Is the Israeli center moving closer to defying Bibi? Probably not. (UPDATED)

Two stories over the weekend seem to contradict my thesis that the recently-signed and (partially) enacted Fatah-Hamas unity agreement has undermined the centrist, Israeli case for a negotiated two-state solution. Upon further examination, however, they do not do this at all.

On Saturday, Amram Mitzna, the former Labor Party chairman and Haifa Mayor now #2 in Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah Party, a nugatory position if there ever was one, said that Hatnuah should leave the government. His justification, as you can guess, was Netanyahu’s decision to ‘pause’ the peace talks after the unity agreement.

But the error of this reasoning is in the very last sentence; it was not just Netanyahu’s decision. The cabinet voted unanimously to end the talks, including Mitzna’s boss, Tzipi Livni, who has yet to change her mind (spoiler alert: she won’t anytime soon). Mitzna speaks for himself, and in Israel’s proportional representation system, ultimately nobody.

The more interesting story was Yair Lapid’s address to the annual Herzlyia Security Conference, a prestigious gathering of politicians, generals, and other grandees. Lapid was reported to be, “Adopting a position seemingly at odds with the Israel security cabinet decision, which ruled unanimously that it will not negotiate with the Hamas-backed technocratic government.”

This may be one of the rare cases where the headline (“Lapid: If Israel annexes settlements, we will topple gov’t”) summed up the speech far better than the substance of the article. Lapid spoke of the virtues of negotiation and the vices of Bennetism. He also said he didn’t object to building settlements in the “blocs”.

The question that must be asked here, then, is how is this position any different from the Prime Minister’s? Lapid essentially takes a “wait and see” approach with the interim Palestinian government, a position indistinguishable from the one he took when he voted with Netanyahu to suspend talks. All he said at Herzliya is that he won’t tolerate a lurch to the right, something he’s said at least a half dozen times. Lapid said, essentially, that he’s staying in the government. He said this a manner that befits a rebel, but there is quite clearly no rebellion in the midst.

UPDATE: First, it seems I was a bit skimpy on the details of Lapid’s address. He proposes a three-stage plan that would include the unilateral withdrawal from some settlements. This is most certainly not comparable to Netanyahu’s position, but it’s hardly anything new for Lapid. His desire for “separation” from the Palestinians hasn’t gone away because of the unity agreement; in fact, it’s probably been underscored. Needless to say, this does not mean he’s in a position to mount a serious challenge to Netanyahu on the issue, and nor will he attempt one.

Second, Tzipi Livni spoke soon after Lapid and appeared to do what I said she wouldn’t. Unless, of course, you read it closely. She is proposing continuing talks with the PLO, “in which Hamas has no part.” Much of my doom-and-gloom analysis of the unity agreement is written in the future tense, or so I retrospectively hope. There is no immediate crisis other than the one of once again failing to reach a two-state settlement. The crisis begins when Hamas plays a more conspicuous role in mainstream Palestinian affairs. So it is still conceivable that the ship will turn out just fine, but President Abbas has put it on a gratuitous Arctic journey.

About the Author
Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached at