Netanyahu is fleeing the challenge
Is it possible that people as direct and honest as Begin and Ya'alon would remain for a moment at the side of a prime minister genuinely committed to a policy that blatantly contradicts their basic beliefs - beliefs that are grounded in Likud's political manifesto?
The Saudis announced Saturday that they will not open their skies to let our backpackers make their way to India, and unless there is some last-minute hiccup, the Fatah conference will announce that it is in no way willing to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The Arabs are thus paying back the leader of the rightist camp who has taken his political life in his own hands and gained "broad national support for a Palestinian state." Of course, such a state will be demilitarized, without Jerusalem or territorial contiguity, but nonetheless, when has there ever been nearly-universal support in Israel for a solution of two states for two peoples? Once again they are not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, but we have already said that about them.
Has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really rallied "national support" for withdrawing from extensive areas of "Judea and Samaria"? There isn't even a consensus in his cabinet for recognizing a Palestinian state, not to mention a consensus among parties or in the coalition. Has he convinced his deputy, Moshe Ya'alon, or his other support player, Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin, that the Palestinians are indeed partners for peace? Is it possible that people as direct and honest as those two would remain for a moment at the side of a prime minister genuinely committed to a policy that blatantly contradicts their basic beliefs - beliefs that are grounded in Likud's political manifesto?
The presence of those two, like that of other senior Likud figures, not to mention the ministers of Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, can serve as testimony that Netanyahu's declarations have not made them lose any sleep.
In the political section of Likud's 2008 manifesto (page 7, after the economy, education, land reform and the war against crime) it says: "the peace talks at Annapolis, which promote the achievement of a final and rash agreement, miss their target." It also says that "we do not believe that the Palestinians are ready for the historic compromise that will end the conflict ... they have rejected unprecedented concessions that we, the Israelis [Labor, not Likud] proposed eight years ago, and their stance has neither changed nor been moderated to date." When does the Likud chairman plan to seek approval from party institutions to adjust these important articles in the manifesto?
Avoiding the challenge to his new stance (even though he claims it is an old one) on solving the conflict raises the suspicion that the prime minister is counting on the Arabs' refusal to pay the cost of the entry ticket to the negotiating arena. Instead of paying the political price for the changes in the government's positions, he is passing the burden of proof onto the Arab side and is demanding that they alter their position. When terrorism is at a low, they raise the issue of a Jewish state; when the Americans demand that the Jews cease construction in the settlements, he demands that the Arabs embark on normalization.
Netanyahu is also consistently avoiding mentioning the words "road map." He certainly knows that Security Council Resolution 1515 of November 2003 has unanimously adopted the road map and does not mention the 14 reservations raised by Ariel Sharon's government. During the first stage of the map, the Palestinians were meant to begin with the dismantling of their terrorist infrastructure and Israel was ordered to dismantle outposts and freeze settlement construction entirely. U.S. security officials, and even senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, have commended the energetic efforts of Salam Fayyad's government against the terrorists. No one can say that about the Netanyahu government's activities against the settlers.
Whether he planned to give up on the territories or sink the peace process in formaldehyde, Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu's predecessor in the Likud leadership, declared his commitment to the "vision of two states" as required by the road map. For better or worse, Sharon rallied broad national consensus to the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and paid for it with the division of Likud. A genuine consensus for a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 lines and the division of Jerusalem is prevalent among those whom Netanyahu likes to describe as "elites" and accuse of "monolithic" thought.
A national consensus is not built in a press interview, nor an address at a university. It is also not achieved by inventing a demand for the Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or by demanding that Israeli citizens be allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia. A national consensus is achieved in the cabinet and Knesset.
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