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Gaza Pasta Vs. Gilad Shalit

Secretary Hillary Clinton: "Why is Israel barring pasta from Gaza Strip!"

IsraCast: Clinton is obviously aware that Israel has not fully reopened all of Gaza crossings in order to pressure Hamas into humanitarian treatment of Gild Shalit – is Clinton really sending a signal to Netanyahu on his coalition building?

Netanyahu's challenge will be to persuade right wing coalition partners to give him room for maneuver in Palestinian negotiations

Gilad Shalit

After failing to draw Kadima and Labor into his government, the Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu has started negotiations with his right wing partners on drafting the foreign policy and domestic guidelines for his new coalition. Meanwhile, an Israeli press report says U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has chastised the current Israeli government for not allowing food products such as pasta to enter the Gaza Strip. Could this be a veiled hint to the incoming prime minister? IsraCast analyst David Essing assesses the situation as Netanyahu sets about forging guidelines for his right wing coalition.

Question: What are the prospects the Prime Minister designate Binyamin Netanyahu will be able to broaden his potential right wing coalition by including the centrist party Kadima led by Tzipi Livni?

Tzipi Livni | Bibi Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Answer: At present the prospects do not look very good, if at all. Kadima leader at Tzipi Livni has refused an offer by Netanyahu to join his coalition- Livni explained that she and the Likud leader have different approaches to dealing with the Palestinian question. Now in the outgoing government, Foreign Minister Livni conducted peace contacts with the Palestinians within the framework of the Roadmap peace process that calls for the establishment of two independent states, Israel and Palestine. However, Binyamin Netanyahu takes a different approach; although he has not publicly repudiated the two-state formula the Likud leader and his right wing coalition partners have made clear they do not view it as a viable solution in the near future. In the election campaign Netanyahu ran on a platform that favored economic negotiations with the Palestinians.  The Likud leader contends that Palestinian society lacks the democratic underpinnings to sustain a democratic state and that it is vital to build this foundation before there is any chance of establishing a Palestine ready to live alongside Israel in peace. But that approach obviously puts the Annapolis process of former President George Bush for now negotiating the two-state solution on the back burner.

So where does Kadima leader Tzipi Livni stand on this?

The Likud leader contends that Palestinian society lacks the democratic underpinnings to sustain a democratic state and that it is vital to build this foundation before there is any chance of establishing a Palestine ready to live alongside Israel in peace

The Kadima leader views Netanyahu's approach as a nonstarter that will do harm Israel in the international arena in general and with the Obama administration in particular. She appears to have the support of her Kadima party behind her - only a former defense minister Shaul Mofaz is in favor of joining Netanyahu's coalition, apparently with an eye on getting his old job back. Outgoing Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik also supports joining a unity government. But Livni has declared she is ready to lead Kadima into the Opposition and serve as Opposition in the Knesset, while insinuating that the days of a Netanyahu cabinet will be numbered. She seems to mean what she says and appears to have her party behind her.  


But if Netanyahu can already count on the support of 65 right wing Knesset members in the 120 member Knesset, why is he still trying so hard to persuade Livni to bring her party into the cabinet?

But Netanyahu's major challenge now will be to hammer out guidelines with his far Right partners which will enable him to conduct some form of negotiations with the Palestinians that will be acceptable to the Obama administration

Well perhaps the old saying: "Beware of getting what you want!" applies to Netanyahu in this situation and after he wrapped up a majority to get the nod from President Shimon Peres to form a new coalition. Indeed the Likud leader first approached his natural right wing coalition partners and only after cutting a deal with them did he approach Kadima and Ehud Barak's Labor Party. But now both Livni and Barak have told Netanyahu: "If the far Right are in, we are out!" Although Netanyahu has forged a potential majority in the Knesset, he will be totally dependent on their  positions, when it comes to any future negotiations with the Palestinians - negotiations that the entire international community led by the US are eager to promote. With the world clamoring for two- state solution, the Netanyahu coalition may be perceived as a hard-line partner not ready to make concessions for the sake of a peace agreement. Netanyahu is obviously aware of this predicament and of his need for political maneuver. Moreover, if Israeli political leaders like Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak contend that Netanyahu will not be able to compromise with the Palestinians, what will the rest of the world say? Also in the domestic arena, a narrow right wing coalition will also put Netanyahu's government at the mercy of the individual partners and their individual demands on the budget. For example, Lieberman's party that pushes for civil marriage reform and the like, will be facing off against the orthodox religious parties. But Netanyahu's major challenge now will be to hammer out guidelines with his far Right partners which will enable him to conduct some form of negotiations with the Palestinians that will be acceptable to the Obama administration. Otherwise, Netanyahu will have a very tough hoe to roe in foreign relations. In any case, Netanyahu has said he is ready to make another last-ditch offer to Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.

What could the Likud leader now offer Kadima?

Whether or not pasta for Gaza is a greater humanitarian need than the welfare of the Schalit may be a moot question- but Clinton's crack may be a veiled hint to Binyamin Netanyahu as he proceeds building his government coalition

Netanyahu has already offered Livni two of the three top cabinet positions of her choice – defense, foreign affairs or finance. But Livni turned this down saying she is not interested in cabinet positions but the political course of the new government. Livni also made clear she could not see any possibility of Kadima now joining a Netanyahu government after he had already wrapped up a deal with the religious parties and Avigdor Lieberman. There is one long shot though - if as a last resort Netanyahu offered Livni a rotation of the premiership. In other words Netanyahu would serve for two years as prime minister and then Livni for two years. But this is indeed a long shot and Livni would likely also seek control of the Palestinian contacts. There have been no signs that Netanyahu would go that far. Meanwhile, Channel 10 TV has reported that Netanyahu plans on appointing the Likud's Dan Meridor as defense minister. A former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon had been mooted for the job, if it stayed with Likud. Meridor, a respected Israeli public official who served in previous cabinets, has altered his traditional Likud positions in recent years adopting a more moderate stand on peace negotiations with the Palestinians. By considering Meridor for the defense portfolio, Netanyahu is apparently trying to soften the future image of his cabinet. At this stage, the US also appears to be getting into the act. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz has reported that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rebuked the outgoing Olmert government for not opening up the Israeli crossings more to the Gaza Strip. Clinton was actually quoted as saying there was no reason for Israel to block the entry of 'pasta' into Gaza. Never mind that Israel has not fully opened the Gaza crossings as pressure on the Hamas government in Gaza to allow at least one Red Cross visit to captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Whether or not pasta for Gaza is a greater humanitarian need than the welfare of the Shalit may be a moot question- but Clinton's crack may be a veiled hint to Binyamin Netanyahu as he proceeds building his government coalition.

David Essing

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