Benjamin Netanyahu couldn't have expected a better result. The right-wing leader both used Moshe Feiglin to depict himself as a moderate statesman and erased him from the Likud ticket. This brilliant move paves Netanyahu's way to the center - the object of desire for every Israeli politician striving for power. The large bloc of seats in the center likes to see its prime minister in the White House and, if possible, the Elysee Palace, as well as maintaining contact with Cairo and Amman, and most important, constantly talking about peace and promising at least once a month to evacuate the outposts and freeze settlement construction.
After discovering that the vision of an economic peace doesn't deliver the goods for the center, Netanyahu remembered the good old peace process. He's going from newspaper to television station, from European envoy to Arab diplomat, smoothing feathers by saying he will continue negotiating with the Palestinians over a final-status agreement and will even give that preference over talks with Syria. That tactic didn't work too badly 12 years ago, so why shouldn't it work today?
On the eve of Netanyahu's victory in the 1996 election, he publicly promised, "the Likud government will recognize the facts created as a result of the Oslo Accords and will conduct negotiations to reach a final-status agreement of peace with the Palestinians."
What happened next is well-known; although Netanyahu prided himself on a dramatic decrease in the number of terror attacks during his term, he used Palestinian terrorism as an excuse for his refusal to negotiate a final-status agreement after talks officially began in the spring of 1996. Today he can bet that the Qassams will do the same job.
But maybe, despite it all, Bibi has matured and changed? Perhaps, as a Zionist patriot, he is paying attention to the ticking of the demographic clock? Maybe he's aware of the upsurge in Palestinian voices calling for a binational state and abandonment of the failed attempt to reach a two-state solution. And it's possible that, as someone who was burned by friction with a white American president who doesn't believe in enlightened occupation, Netanyahu will be careful not to anger a black president who knows something about discrimination.
A formal answer can be found on the Likud chairman's Web site, www.netanyahu.org.il, in the National Security category under the link for "The Issues." The English-language side of the Web site states: "The present peace talks at Annapolis focusing on a hasty final settlement miss the point entirely. We do not believe that the Palestinians are ready for any historical compromise that would truly put an end to the conflict. There is no evidence that the Palestinians are prepared to accept even the least of any [of] Israel's demands proposed by any of its leaders."
The official Netanyahu suggests focusing on improving Palestinians' daily lives and even halting assistance to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - in other words, pulling the rug out from under the feet of the pragmatic Palestinian camp and extending the conflict over many years instead of resolving it as soon as possible.
A similar, almost identical, approach can be found in several articles and lectures by former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, whom Netanyahu personally brought into Likud's inner circle.
"Dealing with the final-status agreement issues allows the Palestinians to evade their responsibility for failure; exempts them from dealing with internal reforms, without which there is no chance of changing the situation; and places the burden on Israel," Ya'alon wrote in an article that appears on Netanyahu's Hebrew-language blog.
And in an article in the English version of the latest issue of the quarterly journal Azure: Ideas for the Jewish Nation, which is published by the Shalem Center think tank, Ya'alon writes, "The present diplomatic path, which forces Israel to make far-reaching concessions and take genuine risks in return for empty Palestinian declarations, is headed for war, not peace." He recommends that both sides get off the "peace train" and board the one on the right track - the one that leads to an economic peace that provides security, while perpetuating the occupation and the settlements.
Hamas calls this a "hudna" or a "tahadiyeh," and relies on Israel to continue peace talks until every Palestinian stops believing in peace.
Voters who have not given up on the hope of ending the occupation and achieving normalized relations with all Arab countries don't have to make do with Netanyahu's vague promise of "continuing negotiations." Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni has not met her obligation either, issuing only clues that hide more than they reveal. She should address the large gap between her and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia after a full year of talks at various levels.
It also wouldn't hurt Labor leader Ehud Barak to reveal whether he's given up the "no partner" doctrine, and if so, what he is offering the neighbors. The positions of the Palestinian leaders on the core issues are well-known. Israeli voters deserve to know the positions of their leaders on borders, settlements, the division of Jerusalem and the refugee problem. Enough with negotiations-shmegotiations.
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