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PM Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 It is a sorry tale of high politics and low morality. In the same week, a former Israeli prime minister from the moderate camp is convicted of bribery while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warns he may suspend his peace mission if Israel and the Palestinians fail their 'reality check'. Analyst David Essing connects the dots between these two seemingly separate developments. 

 Palestinians prefer UN…

Tzipi Livni

 Even for tempestuous Israel, the past week had Israelis reeling from one headline to the next. Just what the hell is going on between Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's peace mission about to expire at the end of April, Abbas and Netanyahu have dug in their heels with precious little to show for Kerry's twelve visits to the region. First, the Palestinian leader exploited an Israeli delay to release a fourth and final batch of Palestinian terrorists and headed back to the UN in an effort to rev up more diplomatic pressure on Israel. (Israel has already freed scores of terrorists as a concession for the Palestinians' renewal of negotiations on founding a Palestinian state!).


The bottom line is that so far Netanyahu and Abbas have not been able to agree on anything except that neither side is willing or able to make the necessary compromises.

 Abbas applied for recognition by a number of UN bodies violating their commitment not to circumvent Kerry's peace bridging effort. The bottom line is that so far Netanyahu and Abbas have not been able to agree on anything except that neither side is willing or able to make the necessary compromises. Cabinet minister Tzipi Livni, who represents Israel in the contacts, believes it is still possible to salvage the peace effort, saying: "A meeting is in the offing to repair the damage caused by the Palestinians’ precipitous decision to go the UN." Livni charged that after eight months of contacts, the Palestinians had used a couple of days delay on the prisoner issue to rush back to the UN. She had expressed her ire at a tense meeting with Palestinian representative Dr. Saeb Erekat, who blasted Israel for not releasing the terrorists on the dot. Livni disclosed Israel had made clear to Secretary Kerry that it would not free more terrorists unless the Palestinians were ready to continue the peace negotiations after the April 29th deadline.


Ariel Uri Yehuda

 At the same time, Livni hauled her cabinet colleague Housing Minister Uri Ariel over the coals for announcing a tender for a new housing project in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is across the old 1967 line. She accused Ariel (who is from the Jewish Home party) of deliberately trying to sabotage her peace contacts with Kerry and the Palestinians. Despite the current blow-up with the Palestinians, Livni was optimistic about making progress in the negotiations, and suggested a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas 'to find a way back'. In her view, the test is still ahead for Kerry's peace effort, which she praised as 'unbelievable'. 


 Possible solution for impasse… 

Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Abbas apparently believes he can get a better deal at the UN.

 Both Abbas and Netanyahu say they agree on a two-state solution: Palestine and Israel. But there is a subtle but noticeable difference, the Palestinian leader has declared, "Not one Jew will be allowed to remain inside the new state of Palestine!" On the other hand, while Abbas demands that Israel recognize Palestine as the Palestinian state, he will not recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Consider this: both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary Kerry have repeatedly referred to' the Jewish state of Israel'. This riled the Palestinian leadership to no end because it negated the Palestinian demand that some four million refugees be allowed to return to Israel. The American stand on a Jewish state, that is based on the logic that millions of Palestinian refugees would spell the end of the Jewish state, may have spurred Abbas to bolt the negotiations and renew his attempt to seek an imposed UN settlement. It goes without saying that power politics and the more than fifty Muslim states would again gang up on Israel. As for a possible solution: Israel could impose a settlement freeze in West Bank territory that will obviously be ceded to Palestine. The freeze would not be imposed in the settlement blocs such as Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel, or parts of Jerusalem that will likely remain part of Israel. In return, the Palestinians would recognize Israel as the Jewish state. If this is so simple and logical for advancing the peace contacts, why has it not been agreed? Abbas apparently believes he can get a better deal at the UN. In Israel, there is a growing school of thought that Netanyahu could achieve a tactical victory by imposing a temporary settlement freeze. By demonstrating in deed as well as word, Netanyahu could shift the international pressure on to Abbas. In fact, Netanyahu would create a win-win situation for Israel, because it is well nigh impossible for Abbas to accept the concept of the Jewish state due to the opposition he would face from Hamas, from an unknown number of West Bank Palestinians as well as from refugees living abroad. There is now a growing of number of Israelis who favor a more pro-active policy, including a unilateral withdrawal from part of Judea & Samaria if the Palestinians refuse to negotiate on a Jewish state. Such an Israeli gambit would show the Palestinians time is not on their side. However, Netanyahu is on the horns of a vexing dilemma due to the far Right make-up of his Knesset caucus. An appraisal of the 20 Likud Knesset members indicate that the vast majority, as high as seventeen or so, would not tolerate a new settlement freeze and might even rebel and topple Netanyahu as party leader. 


