It’s only a thought, or a rumor, at this point.
Before I get to it I want to thank all of my readers who have written in response to my recent posts. I appreciate hearing from you! Thank you. Please understand that I cannot respond to each message individually.
I also want to call your attention to a new, expanded (and highly informative) page I have put on my website about Israel’s rights to the Golan Heights:
As time allows, I will be updating my site in other ways as well – adding new material.
As to that revolting thought: There are rumors flying about President Rivlin’s intention to encourage Netanyahu and Gantz to form a unity government because there are so many issues to be dealt with.
In the end, I believe this will be no more than talk. But my crystal ball is not working, and I cannot be certain of anything. Thus I wanted to simply share some thoughts with regard to this.
The victory of Netanyahu and the right wing bloc was historic and significant. The country is moving to the right, and has clearly indicated its preference for a right wing government. In his victory speech on Wednesday, he said he would strive to be prime minister to all Israelis, but that he would put together a right wing government. For the prime minister to merge with a center-left Blue and White would be a betrayal of the people who elected him. It would undercut his ability to advance a right wing agenda, or perhaps better said, would signal abandonment of that agenda. It would detract significantly from his sense of victory, as well.
Netanyahu is not, let us say, an easy-going guy who shrugs off threats and insults. Thus do I find it difficult to imagine that he would welcome Lapid – who has delivered threats and insults – into a Likud-led government. (There is an alternate rumor that suggests Gantz might split from Lapid.)
The fact that Netanyahu is working to bring Kahlon into Likud, in order to strengthen it, seems to me to indicate that he intends to go it alone.
Why should we be even mildly concerned that he might consider a unity government? I see two major reasons:
One has to do with the difficulty of negotiating with the various parties in order to build a coalition. The major sticking point is Avigdor Lieberman, chair of Yisrael Beitenu.
He has his “or else” demands. Perhaps most problematic is his insistence on certain draft parameters for the ultra-Orthodox that are unacceptable to Shas and UTJ.
As matters stand right now, in order to forge a coalition, Netanyahu must include Shas, and UTJ and Yisrael Beitenu. This is one of the reasons I was sorry the New Right did not pass the threshold: the four mandates of this party would provide Netanyahu with more negotiating flexibility. Lieberman would wield considerably less leverage if it were possible to form the government without him.
(But wait! The New Right might still pass that threshold. It is just out that Hanan Melcer, chair of the Central Elections Committee, has acceded to the request of Naftali Bennett, co-chair of the New Right, to re-examine 300 ballot boxes because of charges that results reported were not accurate. All that is needed is some 1,700 votes. New Right Lawyers will be present during the examination.)
The other reason has to do with the indictment that Netanyahu may well be facing, following a hearing – which apparently has been pushed off some months. (The media frequently speak as if he has already been indicted, but he has not. What is more, an indictment is not a legal finding of guilt, but of sufficient cause to pursue a trial.)
There is talk of promoting legislation to delay the possibility of indictment until he is out of office, but this issue was at the heart of Lapid’s threats. Should Netanyahu join with Blue and White, it would almost certainly be with the proviso that they cooperate with regard to delaying any indictment, rather than pushing for it now.
This would be an extremely poor reason for Netanyahu to agree to a unity government, but we are talking theoretically about political pragmatics here.
And Blue and White? In the course of the campaign, Gantz said repeatedly and explicitly that they would not join a unity government with Netanyahu. Would they consider doing so now? Would Lapid, who declared himself ready to push hard on the indictment issue, be prepared to reverse himself?
In a statement after results of the election were published, he said, “The days are over when the opposition just tried to crawl into the government.”
Yesterday, on Facebook he denied that covert talks were under way to form a unity government (another rumor). He “meant every word” of his earlier declaration, he insisted: “we will absolutely embitter their lives, because that is the role of an opposition.”
Yuval Steinitz (Likud) is a confidant of Netanyahu. On Saturday, he said he didn’t think there was a high chance of a unity government because Netanyahu had promised a right wing coalition, and because unity governments “tend to be unstable.”
On Friday, in the course of an interview Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave on CNN, he was asked if Netanyahu’s “vowing to annex the West Bank” would hurt the Trump peace plan.
This question distorted what Netanyahu had said during the campaign, which was that he would apply sovereignty to the settlements (all of which are in Israeli-controlled Area C and not in PA-controlled areas). That distortion is common in mainstream media. But what is important here is how Pompeo responded:
“I don’t. I think that the vision that we’ll lay out is going to represent a significant change from the model that’s been used.” (Emphasis added)
All right! This puts to rest fears registered in some quarters that Netanyahu would cave, agreeing to withdraw from settlements, once Trump’s plan ‒ which it was presumed would call for a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria ‒ was released. This does not appear to be the scenario going forward at all.
