In “Mr. President, Give Mideast Peace One More Chance,” at Open Zion/The Daily Beast, I respond to Tom Friedman, Peter Beinart and others who say that Obama won’t pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace during his second term unless there is a radical change on the Israeli or Palestinians sides.
1. On the impact of a new Netanyahu/Lieberman right-wing government:
A. Lieberman’s “joining up with Likud's radical, anti-liberal wing…means that in the next Knesset, there will be an escalation of anti-democratic legislation. Minorities will be pushed down. The opposition will be silenced. The media will be exhausted, …” wrote Nahum Barnea in Yediot last week.
B. “From now on, all citizens should know that when they put the slip bearing the letters of the unified [Likud-Beiteinu] party in the ballot box, they are voting for a platform that seeks to hold onto the [occupied] territories no matter what, to perpetuate discrimination against the Arabs within Israel's borders, to reject any chance for reconciliation with the Palestinians, and to face off against the world on the false pretense of Israel's welfare. They are also voting to institute an anti-liberal regime within the state and a harsh occupation policy within the territories, and to steep Israel even more in an atmosphere of nationalist indoctrination,” warned Uzi Benziman in Ha’aretz.
C. Former Israeli intelligence officials and Middle East experts have informed Netanyahu that continued “construction in Israeli West Bank settlements without diplomatic progress” towards peace could “trigger a violent uprising in the West Bank.”
2. How a center-left bloc, under the possible leadership of Olmert (or Peres), could end up drawing more Knesset seats than the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu union, with enough seats to form a moderate government that could revive moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, advance social justice, and halt the erosion of democratic values in Israel.
Even now before the new center-left bloc has been formed, center and left Zionist parties together have polled a total of 45 seats, while the new Likud-Beiteinu union has polled as low as 35 seats, down from its present 42. A Channel 10 poll gave Labor 23, Yesh Atid 13, Kadima 5, and Meretz 4, totaling 45. The Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu bloc would receive between 35 and 42. With Shas expected to receive 14 seats, under current projections, Olmert or Peres may well be able to coopt Shas under Aryeh Deri to form a 59-seat coalition, close but not yet enough to cross the majority threshold of 61.
But with the Arab parties, which are slated to receive 10 or 11 seats, the center-left could form a “blocking majority” that would be able to prevent Netanayahu and Lieberman from forming a government, enabling the center-left bloc to form the government. In addition, the center-left bloc’s seats could grow and Likud Beiteinu’s may drop after the center-left parties and their leadership lists are fully formed, with Olmert’s return to the scene, and win the endorsement of a number of “security heavyweights” who will also help undermine confidence in Netanyahu. (See also, “Haaretz poll: A Livni-Olmert-Lapid 'super-party' would outscore Likud: If the center and the left together could garner 61 seats, it would deprive Netanyahu of the ability to form a majority government,” Ha’aretz, Oct. 18, 2012)
In fact, the most recent Channel 10 poll (Ha'aretz, Nov. 14, 2012) shows Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu dropping from its current 42 seats in the Knesset to just 36.
As Leslie Susser points out in the Jerusalem Report: “Stav Shaffir, one of the [social] protest leaders, has already announced that she will run for a place on the Labor list. The big test for Yachimovich will be whether she can deliver a wider message, and bring in new high profile people, ex-generals or diplomats, to bolster her limited security-diplomatic credentials. Success for her, coupled with a strong centrist showing, could help the center-left together with the Arab parties achieve a blocking majority and a chance to form the next government. Together, they have 55 seats in the current Knesset, so it would take a six seat or five percent (around 200,000 votes) swing to obtain a blocking majority.” (The Netanyahu Gambit,10/16/2012)
Of course, many things could go wrong to derail a center-left government from taking power under Olmert, such as the remaining corruption charges still pending against Olmert, or just plain old fashioned losing the election to Netanyahu and Lieberman. See for example: “An Olmert comeback: The center-left cursed by a blessing: Though the former prime minister has long been touted as the great white hope of the center-left, too many undecided factors blight his potential return,” Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz, Nov.13, 2012.
But the center-left has a chance to win this time around, and President Obama should revive credible Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in the coming weeks to avert the crisis which is likely to follow Palestinian recognition as an observer state at the UN, because it is the best policy for the U.S. and for Israelis and Palestinians themselves. By doing so, he might also give an inadvertent lift to the center-left parties in Israel’s upcoming election, without appearing to play a partisan role in Israeli politics, thus making it more likely that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will bear fruit this time.