On the way to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating tent
An historic agreement with the Palestinians is a paramount goal for Israel and certainly for its prime minister.
Halfway between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to sit in a tent for three - for himself, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the broker. Abbas and Netanyahu would enter with no preconditions and come out only when they reached an agreement. Netanyahu shared this picturesque vision with The Washington Post late last week.
Netanyahu's support for a two-state solution hasn't been so resolute since his Bar-Ilan speech in 2009. The interview's target audience is mainly the U.S. administration's leaders - Kerry, President Barack Obama and his national security adviser, Susan Rice. The Obama administration's moves in the first five months of his second and last term, including the appointments of Kerry and Rice, show that Obama is striving to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
His difficulties in internal affairs and his failure in other foreign affairs, including his trip to Europe last week, will only deepen his desire to anchor the Obama legacy in the Middle East. This would be a legacy of peace and reconciliation of someone who received the Nobel Prize as an advance that has yet to be justified. Nothing like this will happen in Iraq or Syria. Only the Israeli-Palestinian equation has room for the American factor.
Netanyahu's statement also reflects an awareness of the security risks marked by Kerry's despairing of his mission's chances. These security risks are exactly what Central Command chief Nitzan Alon mentioned around the same time as Netanyahu's interview. Alon, who was doing his duty as a professional, without encroaching on the politicians' territory, warned of a violent conflagration in the West Bank. Netanyahu ought to come out in Alon's defense in Israeli forums, not just via messages to the U.S. administration.
In the wider perspective, if Netanyahu is serious and isn't uttering moderate statements as a ploy to shift the burden to Abbas - something like Ehud Barak's "revealing Yasser Arafat's true face" at Camp David in 2000 - he must draft a sober, courageous initiative and make a sincere effort to implement it.
This would inevitably effect the makeup of the cabinet and put coalition difficulties in the prime minister's way. But a historic agreement with the Palestinians is a paramount goal for Israel and certainly for its prime minister.