It has been my suspicion that Netanyahu would not have made that statement about sovereignty, even in the rush of a campaign, without a tacit nod from Trump or some understanding that this would not cause a problem with the US.
Perhaps there will be no Palestinian state at all proposed in the Trump plan ‒ Jared Kushner has been vague on the issue of borders. But if there is, it apparently will not be proposed for Judea and Samaria. The rumors I’ve seen lately (more rumors) suggest some convoluted plan for Jordan to make room for such a state and to be recompensed with territory in Saudi Arabia.
I seriously doubt that this would work either. Jordan would not be happy about this. But there is reasonable hope here that we are not in for a difficult time.
I confess that I was somewhat bewildered when Trump commented, after receiving reports of Netanyhu’s victory, that, “The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace…I think we have now a better chance with Bibi having won.”
He said this knowing what Bibi had proposed! Could it be that he is more comfortable working with someone ready to think out of the box, than he would have been with Blue and White leaders still wedded to the same, failed “two state solution”?
I don’t have an answer, but it is an interesting thought.
Meanwhile, the PLO’s Mahmud Abbas (about which more below), for the umpteenth time, has rejected all willingness to cooperate with Trump’s plan. What he said was that it was being rejected “because it excluded Jerusalem from Palestine, and therefore we do not want the rest. There is no state without Jerusalem…”
Before leaving the issue of our settlements in Judea and Samaria, I must touch this one last base, with appropriate fury:
The US-based New Israel Fund (NIF), working against the genuine best interests of Israel, supports a number of Israeli NGOs that have an agenda that is destructive to Israel: organizations such as B’Tselem, Adalah, and Breaking the Silence. These groups regularly demonize Israel and encourage BDS.
One of the primary themes of NIF is that Israeli democracy is weak or at risk. (Some NIF grantees argue that Israel is not “democratic” because the Israeli flag has a Jewish star.) And this is what the CEO of NIF, Daniel Sokatch, has fallen back on now in an op-ed in Haaretz:
“A move to annex the occupied (sic) territories,” he declares righteously, “…could very well mark the beginning of the end of Israel as a democratic state.” Why? This move by Israel would “permanently disenfranchise another people.”
This assessment falls into the category of unmitigated gall. I mention it here only for purposes of retort. Note that he, too, willfully distorts Netanyahu’s declared intention. Applying sovereignty to Jewish communities has nothing to do with “disenfranchising another people.”
When we do apply sovereignty to most or all of Judea and Samaria (which, it should be noted, is not “occupied”), it will be with due thought for the Palestinian Arab population there. There are many plans under discussion regarding how to handle the situation – permit Israeli citizenship, allow an autonomy, arrange Jordanian citizenship (very likely part of Trump’s plan), etc. How dare this man gratuitously imply otherwise.
Sokatch is one of those people who presume to know better than Israelis what is best for Israel. I would suggest that it is the very mark of a democracy that our citizens have opted via the ballot box for what Netanyahu proposed.
We have – thank Heaven! – moved past the place of being intimidated when others suggest that what we are doing is “bad.”
When matters were tense at the Gaza border some weeks ago, Israel deployed three infantry brigades and an artillery unit there. They remained until now – whether because a danger persisted, Hamas had to know we were prepared, or it helped Netanyahu to appear tough before the elections, I cannot say.
Now, days after the election, they are being released, and it is “back to normal,” whatever that implies.
Fervently do I hope there is no official “truce” agreement with Hamas in the offing.
Meanwhile, over in Ramallah, Mohammad Ishtayeh (pictured, left), who has replaced replace Rami Hamdallah as prime minister, was sworn in with his new government. Abbas had selected Ishtayeh, a loyalist and member of the Fatah Central Committee, after asking Hamdallah to submit his resignation and dissolving the parliament that had not functioned for 12 years. Ishtayeh selected his government, which included 16 ministers.
The irony here is that Israel is accused of not being democratic, but neither Ishtayeh nor any other members of the new government were elected. The PA has not held an election since 2006, and in its 25 years of existence held only one election before this, in 1996.
Hamas immediately criticized this government, as did some members of Fatah.
Ishtayeh said that although the PA was facing tough economic times, it would continue to provide support to the families of prisoners and “martyrs”
I take the liberty here of sharing a brief story. In the course of investigative work I was doing years ago, I was attempting to find out if the PA was going to hold elections, as was being reported. This was sometime after 2003, when Ahmed Qurei was prime minister. I ended up speaking to some flunky in Qurei’s office.
In an effort to be social, I said “Aren’t you excited, that you will be having elections?”
His response: “We had elections once. What do we need them for again?”
Such is Palestinian Authority democracy.
How perverse is our world, which has accepted this and donated some $35 billion to the PA over the years, without demanding better.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.