Two major political-foreign relations news reports this week happened to collide. In the first, a worried Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from Washington and told his cabinet ministers that U.S. President Donald Trump was working on a preliminary peace plan — a thorn in the cabinet’s side, but one that must be greeted with a pretense of welcome. A word that was missing from the headline in Haaretz nevertheless hovered above the security cabinet meeting: “Oy.”
Netanyahu is a copy of Golda Meir, who as prime minister pretended to welcome the proposal by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (which was supported only by Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s ambassador to the United States) to withdraw from the Suez Canal in 1970. This was followed by the war that broke out 44 years ago this week.
The second story was about the ceremony to mark 50 years of settlement in the West Bank. Netanyahu and Culture Minister Miri Regev planned the event in order to embarrass the opposition, which fell right into the trap. Labor Party governments resettled Gush Etzion, where the ceremony was held, which the Arabs conquered in 1948, and Labor governments laid the cornerstone for the settlement cities of Ma’aleh Adumim and for Ariel. Shimon Peres planted a cedar tree in Ofra, as Theodor Herzl in his day did in Motza, and Rabin built a road network for the settlers.
Labor’s leaders should have owned the settlements and demonstrated that the right does not have a monopoly on the Land of Israel, which has room for a Palestinian state beyond the settlement blocs. Instead, Labor Party functionaries are renouncing both the struggle for the hearts of half a million Jews living east of the Green Line and the heritage of David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Natan Alterman and Naomi Shemer.
Turning their backs on the settlers may one day turn out to be disastrous. Draft-age girls from the settlements are ignoring the rabbis and enlisting in the army, and what shall we tell our children? Not to marry them and raise families? Heaven forbid.
In contrast, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor did the right thing when she forbade her fellow justices from attending the contentious ceremony, on the grounds that the venue is not under Israeli sovereignty. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin’s incitement against the court is another black mark against Netanyahu, who has not objected to it.
The ceremony will be soon forgotten, to be dredged up again at the convenience of those involved. Not so Trump’s initiative. Netanyahu may have reason to believe it’s all talk — the president is addicted to Twitter, and it’s enough to look at a world map to see that he has barely done anything of consequence. So why would his first action be one that goes against the wishes of the government that is the most friendly to him in the world? On the other hand, Netanyahu has grounds for fear. Precisely because of this wonderful friendship Trump may put his foot down in this instance.
The cabinet has nothing to fear, because Trump’s move is so minute that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will find it difficult to support, despite wanting to do so in order to demonstrate that Israel is the one sabotaging the arrangement. Netanyahu also wanted to support the move, because he believes in his ability to maneuver, to promise and not to keep his promises. He already did so in his Bar-Ilan speech, in which he announced his support for a two-state solution while working to block it.
But this time he chose coalition partners who aren’t willing to give him enough rope even to do tricks. Netanyahu is so afraid of losing his seat, that he is avoiding the slightest risk of disagreement with Habayit Hayehudi and refraining even from a feeble gesture such as relieving the housing shortage of the Palestinians in Qalqiliyah. Netanyahu’s erstwhile promise to expand the area of the West Bank city is destined to go the way of the agreement over prayer at the Western Wall agreement: The important thing is not to rock the boat.
Thus Netanyahu will continue on the path to the error of establishing a binational state, and will lose his maneuvering space in the bargain. Trump is impatient, and their deep friendship could instantly become a dispute.
All this, because Netanyahu doesn’t dare challenge the coalition over his right to maneuver. When he recites the “Al Het” on Erev Yom Kippur on Friday, asking forgiveness for his sins, it will not be without meaning.
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