Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference to much fanfare. He emphasized the positives of a two-state solution, including broader Middle East trade and a grand alliance of Israel and Sunni Arab nations against Iran.
This is a welcome shift for Netanyahu. Previously, it almost seemed as if he considered the two-state solution a favor to the Palestinians, or something Israel must reluctantly do. The geopolitical advantages of partition have always been apparent, but the center-right supporters of the two-state solution in Israel have seldom discussed them. Until yesterday.
It is, of course, possible that Netanyahu is employing a strategy that will extricate him from the mess that he’s in. Netanyahu is being pulled by two diametrically opposed elements in his coalition. In order for his government to survive, and along with it Israel’s credibility in these talks, he must strike the right balance. Another battle with President Obama reminiscent of 2010 would have sent tremors through Yesh Atid and Hatnuah, the former of which has taken a more dovish line on the peace process recently. If it seemed as if he was capitulating, Bayit Yehudi and the hard-right elements of Likud might’ve left the coalition.
Either way, his AIPAC address reveals that he has likely committed to the framework, with perhaps one or two minor alterations. The ball is now in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ court. He will meet President Obama on March 17th. An outright rejection of the framework, which seems doubtful, would vindicate every word Netanyahu has said about the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. If Abbas accepts, then Netanyahu is left with a choice. Does he betray his Revisionist heritage in order to preserve the Jewish state and make peace with its neighbor? If Palestinian rejectionism prevails, will Netanyahu make the bold decision of doing what’s wise, and indeed right, alone? There is reason to be skeptical, but Netanyahu wouldn’t be the first rightist icon to look toward the center when history called.