What If ?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It occurs that Bibi’s trip to Washington could present him with wonderful opportunity to turn the entire Middle East debate on its head, certainly as far as the peace process is concerned. While the President has already met with the Jordanian King Abdullah—whose engagement in the Palestinians talks is only marginal—Netanyahu arrives as the first player that the President is now meeting. Bibi knows that he will be followed in two weeks by Palestinian President Abbas and the Obama is meeting the Gulf States (whose major concern is Iran and a Syria). With Kerry having carried the water until now, Obama appears to be jumping in for much more than additional photo-ops. It is Obama who likely will disclose the U.S. framework proposal for the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
So, what if Netanyahu actually said he was ready to compromise and take the political heat at home. He knows the public polls support him by close to 60%, although his own coalition and his party will fracture. This could be a dramatic political moment for Netanyahu; as dramatic as Sharon’s turn around when he formed Kadima. Bibi would be calling everyone’s bluff. He would be telling the West, the Palestinians, the Saudi, Israel is genuinely ready to deal. The last prisoner release is already scheduled, and now Netanyahu agrees to respond to all the issues on the table.
Obama and Kerry will run with it, albeit it skeptically; the Palestinians will have their card called; and ironically, the BDS’s will suddenly be quieted. In Israel, however, there will be a political eruption. Naftali Bennet and HaBayit HaYehudi will bolt the coalition. Most of Likud would leave as well, but Yesh Atid and Kadima will stay firm; while the new Labor Party leadership will be totally left with no alternative but to join with Bibi. In addition, the American Jewish community and the AIPAC thousands in Washington will be dumbfounded.
The point is that Netanyahu has nothing to lose substantively and everything to lose politically. If his gambit works, there could be a major move toward peace and if it failed Israel will have taken the high road and return to the status quo. In addition, for his political forthrightness, Bibi might win an even stronger engagement by the U.S. in the Iran talks and potential even stronger Iran sanction threats. The tragedy is that very few analysts see Bibi politically willing of taking such a step. Despite the fact that he has no genuine political opponent, this move is probably beyond Bibi.