shortly after the resolution passed by a vote of 14-0 with the U.S. abstaining, the president elect tweeted: “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20,” when he will become president.


Samantha Power (center), the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting in New York, Dec. 23. JTA photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images. Samantha Power (center), the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting in New York, Dec. 23. JTA photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images. His pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told a Jerusalem rally in October, ahead of the U.S. presidential election, “The Trump administration will never pressure Israel into a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the wishes of the Israeli people.”

If Netanyahu and Friedman are right, Israel’s government could soon find itself with a freer hand than ever in dealing with the Palestinians. That government reflects how far the spectrum has shifted rightward in decades of failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Israeli-Arab wars, Palestinian terrorism, Middle Eastern chaos and Israeli settlement building since the Labor Party led Israel into the Oslo peace negotiations with the Palestinians in 1993.

While the diminished left wants to try harder to reach a negotiated peace deal leading to a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the two mainstream approaches to the Palestinians come from what could now be called the center right—maintain a version of the status quo—and the center, which favors unilateral withdrawal from much of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Israel’s empowered and vocal right wing supports the annexation of large parts of the West Bank. On both the political extremes, there is support for various versions of a single state for Israelis and Palestinians, and there are many positions in between.

Netanyahu avowedly supports the leftist position of a negotiated two-state solution. But many say his demanding conditions for the Palestinians make him a de facto center rightist on the issue, and he has expressed support for the approaches of the right and even the center left. Here is a survey of the Israeli political map when it comes to the “Palestinian problem.”

THE CENTER RIGHT

The center-right view on the Palestinians, rooted in the moderate wing of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, is that the state should guide settlement growth and keep its army in the West Bank for the foreseeable future. Most of the world views Israeli building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state. But Israel has always rejected Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, which it claims as its united capital, and reserved the right to build there and on public land in the West Bank.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon laid out a version of this view in a Foreign Affairs essay published online last month.

“Palestinian reluctance to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” not settlements, was the primary obstacle to peace, he wrote.

Unilateral withdrawal, though appealing, was not a solution, Yaalon said, because the Palestinians are dependent on the Israeli economy and infrastructure, and Israel needs to maintain military access to the West Bank. “Separation” would trigger an economic and political crisis in the West Bank and threaten the security of Israel and Jordan, he said.

THE CENTER LEFT

The idea of unilateral withdrawal that Yaalon argued against has been taken up in recent years by centrist Israeli politicians, most notably in the Labor and Yesh Atid parties, both of which are in the political opposition.

Last February, Labor unanimously voted to shift its official strategy to separating from the Palestinians. A month earlier, Isaac Herzog, the head of Labor and the opposition, laid out the plan in a speech at the International Security Studies think tank in Tel Aviv, saying a two-state solution was no longer possible under the current conditions.

Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, who wants to be prime minister and whom polls show challenging Netanyahu for the job, has called for a unilateral Israeli pullout from parts of the West Bank. At a news conference with foreign journalists a year ago, he said, “The details may be complex, but the basic idea is simple—Israel doesn’t want to absorb 3.5 million Palestinians [in the West Bank]. It is time to separate and guarantee our future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The 2014 strategic assessment of the Institute for National Security Studies explained that the move “would reverse the current trend that makes a separation increasingly hard to implement” and head off Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel that could culminate in pressure “for a single Arab-majority state between the river and the sea.”

THE RIGHT

A growing number of politicians on the Israeli right—especially among hard-line members of Likud and the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, which is part of the governing coalition—want to annex large parts of the West Bank. Supporters of this view have been emboldened by Trump’s election in November and were enraged by the UN resolution.

In a 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal, Bennett explained that his plan would grant full Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians living on the land to be annexed and let Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank govern themselves under what he has called “autonomy on steroids.” He also called for the dismantling of all roadblocks and checkpoints, as well as the security barrier, to “allow Palestinians complete freedom of movement” and taking steps to grow the West Bank’s economy.

Critics charge that Bennett’s solution is just another version of the one-state solution, only with Israel ruling a restless, stateless population.

THE LEFT

The only Jewish party on the left holding high the torch of negotiations with the Palestinians is Meretz, which squeaked into the Knesset in 2015 with the fewest number of seats. Meretz chairwoman Zahava Galon was one of the few Israeli voices to welcome the resolution against the settlements.

In a 2013 speech at the annual conference of J Street, the dovish American pro-Israel lobby, she said separation from the Palestinians was not enough. Galon called for Israel to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians based on recognition of their claims to the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, and to resettle settlers “into the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel.” 

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