Netanyahu's Choice: One or Two State Solution?
By Yisrael Ne'eman
Despite American maneuverings and Palestinian media success over the settlement freeze issue, Israel is not just the victim of others conniving. It seems obvious to many that there is no real foreign policy direction, in particular when engaging the Palestinians. PM Benyamin Netanyahu must make clear his own policy objectives. Does he advocate the one state or two-state solution? According to his Bar Ilan speech of June 2009 he favors two states. Inherent in such a view is the need for a Jewish and democratic state of Israel, otherwise why make the effort?
In particular PM Netanyahu has not shown leadership capabilities. If we stretch it Bibi could be a factional political leader but many are not even sure what faction that would be. Is it the Likud, because if so, it appears a revolt is brewing in the party's right wing. Led by Negev and Galilee Development Minister Sylvan Shalom the right has successfully blocked any possibility of extending the construction moratorium in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). One does not even know if Netanyahu wants to extend the freeze.
Netanyahu is far from a statesman. The PM constantly finds himself outmaneuvered by his underlings. Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Shas embarrassed him over building permits in Jerusalem while US Vice Pres. Biden was on a visit here half a year ago. Last week Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman of Yisrael Beiteinu did it in the UN, making policy statements not coordinated with the PM. The foreign minister is speaking of decades before there can be a permanent status agreement while the PM released a statement Saturday night reiterating the desire to reach an accord with the Palestinians in a year's time. No PM in the history of the state has been so undermined by his own ministers. Now add to that the pro-settlement oppositional faction in his own Likud party who have denounced his call for a two state solution and are leading the drive for new West Bank construction.
How does Netanyahu envision the future? If he truly believes in the two-state solution (with the accompanying security guarantees) he must make it clear to everyone, including his own Likud party (27 MKs). Should that be the case he must line up support not only in his own party but in the other junior factions of his coalition, in particular the Sephardi ultra-orthodox Shas (11 MKs), Yisrael Beiteini (15MKs), the Jewish Home party (3 MKs) and United Torah Judaism (6 MKs). It is possible that a majority or all of the above mentioned would leave the coalition, forcing elections or bringing about a new coalition with Kadima (28 MKs) led by Tzipi Livni. Ehud Barak's Labor party (13 MKs) would remain in the government. Even should it be just a Likud/Kadima/Labor government there would still be 68 members of Knesset supporting the government. In a pinch he can also get support from the left wing Meretz faction (3MKs). The question is what is the strength, size and unity of the Likud right wing and would it continue supporting the government or break off into a separate entity. Should there be eight or more from the Likud right wing refusing to support him the government will not survive. For Netanyahu to take such a risk would endanger him politically, possibly ending his career should he lose the party leadership to the right or be defeated in an election by a coalition of right wing parties.
Or are the Bar Ilan speech, proximity talks and discussions of eventual negotiations just so much public relations bluster. If so, then the PM should own up to his true vision for the future and announce he has no intention of arriving at the two-state solution, but rather he prefers the Land of Israel over the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic entity. Labor would leave the coalition and the National Union (4 MKs) which is far right of today's government would join. Netanyahu would have a comfortable majority of 66 of the 120 mandates in the Knesset. Of course he would have to consolidate a settlement drive putting an end to any speculation of a two-state arrangement. He would certainly incur international wrath for his actions, including US censure. There could be economic repercussions as well, certainly when speaking of EU trade agreements. Jordan and Egypt would find themselves in a very difficult position as regards the Arab/Muslim world and a third round of conflict with the Palestinians certainly becomes a possibility. Most importantly the Arab population from the Jordan to the Mediterranean will become a majority within a short amount of time. Giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinian Arabs is the democratic thing to do but would put an end to the Jewish State. Not giving citizenship would put an end to Israeli democracy. One cannot have both. Foreign citizenship or any other legal arrangement for the Palestinians outside of full citizenship will not cut it in international forums - they will be seen as having some form of second class status and Israel will pay a heavy price as a result. With such international pressure it is possible that more moderate Likud voices (like Dan Meridor) will bolt the coalition.
The PM must announce his vision and build a coalition to support him, or better yet, convince the coalition he now leads to support one of the two opposing visions. From what we have seen over the past year and a half Netanyahu prefers the two-state solution. Regardless of American and Palestinian attempts to paint him in an unfavorable light he must move boldly in the direction of the two-state initiative. First he must assert his leadership and to do so his voice must be the only one representing the government. He cannot allow his credibility to be undermined by his ministers - whether Eli Yishai, Avigdor Leiberman, Ehud Barak or anyone else. The best case scenario is that he holds the coalition together. A right wing or at least a right of center coalition coming to terms with the two-state solution and the Palestine national movement is most preferable. An agreement by a left wing government would never be seen as legitimate by at least half of Israel's Jewish population. Such an event in itself will have negative implications for the unity of the Jewish People in the Israeli state.
Not moving or moving too slowly will draw Israel into the one state bi-national default. The implications here are no longer just those of Jewish unity, but rather of Jewish survival.