The Israeli unity government is not likely to present any new developments regarding the Palestinian issue. This is because it is mainly concerned with isolating more Palestinian leaders and rejecting the Palestinian demands to halt Israeli settlement building as a prerequisite for continuing the peace process.
The Israeli government is closely watching the situation in the Arab world and is aware of Obama’s critical stance in a year of presidential elections, thus the Palestinian issue is not its immediate concern. Moreover, Israel is persistent with the settlement project in light of the Palestinian and Arab weakness in addition to the US’s deteriorating role in the peace process.
These conditions together provide Israel with more security and calm. Although it is not known how long will this situation last, but the current conditions and the changes in the Arab world will most likely lead to a shift that would serve Arabs’ interests and their most important issue.
The Ramifications on the Palestinian Level
The secret agreement between the Israeli PM and the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Kadima leader, Shaul Mofaz, which was surprisingly announced on 7/5/2012, dealt a heavy blow to the other parties in the Israeli Knesset, which have started to prepare for early elections that Netanyahu scheduled for 4/9/2012.
1. Expanding the base of the governmental coalition to include 94 Knesset members thus reducing the importance of the opposition, i.e., it does not exist anymore.
2. Expanding the government’s credibility before the members and supporters of the Likud, where Netanyahu proved to be a key and effective player who knows how to manage political issues in his interest.
3. This step assures Kadima’s self-dismantling whether parliamentary elections were held in the fall of 2013 or scheduled for earlier time. Netanyahu will only have to face Labor Party which will increase its popularity in Israeli mediums. This means that Netanyahu would have to face only one party rather than two strong ones (Kadima and Labor).
4. In case of dismantling Kadima (and this is highly likely), Mofaz will not lose anything on the personal level and will join the Likud bringing along some imminent members of Kadima. Thus, Netanyahu will be the only strong leader who can head the Israeli government for many years.
5. Netanyahu has strengthened his Party’s status within the governmental coalition and prevented small parties, especially religious ones, from blackmailing him like they used to do since the formation of the governmental coalition. In fact, the Likud and Kadima can form the government without these parties, and the seats would be distributed as follows: 27 Likud, 28 Kadima, 4 seats for Independence Party led by Ehud Barak, and 15 for Yisrael Beytenu (Israel our House), hence forming a total of 74 seats. However, if Netanyahu wanted to get rid of Yisrael Beytenu because of the embarrassing stances and declarations made by its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, the alternative would be Shas Party (Ultra-Orthodox). In this case, the governmental coalition would comprise 70 members. Hence, in both cases, Netanyahu has guaranteed his stay on the head of the government and the Likud Party, imposing his opinion without having to face strong opposition.
6. It has become clear that Netanyahu is planning for the future rather than the current stage and its narrow and immediate repercussions. In fact, he wants to guarantee, before going to the Knesset elections, that he will keep the premiership and that his Party will win the highest number of parliamentary seats which might amount to 40. In addition, eliminating Kadima would lead to decreasing the number of parties in Israel.
7. Apparently, this agreement between Netanyahu and Mofaz to form an expanded governmental coalition will mitigate the pressure from the opposition within the government. Moreover, political analysts believe that it will limit the privileges secured for the Haredim and the settlers. In addition, Netanyahu in particular is very familiar with the repercussions of the settlers’ conduct on the Palestinian, Israeli, regional and international levels. Thus, he will not have the courage to get rid of them or limit their provocative actions except through the alliance with Mofaz-Kadima and the formation of a unity government.
8. This unity government will help limit, and even diminish, the activity of Yesh Atid Party (There is a Future) which was formed and announced by the Israeli Yair Lapid (his father is Tommy Lapid, the leader of Shinui Party which faced total collapse in past parliamentary elections). Accordingly, Netanyahu can prevent Lapid from gaining Israeli popular support especially in Tel Aviv and the remaining Israeli Left.
9. Including Kadima in the new governmental coalition will not make a radical change or a breakthrough in the negotiations of the final status regarding Palestinian lands. In contrast, Mofaz can grant Netanyahu his rich experience on how to maintain outposts and proceed with looting the Palestinians. Since the Nakbah and then the military administration and even after 1967, national unity governments have played a continuous role in robbing the Palestinians without developing the relations or seeking to resolve the conflict.
10. Netanyahu, Barak and Mofaz are equal on the military and political levels. This guarantees the easiness of making a decision regarding striking Iran with a potential attack against Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip simultaneously. In the Iranian file, it will not be a military adventure pursued by Netanyahu alone but rather with the participation of well-established politicians who have a rich military history, namely Barak and Mofaz.
The Ramifications on the Palestinian Level
1. The agreement between the Likud and Kadima doesn’t include any vision for a comprehensive solution for the Israeli-Arab conflict or for achieving an acceptable peace settlement with the Palestinians. This agreement and the new unity government support Netanyahu exclusively to manage these conflicts. In other words, Netanyahu’s position will be enhanced and will be aided by Mofaz’s military background and his inflexibility in this sense.
2. Should Obama win a second presidential term, his pressures on the Israeli government concerning the peace process would be faced with Israeli intransigence, as the government would claim to enjoy the widest Israeli popular support in decades. Accordingly, the Israeli unity government would portray the general consensus on the Palestinian issue as no longer confined to the Likud or any small party in the government.
3. The Israeli unity government is mostly preoccupied with the Iranian issue and creating an atmosphere in Israel and the West backing a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. It seeks to isolate Iran from any external support, including the Russian, and there are also other Israeli sides (including President Peres) who seek to reduce this support, too.
4. Netanyahu’s government will appear ultimately democratic and the master of political stability in the Middle East versus the state of chaos and simmering in the Arab world. This will be used as a pretext to claim that Israel is calm and stable while the Arab world is in a state of tension awaiting the unknown.
5. The threats of Netanyahu, and also Mofaz, before and after the formation of the unity government by saying that the “Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.” In other words, the Israeli unity government will try to foil the Palestinian reconciliation which has been in limbo since it was launched under Egyptian auspices without having any clear outcome.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations thanks Dr. Johnny Mansour for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 26/6/2012.
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