Not or the first time, the government of Israel has painted itself into a corner without a way out that would not entail major policy revisions. This time around it started by breaking off the peace negotiations with the Palestinians on the spurious claim that Hamas’ silent support for the Palestinian unity government could not be tolerated.That was a truly unfortunate and not quite understandable decision since, as it turns out, Netanyhahu may have been willing to play for real in these talks.
The interruption of the negotiations without any political horizon facilitated, if not enabled the botched kidnapping of the three Jewish boys in the West Bank by terrorists identified with Hamas that followed shortly after. Netanyahu, keen to play tough against the organization exploited their tragic murder and decided to clobber Hamas in the West Bank even though it remains patently unclear to what extent, if any, its leadership was involved or even knew about the kidnap operation. In the wake of the tragedy, incitement in Israel, not snuffed in the bud by the government brought about racist attacks of Arab citizens including the murder of an Arab boy in East Jerusalem. Missile strikes from Gaza on Sderot and the surrounding areas from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rounded off the ensuing conflagration.
Had the racist attacks on Arab citizens and the murder been avoided, Israel would have had some freedom to continue to act against Hamas in the West Bank in response to the heinous killing of the three Yeshiva students. The fact that the government did little if anything to keep flaring emotions in check with some ministers even contributing to the incitement, severely limits Israel’s freedom of action: Continuing to go after Hamas in the West Bank much longer may bring about another intifada. Going for Hamas in Gaza in another large scale operation in response to the missile strikes as Israel has done several times before and some government ministers propose, will not be sanctioned by the international community as long as there is no political horizon vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority. It would certainly abrogate the realignment with Turkey which is yet to be concluded.
Netanyahu has maneuvered the ship of state into a situation from which there is no way out without paying a hefty price. The smartest thing to do for him would be to press forward, renew the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in earnest on the back of the crisis which has extracted a price from all sides and really make it happen this time around. That appears to be politically impossible unless Abbas cooperates and dismantles the unity government with Hamas. On the other hand, continuing the operation against Hamas in the West Bank risks further conflagration and strengthening of Hamas at a time when the organization is on the ropes. An “appropriate Zionist response” to the murder of the three Yehiva students as demanded by Bennett’s “Jewish Home” party’s settler constituency is also unlikely to be in the cards – the blowback from the international community would be difficult to handle at this time.
So here he is, Netanyahu and his coalition government, in a crisis situation with parts of Jerusalem and some Arab cities in Israel in turmoil, no peace process, no freedom to really hit Hamas hard and Israeli racist tendencies playing up to an unheard of degree at the precise moment we need the world’s support to reign in the Iraninan nuclear program. It is highly likely that he will lose his job. He should. The sooner the better.