Opinion: Set-Up for the Showdown

IDF image of Beersheba damage from Gaza rockets. Photo Courtesy of IDF Spokesperson.

The recent decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to include former-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in his government and agree to make her the lead negotiator with the Palestinians is already wreaking havoc in Israeli politics. But the real showdown is yet to come. If the West thinks a Middle East peace deal can be forced by convincing the sides it’s nearly midnight, they might just end up with a duel at high noon instead.

Ynet reported that Livni was named Justice Minister in the new government officially, but received a much more valuable bonus position—head of a future negotiation team with the Palestinians. Livni has long made the Palestinian issue a critical one for her, a political move that stood out in an election season in which Israeli economics were far more discussed.

It’s enough to make one wonder if there isn’t more to this deal between Livni and Netanyahu than mere coalition politics—that maybe Netanyahu is poising for an intense effort to engage the Palestinians at the risk of reckless compromise. Upon a closer look, such suspicions only grow.

Livni, it should be remembered, was the foreign minister during the last intensive round of talks with the Palestinians. And as such, she was the most common lead negotiator. In other words, she knows the parameters of what has been discussed, what compromises have been reached, what roadblocks still remain.

That she was chosen to be the lead for the next negotiating team means Netanyahu seems to be more open to dangerous compromises with the Palestinians than ever before.

Now, technically, Ynet said the deal between Livni and Netanyahu names the Prime Minister as supervisor for the talks, Livni part of a team with other ministers handling the process, and that all decisions must be approved by the government. Netanyahu’s own party wouldn’t approve any deal that would endanger Israel’s security.

But alas, Israel’s own history in the Palestinian conflict hints that little of that matters.

It was then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres who led negotiations with the Palestinians on the Oslo accords—in secret. Despite serving as part of a government headed by the Leftwing Labor party, it was believed best to hold talks in private.

How much more so could Livni, who already has contacts with the Palestinians and training as an Israeli spy in her younger days, reach substantial compromises with the Palestinians under the table? Would an Israeli government, no matter how Rightist it began, possibly turn down a long-anticipated peace deal with the world screaming its support?

Ynet is already reporting that Naftali Bennett—the head of the nationalist Habayit Hayehudi party that sees a territorial compromise with the Palestinians as a dangerous mistake—smells a Netanyahu compromise in the air. In case you’re not convinced enough that the Netanyahu-Livni deal only makes sense if he’s planning something dramatic, here’s some more background.

The announcement of a deal between Livni’s Hatnua party and Netanyahu’s Likud party came as something of a surprise. Ynet had previously reported that Livni had planned to join with Netanyahu only if other Left-leaning political parties would join with her. Instead, she is the first party of any political stripe to join the new coalition. What’s more, she had made the Palestinian matter of core importance—she risks much politically if the alliance with Netanyahu is merely one of convenience or empty promises.

Then there’s the history: Livni was the previous chairwoman of the Kadima party and head of the opposition in the Knesset (parliament) against the previous Netanyahu government. In fact, in the 2009 elections, Livni was the political archenemy of Netanyahu as both angled for the premiership. In other words, there’s some bad blood in the water. Yet suddenly that’s under the bridge.

Again, this all implies that Netanyahu is more open to errant compromise that could threaten Israel’s security than he has ever been before. Which brings us to why.

The West, long tiring of a conflict that can’t be resolved, is reportedly upping the pressure on Israel. There have even been media reports that Europe might consider sanctions on Israel. And the US is now being led by a President who is rapidly running out of political reasons to support his nation’s closest Middle East ally. In other words, Netanyahu doubtless feels pressure and he knows there’s more coming.

This is a tragic mistake by the West. For years the Palestinians have feigned compromise but made ultimatums. For years the Palestinians have spoken of peace but stoked the fires of hate in their media. And for the past three years they have even refused to negotiate directly. Yet the West holds Israel at fault and demands they split their capital in half with a people group bred to hate them.

What comes of Hamas and their demands to remove Israel entirely? Can half the Palestinian political will be ignored? Can the growing numbers of Palestinians who support Hamas be forgotten?

The West is only stoking the discontent by making a grandiose issue of a nonstarter. Don’t pressure Netanyahu to foolishly compromise. Don’t support the Palestinians in their reckless efforts to evade peace negotiations through unilateral actions. Don’t forget history and don’t force the Oslo process to repeat.

Lest we forget, at the time there was much rejoicing over the picturesque Oslo handshake between then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Yet the Oslo Accords were followed by the Second Intifida less than ten years later. What should have brought the joy of parties, celebrations in restaurants and shared busses instead brought Palestinian suicide bombings of the same.

Handshakes and backstabbings should never go together. May we not be the reason that Netanyahu and Livni’s smiling on the airwaves leads to blood in the streets.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, February 24, 2013)