CMEP Bulletin: Dissent in Netanyahu Cabinet Complicates Efforts
With Kerry continuing his attempts to bring the Israeli and Palestinian governments to the negotiating table, political pressures in Israel have been rising at the prospect that something might just happen to change the current stasis in negotiations. Some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners are giving him headaches as he tries to convince the world of his willingness to engage in negotiations.
On June 6, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said to The Times of Israel, “Look at the government: there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution… If you will bring it to a vote in the government — nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”
Although several senior members of the cabinet have supported efforts to restart negotiations, Danon said, “Today we’re not fighting it [Netanyahu’s declared goal of a Palestinian state], but if there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the party and the government.” If Kerry succeeds and Israelis and Palestinians agreed on a two-state solution, “then you have a conflict,” but he does not see that happening because “today there is no partner, no negotiations, so it’s a discussion. It’s more of an academic discussion.”
The Hatuna Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who came close to negotiating terms for an agreement with the Palestinians in 2008 threatened to leave the coalition if Israel was not going to negotiate a two state-solution. She told journalists, “Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to have to decide whether to let ‘Danonism’ get the upper hand in the discussions, or to allow those forces in Israel that realise that a peace agreement is an Israeli interest to make the decisions… We will not remain in the government without a peace process.”ne
On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s office released a statement while on a trip to Poland that read, “The two governments [Israel and Poland] agree about the urgent need for progress toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… by way of direct negotiations without any preconditions [emphasis added].” This was interpreted as a repudiation of Danon until the next day. Netanyahu’s aides said that the prime minister did not see or approve the text before it was sent out in a press release, a likely consequence of the Foreign Ministry’s staff strike and an empty foreign minister cabinet position. Netanyahu is holding the position for his ally Avigdor Liberman who is currently on trial for corruption.
A member of Netanyahu’s staff clarified that while the prime minister personally believes in a Palestinian state, “It is not the Israeli government’s position – not because the government takes the opposite position but simply because the government has no official position on the Palestinian subject. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position is that he supports the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state that will recognize the Jewish state, with appropriate security arrangements.”
This distinction between the Prime Minister’s position and the cabinet’s non-position on creation a Palestinian state left many blinking, but in fact that reflects the landscape of Israel’s politics.
By expressing personal support for a Palestinian state (with significant conditions) Netanyahu is able to appease Kerry and buy time. If Kerry can finally bring Netanyahu and the Palestinians to agree to negotiate, Netanyahu may well find himself soon in need of a new coalition.