The controversy which erupted this week in Israel over a future two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinians conflict raised major problem on series of levels. They include the policy itself; the implications for Israel’s relations with its neighbors and with the U.S.; and, what is most troubling here, is the matter of political leadership in Israel. It opens up the entire question as to whether Netanyahu intends or ever intended to seriously pursue peace talks with the Palestinians; whether there was an understanding –unwritten–in the coalition agreement between Bibi and Naftali Bennett concerning talks and settlements; and, finally, whether Lapid also is giving tacit approval to Bennett and Netanyahu.
The head of HaBayit Hayehudi Party, Bennett, had followed Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon of Likud last week in essentially denouncing the possibility of a two state solution being negotiated with the Palestinians. While these two Cabinet Members asserted this position the Prime Minister appeared ready to continue to support a two state solution and so claimed he had informed U.S. Secretary of State Kerry. This certainly seemed like a bizarre way for a Government to make policy; even a coalition one.
The problem is one of leadership and sincerity. If Bibi is committed to a two state solution, he either needs to keep his Ministers on board or admit that this type of democracy is indeed a free for all and there is no discipline within the coalition. Bennett must lead his faction—which is certainly a right wing group– but he should have some obligation to the Government. Alternatively, the position articulated by the Prime Minister was false and indeed Danon’s comments were the true position of the Likud let Government.
Finally there is the question about the role of Yair Lapid, the head of the 19 seat Yesh Atid faction who many assumed might well drive the peace issue within the coalition, albeit not as boldly as might a left wing faction. As a moderate centralist he has chosen his fights within the budget arena and against the charedim, but his failure, so far, to demand some form of cohesion within the Government on any peace process movement is disappointing or even appalling.
While this does not appear to an especially promising time to even consider moving ahead with peace negotiations given what else is fermenting in the region, it might have been appropriate for the Israelis to demonstrate they would be ready to proceed. While clearly the Palestinians have not shown a genuine interest in negotiations, it would have been rather easy for the Netanyahu Government to move out as a united front in support of the Kerry initiatives. Instead, Israel has reverted back to Levantine politics.