Despite Coalition Support, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal Unlikely

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

Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni attends a meeting in Kiryat Gat, February 25, 2011
Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni attends a meeting in Kiryat Gat, February 25, 2011 (Flickr/Tzipi Livni/Itzik Edri)

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

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 own interest. “Two states for two peoples is not the government’s official position,” insisted 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 admitted.

Ronen Hoffman, a lawmaker for Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, which placed just after 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?”

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

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. The latter adamantly oppose territorial concessions to the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement.

It is unlikely that the two centrists that will be able to force Netanyahu into revising his settler policy. The premier can ill afford politically to defy right-wing voters, many of whom defected to Jewish Home in the last election.

Lapid, moreover, even if he commands the largest bloc after Netanyahu’s in parliament, 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 proposes tax increases and spending cuts that hit middle incomes hardest. He therefore lacks the popular support that might otherwise have allowed him to demand changes in the government’s foreign policy.

The Labor opposition was quick to capitalize on the coalition’s internal division on Tuesday when one 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?” At least for now, the former seems the more accurate description.

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