Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can Netanyahu Move Away From His Right-Wing Coalition?

Israel's relations with the United States have been tense ever since the Israeli Interior Ministry called for 1,600 housing units for settlement in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as their future capital. The announcement came during the visit of Vice President Biden, a strong supporter of Israel. The New York Times reports on America's and Britain's questions about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his right-wing coalition:

Mr. Netanyahu finds himself at odds with the United States and Britain partly because of the coalition he is having to manage at home. He has personally moved even farther to the right, while driving a political alliance with even more conservative elements. But some analysts say that Mr. Netanyahu has more leeway than it appears, that he could build a more centrist coalition if he chose to.

Meanwhile, both Britain and the United States have become increasingly frustrated with these Israeli political currents, with officials in both countries expressing doubts about whether such a conservative alliance could ever move forward on a peace plan.

Writing in The New Yorker, David Remnick wonders whether Netanyahu is capable of shaking off his past ideology–and whether he realizes the consequences of not doing so:

The essential question for Israel is not whether it has the friendship of the White House—it does—but whether Netanyahu remains the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties, the loyal son of a radical believer in Greater Israel, forever settling scores with the old Labor √©lites and making minimal concessions to ward off criticism from Washington and retain the affections of his far-right coalition partners. Is he capable of engaging with the moderate and constructive West Bank leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, and making history? Does there exist a Netanyahu 2.0, a Nixon Goes to China figure who will act with an awareness that demographic realities—the growth not only of the Palestinian population in the territories but also of the Arab and right-wing Jewish populations in Israel proper—make the status quo untenable as well as unjust?

Without the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state, comprised of a land area equivalent to all of the West Bank and Gaza (allowing for land swaps), and with East Jerusalem as its capital, it is impossible to imagine a Jewish and democratic future for Israel. There is nothing the Israeli leadership could do to make the current fantasy of an indifferent American leadership become a reality faster than to get lost in the stubborn fantasy of sustaining the status quo.

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