Two, three years ago, pundits were certain that the ideology of the left, even though not yet implemented, had carried the day with regard to the political resolution of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, the main standard bearer for Israel’s right wing for many years had apparently given in and in his famous speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009 had publicly supported the notion of two states for two peoples, alas without going into any particular detail. No, it wasn’t a conclusion he had reached by himself, Netanyahu expressed this idea only after a long period of prodding by Israel’s main allies in Europe and, of course, by US President Obama.
Interestingly enough, there didn’t seem to be too much suspicion initially that Netanyahu didn’t meant what he said despite the fact that he is not usually perceived as being particularly trustworthy. There were several reasons that he was taken by his word to actively pursue the two-state solution:
1. There was wide-spread international backing and mounting pressure for its implementation.
2. Abu Mazen as President and Salim Fayad as Prime Minister are the most moderate Palestinian leadership team that an Israeli government could possibly hope for.
3. Netanyahu had a strong government coalition with plenty of additional support from the opposition for a major move towards peace.
4. It just seemed to be the smart thing to do to finally wind the conflict down.
Another thought that occurred to some observers was that Netanyahu who is always looking for Churchillian moves of statesmanship might be contemplating his legacy and a final status agreement with the Palestinians would certainly fit that bill.
But here again, and not for the first time, Netanyahu managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and instead of becoming the Prime Minister who brought the conflict to an end, he wasted three precious years nitpicking with the Palestinians over whose preconditions were less acceptable. Now that he is heading towards reelection, he appears quite content to continue just managing the conflict.
It’s difficult to tell if this is just a choice of convenience and Netanyahu prefers not to fight with his political base in the Likud, a base not supportive of a solution requiring a large scale withdrawal from the territories, or else, it is one of conviction and he either doesn’t believe that the conflict can be resolved at all or he would prefer a different approach. Listening to him in the campaign broadcasts and in recent interviews it certainly appears that he has had a change of hearts. It is quite clear that under PM Netanyahu, the two-state solution has no viable future.
What are the implications then ? Assuming the recent polls are indicative, Netanyahu still appears to be the most likely candidate for Prime Minister after the election a week and a half from now. If indeed indeed he will form the government and unless the situation changes considerably (intifada no. 3 ?), serious negotiations with the Palestinians are as likely as Obama inviting Netanyahu for a fun vacation in Hawaii. In addition to Likud-Beiteinu’s abhorrence of the consequences of a negotiated solution with the Palestinians, except for Meretz and Tsippy Livni’s “The Movement” no other party publicly and prominently mentions the pursuit of peace and a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians as an important political objective.
As a result, the State of Israel will likely continue to remain without a border that is legitimized internationally and the West-Bank and Gaza will remain the only territories in the world other than Antarctica, that are not part of an internationally recognized nation-state. Israel will continue to remain an occupying power for between 2.5 and 4 million Palestinians (depending on whose definition of occupation you subscribe to) and it will continue to be the target of delegitimization efforts of varying degrees of severity in many countries all over the world.
The fact that the public in Israel appears rather unconcerned over this state of affairs despite the fact that the two-state solution including a deal over territories and Jerusalem is the preferred way out of the conflict for a considerable majority of citizens (67% to be exact) is an indication that peace, as a political objective appears to have become politically incorrect. Since there is nobody on the political scene who spells out the price of not making peace except for smaller, less significant parties, the public is at ease in its denial and confidently assumes that business will continue as usual. It will not.
What should give the electorate some food for thought is the fact that Netanyahu, in his own way is implementing what Yigal Amir, the murderer of PM Yitzhak Rabin wanted most of all: To prevent a political process that would lead to sharing the Land of Israel with the Palestinians. Is that what we really want ?