The Israeli public is fairly satisfied with his government. According to a public opinion poll published today in Haaretz, PM Benjamin Netanyahu keeps high ratings and the public generally believes that the absent of negotiations with the Palestinians is Abu-Mazen’s fault. The only surprise in the poll is a majority of Israelis willing to negotiate with Hamas.
Exactly half of the public (50 per cent) is satisfied with the Prime Ministers’ work so far, while only 40 percent are “unsatisfied” (the rest are undecided). Defense Minister Ehud Barak gets 50 percent positive approval as well. The only concern Netanyahu should have is with his Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is viewed positively only by 38 of the public.
50 percent of the public blames Abu-Mazen for the absence of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, while 27 percent think it’s both sides’ fault. 25 percent thinks that the White House treats Netanyahu in a humiliating way (42 percent perceive the administration’s behavior as “reasonable”; only 12 see it as respectful)
If elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud would have risen to 33 Knesset seats (they have 27 now), while Livni’s Kadima would have grown to 29 (it has 28). Labor drops from 13 now to 6, and altogether the Right-Orthodox wing is getting stronger, to 72 seats (65 now), while the Center-Left block drops to 48.
The common wisdom is that in times of terror attacks the public moves Right, but now we had almost a year of relative quiet accompanied by an effort for renewal of negotiations, and the Right is getting stronger. This is bad news for those who believe in persuading the Israelis to join the peace effort. The public simply doesn’t want that. As I explained before, the meaning of these numbers is that without intense international pressure, no Israeli leader would be ready for concessions – since it would mean confronting a hostile public opinion. The rational choice for every Israeli leader right now- regardless of its ideology – is to oppose the peace effort. Read the rest of this entry »
You can say that Benjamin Netanyahu raised impossible demands from the Palestinians in his “major diplomatic speech,” as he called it (full text here). You can say that he didn’t accept the American demand for a complete stop of all construction projects in the West bank and East Jerusalem. You can say that he spent most of his time repeating his usual narrative of peace-seeking Israelis and Arab Rejectionism, and that he was “boldly stepping into 1993“. And you would probably be right in saying all this.
But what I heard today was the last Israeli leader to accept the idea of a Palestinian state.
There is no national figure to the right of Netanyahu, only second rate extremists. Avigdor Liberman long ago accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. So did, in less than a decade, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni – all of them formerly Likud people, even hard-liners, who finally understood that from an Israeli point of view, even a Zionist one, there is no real alternative. Twenty years ago, even Labor leaders didn’t speak of a Palestinian state. It was considered a radical-leftist idea. Things changed; one can’t deny that – but at what price!
So much for historical perspective. Now we can take apart some of the smaller details of the speech:
● Negotiations: Netanyahu called for immediate negotiations with all Arab leaders, “without preconditions.” This in something Israeli leaders always said, and the Arabs will probably reject this idea again. The reason is simple: The only asset the Arab leaders are holding is the possibility of legitimizing Israel, and negotiations can be seen as a form of legitimation. That’s why most leaders will ask for something in return before engaging in direct talks – if not from Israel, than from the US.
● A Jewish State: Netanyahu wasn’t completely honest when he claimed to be ready to negotiate without preconditions. He had some conditions, especially for the Palestinian side. First, he asked Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (in fact, if I got it right, he kind of asked the whole Arab world to do so). This is something the Palestinians will never do, because they would be betraying the cause of Palestinians citizens of Israel – which make up 20 percent of the population – for equal political and civil rights. But Netanyahu knows that this demand sounds good to the Israeli public, as well as to American Jews (unlike his insistence on building settlements), so he keeps on raising the issue, assuming it can help him out of tough corners in the future.
● Hamas: Netanyahu had another condition for the Palestinians. He demanded the PA does something the Israeli Army couldn’t do: remove Hamas from power and re-seize control over the Gaza strip. Again, Netanyahu probably knows that moderate Arab leaders, with the silent support of the Obama administration, are moving in the opposite direction, of establishing a Palestinian unity government that will be able to negotiate with Israel. The Hamas problem allows him to buy time.
In my view, this is currently the biggest obstacle in the way of the peace process. This is not about declaring something about a Jewish homeland, like the previous demand. We can always work out a fancy statement that will keep almost everyone happy. This is a real political mess: Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO controls the West Bank. Are we to establish three states? The position Netanyahu took actually gives veto power over any agreement to Hamas – and the PM might be counting on them to use it.
● Settlements: Thirty words. That’s what Netanyahu had to say about the issue which stood at the bottom of his confrontation with Obama, as well as his political problems at home. Bottom line: the PM presented the consensus he was able to build in his government as a response to the American demand. No new settlements will be built, and there will be no further confiscation of Palestinian land (I won’t go into the legal details, but this doesn’t mean much, because Israel decided long ago most of the land in the WB is “public land”, and therefore open for construction). We will have to see what Israel really does on the ground – and how the Administration responds – in order to judge both sides’ commitment to their positions.
● Borders, Security, Refugees and Jerusalem: we had nothing new here. A typical Israeli hard-line. Netanyahu even said at one point that “my positions on these matters are well known.” And that’s exactly how we should look at them – his positions, which will be subject to whatever happens at the negotiating table.
