Despite Coalition Support, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal Unlikely

Centrist parties in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government lack the support to push for a compromise.

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, September 2, 2009
Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, September 2, 2009 (Itzik Edri)

Despite support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two centrist coalition parties for a peace deal, Israel is unlikely to reach an accord with the Palestinians during his government.

Not the government’s position

The liberal justice minister, Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, clashed with lawmakers from the nationalist Jewish Home party on Tuesday, when she argued that a two-state solution is in Israel’s interest.

“Two states for two peoples is not the government’s official position,” maintained Orit Struck, a Jewish Home member.

“This is perhaps Netanyahu’s position and your position, but it has not been accepted as the government’s position,” something Livni was forced to admit.

Ronen Hoffman, a lawmaker for Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, which placed just behind Netanyahu’s conservatives in January’s election, wondered, “How is it possible to expect the Palestinians to enter negotiations when part of our government opposes a Palestinian state?”

Settlement freeze

Livni called for a freeze in Jewish settlement construction in West Bank territory that is also claimed by the Palestinians, a policy the prime minister previously supported but that is strongly resisted by rightwingers.

A day earlier, Lapid had gone further and suggested some settlements should be dismantled if Israel was to reach a final peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“We will have to remove tens of thousands, not just from their homes but from their dreams,” he told a business conference in Tel Aviv.

He added though, “The settlement blocs will remain in Israel.”

Some 80 percent of the 340,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank live in large clusters near the capital Jerusalem or the internationally-recognized border.

Defying the right

Livni’s and Lapid’s parties got 20 percent support in January’s election, almost as much as Jewish Home and the Orthodox Shas that supported Netanyahu’s previous governments.

Both oppose territorial concessions to the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement.

It is unlikely that the centrists that will be able to force Netanyahu into revising his settler policy. The premier cannot afford to defy right-wing voters, many of whom defected to Jewish Home in the last election.

Lapid’s worries

Lapid also has more pressing worries.

His voters are mainly secular and middle class who switched to Yesh Atid because they felt Netanyahu’s economic policies left them out in the cold.

Yet as finance minister, he has proposed tax increases and spending cuts that hit middle incomes the hardest.

He now lacks popular support for demanding changes in the government’s foreign policy.

Fig leaf?

Labor was quick to capitalize on the coalition’s divisions.

One opposition lawmaker asked Livni whether she was “a lone wolf in this cabinet or a fig leaf for the government’s true policy on the Palestinian issue?”

For the time being, the former seems the more accurate description.

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