Intrigue! Israeli President Shimon Peres has been privately griping (and by privately griping I mean leaking it to Haaretz) about the current stalemate and what he perceives as Benjamin Netanyahu’s overly hard line—as when, earlier this week, the prime minister pledged that Israel would permanently retain a military presence on the Jordan River’s actual west bank, deep in the West Bank (prompting Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to reiterate the standard position that this presence would be unacceptable). Anyway, Peres—who, as president, has little official power, but who, as Israel’s last living link to its founding, has some kind of symbolic weight—wants to meet with President Barack Obama in order to kickstart the peace process. Meanwhile Netanyahu invites the right-wing National Union Party to join his governing coalition and selects a hard-line hawk as his new national security adviser, while at the same time reportedly plans a major new diplomatic initiative that would hand over more of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.
Yes, it’s confusing.
Basically, what we’re seeing, if Aluf Benn’s widely read column from several days ago is to be believed, is the battle over Bibi’s soul. With his domestic popularity sinking; his coalition threatened by everything from differences over fundamental principles, corruption investigations, and the potential willingness of opposition leader Tzipi Livni to strike a deal with the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu similar to his own; and the upheaval in the Arab world arguably lending greater urgency to an Israeli peace drive—or at least an Israeli initiative of any sort of boldness—the central question is whether Netanyahu will betray his past and his hard-line father, who will turn 101 (!) later this month, and make substantial concessions.
As Benn frames things, it could be Netanyahu’s Sharon moment: A parallel to the former prime minister’s bold Gaza pullout, which at least at the time substantially improved his domestic popularity and which for all time likely salvaged his international reputation. Or, it could be just more Netanyahu.
The prime minister, Benn wrote, “needs to make a decision, something he has avoided doing for two years: choosing between the ideology he was raised on and which is part of his internal belief system, and the duties of the leader of a small country entirely dependent on international support.” Speaking of which! “It was only the flick of Obama’s finger that prevented a huge diplomatic defeat for the prime minister,” Benn noted of the United States’s U.N. veto last month, “and the White House went out of its way to make it clear that it does in fact support the condemnation and was voting against it only for domestic political considerations. Now the time has come to cash in, and Obama will demand a price.”
So far, National Union has refused to join Bibi’s government because the prime minister will not commit to a new spate of building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Developing …
Peres Seeks Meeting with Obama to Kick-Start Peace Process [Haaretz]
Netanyahu Vows to Keep Jordan River Posts [NYT]
Fayyad: PA Must Have Jordan Valley [Arutz Sheva]
Netanyahu May Be Breaking Away from the Far-Right to the Center [Haaretz]
Related: Personal History [Tablet Magazine]