“I pulled the Palestinians down from the tree of preconditions; I didn’t agree to a further freeze of building in the territories; I refused to release 120 prisoners before the talks began; and the 1967 borders aren’t mentioned,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted to his ministers on Saturday.
He’s right. Netanyahu has indeed made some tactical gains as the negotiations with the Palestinians begin, but all the problems are right around the next corner: Pre-Oslo Accords prisoners will be released in batches; the building in isolated settlements will be controlled; and the talks concerning the borders will be based solely on the 1967 line, with necessary changes, because there is no other choice.
Netanyahu bought himself time − nine months, maybe even a year − but further down the road he will have to take a dramatic, difficult decision that he fears, but knows he cannot avoid: the partition of the land.
Politically, the coalition will be rocked. The Bennetts and Liebermans, the Danons and Elkins, will scream at every smiling prisoner on his way to Gaza, at every motionless bulldozer on the top of a hill in the West Bank, and at every leak from the negotiations that mentions “Jerusalem” or “the refugees.”
Whoever believed that Likud has calmed down after all the turmoil of recent weeks was wrong. The ruling party won’t know a moment of peace as long as the peace negotiations roll on.
Still, the prime minister has nothing to fear. Firstly, these negotiations will begin with the 2013-2014 budget wrapped up and the Knesset out for two months. This will give Netanyahu much room for political maneuvering, without facing trouble from his right-wing colleagues in the Knesset.
Secondly, at any given moment Netanyahu has a solid majority − in the government, the Knesset and the public − for any agreement he may choose to present. If Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party leaves the coalition, Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor will move in. If Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party departs, Shas and United Torah Judaism will replace them.
Even when considering the radical possibility of the government being toppled or disintegrating, Netanyahu could call an election and win huge support as the leader of the political center − even from many Likud supporters who have had enough of the occupation.
Netanyahu is the only politician in Israel who can sign an historical pact, have it approved and implement it. If, of course, he thus desires, and if he finds a partner among the Palestinians. He can’t take that for granted. MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), who is close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, repeated on Saturday his famous quote from the time of the last government: “The maximum Netanyahu can offer is less than the minimum Abbas can accept.”
As for Netanyahu’s coalition partners, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) has vindicated what seemed to be a strange decision − to join Netanyahu’s third government. Netanyahu and Livni conducted the overtures that enabled the resumption of negotiations. The big question is what will happen when Livni “enters the room” − her preferred expression for negotiations − and begins discussing the serious matters with Saeb Erekat, and at what precise moment Livni and Netanyahu start seriously disagreeing as to Israeli positions.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) was quick to post a message on his Facebook page on Saturday, taking credit for the renewal of the negotiations: “Yesterday we reignited the negotiations ... after all the discussions and telephone calls ... After analyzing possible scenarios and discussing matters with the prime minister and security staff, I leaned back on my chair and asked myself how I feel,” Lapid wrote.
So, hang on! It was actually him! Well done, Yair! For three months now he’s been telling us he hasn’t got time to deal with the peace process because of the budget. But on Saturday, when everything fell into place, he jumped on the bandwagon, declaring that it was all his doing! New politics, old politics, the golden rule remains: When something good happens, say it was your doing. When things go wrong, say it was inherited from the previous government.