The big news out of Israel today is Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s declaration, “I’m an optimistic person, but there is absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Keep in mind that much-beloved (though also controversial) Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has floated the notion that, in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority will have developed enough of an infrastructure to declare unilateral independence by the end of 2011. “We will make every effort to reach a solution because time is not on anyone’s side,” was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s indirect response to Lieberman’s statement.
The other context in which to understand Lieberman’s comments is Israel’s complicated coalition politics. Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu want to pull the government led by Likud Prime Minister Netanyahu further away from too much territorial (or, really, any kind) of reconciliation with the Palestinians, even as opposition leader Tzipi Livni flirts with trying to replace Lieberman’s right-wing party with her centrist Kadima. It is rumored that Livni—whose party, let’s not forget, actually won the most votes in last year’s elections—would be willing to enter the coalition on the condition of replacing Lieberman at the Foreign Ministry. Yet Livni also just yesterday took aim at Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (of the Labor Party) for leading the country “from crisis to crisis.” She may or may not want to enter this coalition; but as she made clear this weekend, she very much wants to lead the next one.
As for Yisrael Beiteinu, Foreign Ministry bureaucrats are dragging their feet in arranging for Netanyahu’s planned July 6 visit to the White House, ostensibly as part of a partial strike for better wages. And today, Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau—another hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu member, who was last seen saber-rattling with Lebanon—compared Barak to a “battered wife,” who, “instead of standing up to the person who is beating her tries again and again to see what more she can give up on,” which, in Landau’s extremely tasteful metaphor, represents Barak’s preferred policy of continued territorial withdrawals.
So, Lieberman’s comments today? They are designed to provoke the Palestinians, sure. But they may also be designed to force Netanyahu to take a stand, against Livni and against the more centrist negotiating policy favored by his coalition-mate Barak, at the risk of losing his right flank.
Oh, and hey, you know what none of this stuff really applies to? Gaza, and its 1.5 million residents.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.