● And that’s my bottom line: I never thought – and I still don’t think – that Benjamin Netanyahu is the right man to lead Israel out of the West Bank (not to mention bring peace for the region). Not because he is a radical – Sharon was considered much worse before he took power – but because he hasn’t got the right character, nor the right ambitions. But he can still play a big role in this process, and if he does, this day will be remembered as his first step. It took Obama only two months to get him there. We should be optimistic.
I woke up late this Saturday morning, only to find Netanyahu droped a bomb during his first interview since the elections (to “The Washington Post”, of all places). As reported in the main headline of Harretz’s Hebrew web site, Netanyhu told WP that “in principle, I believe in two-states for two people”.
Benjamin Netanyahu supporting a Palestinian state? Wow.
After all, his objection to the idea was Livni’s reason not to enter his government, even when offered complete partnership. Is it a new spin, intended to cause tension within “Kadima” and force Livni into the coalition? And what will his partners on the right say? Could we be headed for a Netanyahu-Liberman-Livni coalition? No doubt, this could change everything.
But after a couple of hours, when I was getting ready to write a post on the matter, a funny thing happened: the headline changed. It no longer said that Netanyahu accepts the two-state solution; just that he declares that “(the) Palestinians should govern their own lives”. No big news there. It was even stated that the intended PM was careful not to mention the “two-state solution”, which, if you read the WP interview, is true. Netanyahu didn’t say anything new.
Here is the screen shot of the article after the headline was changed (click on the picture to see it in full size). It now says “Netanyahu: Palestinians should govern themselves”. But those of you who read Hebrew can notice the browser’s headline still shows the old version: Netanyahu: “in principle, believes in two-states for two people”.
What happened here?
The first option is that someone in Haaretz noticed that they took Netanyahu’s words out of context, and fixed the headline. But there could be another option: that they got a call from one of Netanyahu’s people, complaining that he didn’t say those words, and after re-checking the facts, they corrected the headline. In that case – which is very probable from my experience in the way the media works, especially on Saturday mornings – it is clear that Netanyahu is most afraid to lose his majority on the right. He will give Kadima any cabinet post they want, but won’t make the one statement that can force Livni into the government. So it’s clear we are headed to a narrow right-wing government.
And here is the real conspiracy theory: what if it was one of Livni’s people who called Haaretz to complain about the headline?
It seems more and more likely that we will have a narrow right-wing government. Tzipi Livni’s recent statements against joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s government were so clear, that they didn’t leave much room for future changes. Even if she decides to join him in the next few weeks, she will need a really good reason, or she will be seen as the worst flip-flopper in ages.
Livni probably estimates her number 2, Shaul Mofaz, who wants badly to join the government, won’t be able to make any move against her for the time being. Mofaz is not in a position to threaten Livni, nor to leave Kadima with some of his supporters and re-join the Likud.
As for Netanyahu, it looks as though he got the massage. Bibi started negotiations with his future right-wing partners, and that means he all but gave up on the “national unity” idea. After he allocates cabinet positions and sign agreements with the radical right, he won’t have much to offer Kadima or Labor.
This blog is written from the Left. I try to describe events in the most objective way, but I don’t hide my views. I believe that our first political obligations as Israelis is to do all that we can to end the forty two years old occupation of the West Bank, and to stop the siege on Gaza, which is another form of occupation. I also think that racism is becoming a major problem in Israeli society, and that we must do everything in our power to fight it. These are the principles I see in front of me when I consider which government is best for Israel.
The options range between bad and worse. The parties that advocate a full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and who are truly committed to democratic values, got three percent of the Jewish vote in the last elections. Three.
The Washington Post dives into the Israeli political battle: yesterday’s unusual editorial calls for Livni to let Netanyahu face the international pressure on his own:
Kadima and Labor, which favor continued talks on a two-state deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, would be wise to stay out of a Netanyahu-led government.
On the other hand, there are reports that Obama wants Livni in the government… I think it’s a mistake: a “national unity” government might make things easier for the American president politically, but won’t help the peace process.
On Thursday morning, president Shimon Peres is expected to start consultations with party leaders, in order to decide who should be given the task of forming a new government. This is the deadline for Benjamin Netanyahu to secure his Right wing block of 65 MKs.
Once he gets the nomination, the real game will begin. Netanyahu wants to form a broad coalition, with Kadima as a senior partner, balanced by some right wing or religious parties. He believes that a big coalition, with one or more partners from the left, is the key for his political survival. Netanyahu will have to overcome some opposition from within his party, because a big coalition also means less cabinet positions for Likud members, but he will probably be able to pull it off.
That leaves everything in the hands of Tzipi Livni.
The final results of the general elections were published on Thursday evening. Here they are, together with the polls’ average I posted here and my own projection.
Everyone missed out on the big surprise of the election – Kadima passing the Likud and becoming the biggest party again. The reason is simple: a new law prevents publishing polls in the last 4 days before an election. In the days leading to the elections, there was a significant move of voters from left-wing parties to Kadima, probably in order to stop Netanyahu. Meretz and Labor lost 3-4 MKs to Kadima in the 72 hours prior to the elections.