Netanyahu's Decision: Lieberman or Peace

If it is his coalition that is preventing him from continuing with the settlement freeze and peace talks, Netanyahu must replace his partners.

The obvious conclusion from the "construction crisis" is that, after a year and a half in power, the present coalition has reached a dead end. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to achieve "an historic peace agreement" with the Palestinians in the coming year. For him to keep his promise, he must replace his partners in the leadership of the country and form an alternative coalition with a majority of supporters of an agreement.

When he formed his government after the elections, Netanyahu preferred his "natural partners" from the extreme right factions - Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi - to a centrist government of Likud, Kadima and Labor. Netanyahu apparently believed it would be easier for him to run the country at the head of a right-wing government, in which the disintegrating Labor party is a partner that serves in a decorative role. As long as Netanyahu made do with declarations, as in the Bar-Ilan speech, or with unilateral gestures, like the temporary freeze on expanding the settlements, his right-wing partners granted him freedom of action.

Cartoon - Amos Biderman - Oct. 4, 2010
Amos Biderman

But the situation changed completely when the negotiations with the Palestinians were renewed, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ), Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas ) and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi ) found themselves in a dilemma: on the one hand, their loyalty to their worldview, which rejects compromise and an agreement, and, on the other hand, their desire to serve as ministers. The solution they found was to attack the diplomatic process from inside the government. The high point was the speech by the foreign minister in the United Nations General Assembly, in which he dismissed the prime minister's diplomatic effort. The opposition of most of the ministers to an additional freeze, even at the price of a clash with the U.S. administration, makes it clear that Netanyahu is imprisoned inside a coalition that will not let him move.

As long as Netanyahu sticks with Lieberman and Yishai, his emotional calls to the Palestinians to return to negotiations ring hollow. If it is the coalition that is preventing him from continuing with the freeze and progressing with the diplomatic process, he must replace his partners. Kadima should join the government and wants to do so. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who declared her support for Netanyahu's diplomatic steps, must promote them as foreign minister. Only a centrist government, in which there is a clear majority of supporters of compromise, will be able to promote an agreement with the Palestinians and extricate Israel from its international isolation. The formation of such a government is crucial at this point in time.