This government won’t bring peace, solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, revive the two-state-solution or even hold peace talks with the Palestinians (not a great loss in light of recent experience). Leftists with dreams and rightists with fears are invited to chill. It won’t happen. Not on this watch. Not in the coming years. If ever.
Nevertheless, the “government of change” is in fact bringing change on the Palestinian issue. All the parties in the governing coalition have agreed to bolster the Palestinian Authority in order to weaken Hamas. This strategy - and especially its having been made public - is an important new development.
LISTEN: How PM Bennett humiliated Abbas upon returning from Biden meeting
The strategy is expressed through measures that include a loan that will be repaid out of the taxes Israel collects on the PA’s behalf (so that, in effect, the Palestinians are loaning themselves money) and granting legal status to a few thousand people living in the West Bank (that is, permitting their registration as Palestinian residents there). Only in a state that is up to its neck in a mechanism as warped as the occupation could these steps be considered relief or a benefit.
Additional measures include increasing the PA’s involvement in delivering Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip, letting another 15,000 Palestinians work in Israel and improving crossing checkpoints.
The symbolic expression of this approach was the recent working meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Granted, Naftali Bennett was not pleased that Gantz made public what was supposed to have been a secret meeting. Yet not only did the prime minister know about the meeting, he and Gantz coordinated positions in advance.
Even though Benjamin Netanyahu, both as head of the opposition now and previously as prime minister, has never halted his unbridled incitement against the Oslo Accords, his governments were careful to uphold parts of them, in close cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, because this served the interests of both Israel and the PA. Nevertheless, in public his rhetoric was always combative and destructive.
Abbas suffered humiliation and ongoing delegitimization. And Hamas ballooned from one round of violence to the next, in terms of both its military capabilities and its sense of self-importance (for evidence, look at its appropriation of the bloody conflict over the Temple Mount and several other domestic issues relating to Palestinian Israelis).
- Bennett rejects peace process with Abbas, focuses on Palestinians' practical needs
- Bennett-Biden meeting opened no doors, but left a crack for the Palestinians
- Bennett isn't a leader, he's a manager. That's what Israel wants
The pragmatic process that Israel’s technocratic government has embarked on may well prove more effective than another round of futile negotiations, whose greatest accomplishment has generally been the participants’ stay in nice accommodations with good wine. In contrast to the painful and unresolved clashes on issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the refugee problem, which always end up deepening the rift and destroying trust between the sides, the current process is viable, because it genuinely meets the immediate needs of all the parties.
Israel’s government does not want diplomatic negotiations, so as not to embarrass its rightist components, but it does want Abbas as the proprietor of the West Bank and the Palestinian people in general. Abbas isn’t happy about talking with the Israeli government and being depicted as a collaborator at a time when the Palestinian struggle is at a nadir, but he wants to shore up his standing and secure economic achievements for the Palestinians. The Biden administration doesn’t want to impose a solution (or even a timetable for a solution) on Bennett, because above all, they want quiet in the Middle East, and not to rock this battered boat any further. And also because they want to preserve this government and prevent Netanyahu’s return.
It’s fine to keep dreaming about two states, and certainly to keep battling the occupation – a sick situation that’s bad for Palestinians and Israelis alike. But strengthening the Palestinian Authority and restoring Hamas to its natural dimensions – those of a terrorist organization that isn’t good for its own people – are the most practical, effective steps that can be taken right now. And it’s good that the government is taking them.