Tuesday, February 24, 2009

National Unity: Promising To Talk

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni have promised to keep talking. A Netanyahu government that does not include Livni's Kadima will be "more hawkish," right? And Netanyahu has finally agreed to pursue U.S.-sponsored talks with the Palestinians, right? If Livni stays out of the goverment, this will presumably make the Israeli side in the talks less, well, "dovish?" So does not her demand for rotation of the prime minister's job border on political selfishness?

Probably, but this is also a stupid question. The status quo serves the interests of the settlers and the 65 newly-elected defenders of Greater Israel in the Knesset. The only serious question is whether the status quo will be radically changed. Talking with the Palestinians about changing it, or talking about talking with them in some national unity government, is just another way of playing into the settlers' hands.

As I said in my last post--and Gershon Baskin has just said better--we cannot know if Livni's position on Palestine is ultimately very different from Netanyahu's, at least not from party platforms or party pedigree. We know that Livni has signaled a willingness to share Jerusalem (hence, her break with Shas) and that she certainly cares more than the 65--well, 64 if you include Netanyahu--about how Israeli policy plays in the West. Then again, we have reason to doubt that she will split the country, and her party (which includes people like Shaul Mofaz), to confront the settlers head-on--doubt that peace talks will produce anything valuable if they are not actually a cover for an American fiat.

BUT, ANYWAY, IF Netanyahu is serious about achieving, not just talking about, a two-state solution, he has an obvious way of signaling, too: he can agree to a coalition of Likud, Kadima and Labor plus others (which would be an initial bloc of about 75 MKs); agree to a rotation agreement, in which Livni would exercise the prerogatives of the premiership in a couple of years. Meanwhile, Kadima and Barak's Labor party, acting together, could bring down this government if Netanyahu just stalls. 

Netanyahu, in other words, would be agreeing to genuine partnership in a government Obama could engage. Need I add how utterly unlikely this is? Half of the Likud list would revolt; many would defect. Serious negotiation with the PA would leave Netanyahu no choice but to try to take Likud from the "national camp" into the globalist center--in effect, to join the more pragmatic rump of the his Likud, people like Dan Meridor and Eitan Cabel, to the more pragmatic rump of Ariel Sharon's Likud, that is, Kadima; to turn 65 into 50, at least until the next election.

If Netanyahu does not agree to rotation, however, it is a clear signal of a different kind: that (distasteful as this is) he is holding onto his 65 to leverage continuing inaction; that he merely wants Livni to paint lipstick on his pig. She would be a fool to go along. Whatever else she is not, she is not that.