 Israeli majority for moderation… 

 Actually, although Right-wing hardliners, who oppose a Palestinian state, dominate the ruling Likud-Beitainu bloc of 31 Knesset Members, they do not command a majority in the government coalition, and obviously not in the 120-member Knesset. This is a breakdown of Knesset Members in Netanyahu's coalition when it comes to negotiating with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on founding a Palestinian state:

  • Likud-Beitainu - 31 (the vast majority are opposed, although Netanyahu himself has said he's in favor)
  • Jewish Home headed by Naftali Bennett - 12 (totally opposed)
Those in favor are:
  • The Future Party of Yair Lapid – 19
  • Movement party of Tzipi Livni – 6.  

 Therefore, in the coalition only 43 of the 68-seat Knesset majority are irrevocably opposed to the founding of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. On the other hand, the remaining Knesset members who support negotiations on a Palestinian state command an overwhelming majority of roughly more than seventy, when the parties of Lapid and Livni are added to those MKs who favor negotiating a Palestinian state.

  • Labor - 15 
  • Shas -11 
  • United Torah Judaism - 7 
  • Meretz - 6 
  • United Arab list - 4 
  • Hadash - 3 
  • Balad -3 
  • Kadima- 2 

 Therefore the crucial question is what will happen in Israel's domestic politics if the Kerry mission folds and if Netanyahu's coalition is deemed responsible by Israeli voters? Lapid's nineteen MKs obviously hold the key, and if they bolted the coalition they would trigger a coalition crisis. However, nothing is ever simple in Israeli politics - Netanyahu could then try and cobble a new coalition by caving in to the ultra-orthodox on the IDF draft issue. 


 The Olmert effect… 

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)
After shady dealings swirled around him in recent years, his financial chicanery has finally caught up with him.

 'A man of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy' - former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of unquestioned political leadership, who had become moderate Israel's great hope, has now fallen into ignominy for financial corruption. Olmert was considered by many Israelis to be the only potential leader with the right stuff to challenge Netanyahu for the premiership. Yet during his political career, the young Olmert who once campaigned against organized crime and rose steadily by dint of his razor sharp intellect and people skills, was apparently afflicted by a tragic flaw - his cutting of legal corners to make an extra shekel on the side. After shady dealings swirled around him in recent years, his financial chicanery has finally caught up with him. Instead of stepping up again at one of the most crucial times in Israel's history, Olmert has succumbed to the Greek insight about 'character being destiny'. This is obviously a terrible time for the man and his family, but more than that, it could be a great loss for the nation, which faces great trials and tribulations. 

Tzipi Livni comes across as a serious politician worth listening to, but without a power base and lacking the right stuff...

 On the Right, there is the incumbent Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who may be handcuffed by his own party in coping with the Palestinian issue, let alone with the Iranian nuclear threat that could erupt at any time. The more moderate Israel is left without a leader of Olmert's political stature who can challenge Netanyahu. Opposition leader Yitzak Herzog of Labor is trying hard to create a new image of a man to be reckoned with. But will he ever overcome the persona of a very likeable but lightweight politician, somewhat akin to Labor's Ed Milliband in Britain? Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni comes across as a serious politician worth listening to, but without a power base and lacking the right stuff to ever soar to the summit. Olmert brought it upon himself, and Israel's legal system, the hallmark of a vibrant democracy, has come through with flying colors, but alas, the country is all the poorer for his demise. 



David Essing

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