Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in a political bind after the war in the Gaza Strip. According to the latest Haaretz-Dialog poll (Haaretz, August 28), Netanyahu still enjoys broad public support and voters have not identified a worthy alternative.
But in rejecting Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett’s jingoistic counsel to reoccupy the Strip, he has lost his support base on the right. Likud cabinet ministers refuse to publicly support him and the heads of Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu slam him for being “too soft” on Hamas. Netanyahu’s political isolation was expressed in his not putting the cease-fire agreement to a vote in the inner cabinet, for fear it would be voted down.
Now Netanyahu promises Israelis a “new diplomatic horizon” and “new opportunities” in light of the changes in the Middle East. If, as in the past, these are only empty slogans meant to justify the continuation of his pointless tenure, then he is heading for a fall. The disappointed right will not fall in love with him again, and his long premiership will come to an end without having achieved a thing. But if he really wants to improve the situation of Israel, which as a result of the war is in a foreign-relations crisis and an economic slowdown, he must put some meaning into his promises and strive to make peace with the Palestinians.
The formula is known: Adopting the Arab peace initiative as a basis for substantive negotiations with the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas, with the support of the “moderate axis” of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The entrance fee is also known: the release of Palestinian prisoners as promised to Abbas, the suspension of construction in the settlements and the participation in rebuilding the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu has always been afraid of controversial decisions that would threaten his political base. The composure and control he displayed in the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge proved that he is capable of resisting pressure.
Now, after the war, it is time for him to keep his promises to the public and to obtain peace, even if it means replacing some of his coalition partners and confronting the political hacks in his Likud party. If he dares to do so, he will find that the public is behind him and the international community is at his side. But if he withdraws into his fears instead of going forward into negotiations, his term will end in a diplomatic and legal battle against claims of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, it will become a mere footnote.
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