Netanyahu Won't Divide the Land
Which way will Bibi go? This seems to be the big question - whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will bow to American pressure, exchange his right-wing/religious government for a "peace coalition" and start taking down the occupation, or whether he will dig in.
I don't think there's any doubt about it - he's going to dig in. This is not the prime minister who's going to divide the land with the Palestinians.
To begin with, of the 69 MKs in an imagined Likud-Kadima-Labor-Meretz coalition, the great majority are totally opposed to paying the well-known price for peace - removing 100,000 settlers from the West Bank's interior and relinquishing Arab Jerusalem to the Palestinians for their capital. No Likudnik sees this as anything less than treason, and all but a few Kadima members would agree. The peace coalition actually numbers no more than about 20 MKs, and even with the outside support of the Arab parties, they're a hopeless minority, for now anyway.
Still, could a prime minister who has the president of the United States and the rest of the world bearing down on him convince the majority to do the deal? Could a prime minister with unusual powers of persuasion persuade the country to do what the democratic world has been asking it to do since 1967, on pain of losing its place in that world?
Maybe. If such a prime minister really believed Israel's future depended on its ending the occupation. And Netanyahu doesn't believe that for a minute. He's spent his whole career preaching the opposite - that giving up the land conquered in the Six Day War would be the death of this country. This isn't a talking point for him, it's the worldview he was raised on, one he's never abandoned regardless of the empty phrases he utters now and then to stroke the Obama administration. Netanyahu has opposed every peace process he's ever been around. His view of the Palestinians is simple, clear and consistent - either we keep them down or they wipe us out.
The only prime minister from the "national camp" who ever turned around completely, who was ready to go all the way for peace with the Palestinians, was Ehud Olmert. There are no reports yet of Netanyahu having had that sort of epiphany. For him to divide the land, to divide Jerusalem, to give up Hebron, to send 100,000 settlers packing - that would be treason in his eyes. That would be moral suicide. His heart isn't in it; everything in him rebels at the idea. Our prime minister is constitutionally incapable of leading the nation out of the Palestinians' midst, of fighting the settlers and the Right in a virtual or literal civil war, of persuading Israelis to admit that on the crucial endeavor of their national life for the past 43 years, they were wrong and the world was right.
Forget it. Bibi is not the man for that job.
So what's his strategy? How does he plan to hold off Barack Obama and his international allies? By playing for time, I guess. By trying to outmaneuver the White House until his allies, the Republicans, can maybe cut the president down to size in the November elections. I figure Netanyahu's strategy is to stall and hope for something to break his way, seeing as how his predicament with America and the rest of the world can hardly get worse.
So let's see - if Netanyahu isn't about to lead the country through fire and water to a new future, is there another Israeli leader who can? No there isn't. Not now, anyway. What's required of Israel in the two-state solution goes far, far beyond Menachem Begin's return of the Sinai to Egypt, or Yitzhak Rabin's recognition of the PLO, or Ariel Sharon's pullout from Gaza - and there is no Israeli leader today who comes anywhere near Begin, Rabin or Sharon. Leadership today lies in the hands of the Right, spearheaded by the settler movement. Mainstream Israelis don't want a battle royal with those people; they much prefer the status quo.
Only when the status quo becomes intolerable, when continuing the occupation arouses even more dread than the prospect of dividing the land and taking on the settlers, will Israelis be ready to free the Palestinians. And at that point, we won't need a Begin, Rabin or Sharon for prime minister, we'll just need a competent, respected executive to carry out the public's will.
Meanwhile, it's up to Israel's friends - the US and the moderate majority in the rest of the democratic world - to make the status quo here intolerable, to make it clear that they've run out of patience for this 43-year-long throwback to colonialism that we've been running on the Palestinians.
But that's not the only thing Israel's friends have to tell us. They also have to make it clear that though they oppose our rule over the Palestinians, they support Israel as a Jewish state roughly within the pre-Six Day War borders, oppose the Palestinian "right of return," and recognize the Jews' claim to the Temple Mount alongside that of the Muslims, who call it the Noble Sanctuary.
In short, Israelis must be shown that they have a world to lose by holding onto the occupation and a world to gain by letting it go.
This is the only way it's going to happen. There shouldn't be any mystery about what Bibi's going to do, or rather not do: He's not going to do what's necessary for peace. It's not in him. The real question, now and in the years ahead, is this: What are Obama and Israel's other sober-minded friends going to do?