Israel’s New UN Ambassador Danny Danon: A reckless choice or a calculated gamble?

Mark Chagall: The Love Story
Mark Chagall: The Love Story

Marc Chagall, one of my favorite painters, had a quirky way of painting people, especially his fellow Jews of Vitbesk, Russia. They were always hovering above their  gloomy villages, as if suspended so as to show that they did not really belong there but only made a harsh living out of the poor soil. Think Fiddler on the Roof, blue cows and all.

At least that’s the meaning I always assumed even if I don’t recall being told so by anyone steeped in the subject. However, Israelis no longer need Marc Chagall to symbolize their otherness or to make sense of their rootless narrative: Instead, Marc Chagall’s symbolism should be graciously loaned out to those who better need them in order to make sense of their reality; the Palestinians. Perhaps even better, Danny Dannon, the newly appointed Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, and a staunch opponent to a Palestinian state and everything peace, should relinquish the Israeli cultural hold on the Chagall floating people imagery as a new model representing his suggestion for a new Palestinian non-territorial reality: “See, it works! We did it for centuries as the Jewish people in exile, you can do it too!”

Netanyahu’s appointment of Danny Dannon to be Israel’s new UN Ambassador is a bit of a joke; at least that’s what I thought when I first saw it announced. It’s not just for the most obvious reasons: that he does not believe in negotiating with the Palestinians, that he believes there should never be an independent Palestinian state, that he thinks Israel should annex most of the West Bank, or that he has argued that Israel should cut off water and electricity to the Gaza Strip. As he himself has pointed out, a majority of current Knesset members may even support him in that position. Rather, what’s more worrying is his complete misunderstanding or perhaps disregard for what the Palestinians have been asking for during the past 50 years: No, it’s not citizenship! (they tried that with Jordan) No, it’s not self-government! (they tried that in the 1980’s) No, it’s not economic and cultural opportunities! (they tried that since Oslo)

In fact, it’s much more simple: it’s territory stupid!

And it’s not just the territory of the built-up areas of Beit-Jala, or Nablus. These are not sky cities that can be connected remotely to the two countries that Dannon suggest should offer Palestinians citizenship. It also happens to be the hills and pastures and the springs and olive groves of their ancestors, the graves of their prophets and saints. They are asking for a homeland, marked by the distance that church bells chime and by the echoes of the muezzin. One where they can plant and sow, build and re-build, and even go hiking. Imagine that: Palestinian hikers! Or perhaps more specifically understood, and currently accepted, it’s the homeland that was left after the 1967 armistice agreement.

While Dannon’s promise of a life without checkpoints in their self-governed Palestinian population centers sounds alluring, having to navigate traffic jams on cocoonish highways between walled-off cities is just not going to cut it, nor is having to plop down from above like Chagall’s subjects, not touching the ground in between, not belonging, but always remaining a visitor. One thing that Danny Danon should know from Jewish history is how deeply territorial a nation can be and how it defines most Middle Easterners existential experience.

Of course, there is a chance that he does know and that his policies and opinions are meant to refute and deny that very possibility. In other words, Dannon represents the personification of the Golda Meir’s question, “Who are the Palestinians,” only with more definite answers this time: annex their unpopulated territory, make them satellite citizens of Egypt and Jordan, cut off Israel’s responsibility for them and hope that they will move. The fact that 70% of Jordanians are already “East Bank Palestinian” (rather than Bedouin) does not make it a homeland for those originating from the former Mandate of Western Palestine. In the Middle East, if you are not a nomad, tribe cannot substitute for territory.

Netanyahu’s appointment of Danny Dannon to the UN, the guardians of the Security Council Resolutions that outline the two-state solution, is therefore both a statement and a rebuke; a statement to the Obama administration that Netanyahu is still not ready to reconcile, and a rebuke to the international community and the UN. But perhaps even more, Dannons appointment—given his outlandish views and his direct personal rivalry with Netanyahu—to a forum where he needs to speak in Netanyahu’s voice, seems beyond reckless. Some have argued that Netanyahu wanted to get rid of Dannon so badly from the country and the cabinet that the UN appointment was the most effective way to accomplish that goal.

But there is also evidence that Netanyahu may in fact be taking another stab at the Obama administration with this move. Dannon’s closest US friends are clearly on the GOP side of the aisle, and he is so well connected to the conservative donor community that he had to pay a fine in the last Israeli elections (2013) because he received too much money from abroad. According to this article, 22 donations came from the state of Arkansas alone! When evangelicals and conservatives, such as Glen Beck, Mike Huckabee, or Sarah Pailin visit Israel, Dannon is apparently their favorite tour guide. As Johns Stewart said about Huckabee’s most recent trip to Israel: “He won’t be meeting any Palestinians on this trip. That’s good because then they might convince him that they actually exist.”


The Strange Bedfellows of the Iran Nuclear Agreement: Israel and Saudi-Arabia

What the Israel-Saudi-Arabia dissent to the agreement shows more than anything is that it’s no longer just about nuclear weapons but about regional politics.

Netanyahu is doing everything in his power to scuttle the nuclear deal painstakingly worked out in Vienna between Iran and the P5+ partners. Most recently, he welcomed a delegation of 22 Democratic freshman congressional members to Israel, some of whom were on their first trip to the country. This was an all-expense paid trip, one of many that is coordinated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where US legislators are brought to Israel to tour the country and meet with important members of the foreign and defense establishment.

In an almost two-hour long meeting with the visiting members, Netanyahu—who apparently spoke for most of that time himself—expressed a strong opposition to the agreement, while refraining form explicitly telling the members how to vote in next month’s ballot. According to Steny Hoyer, the most senior member of the delegation, Netanyahu “feels strongly about it, so he argues strongly.” However, he did so in a logical fashion, outlining the various sections of the deal one by one, explaining his disapproval.

As House and Senate members are lining up for or against the agreement, it is interesting to note that a similar process is going on in Iran, where President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif are being challenged by hardliners, who have recently lambasted the deal on various Iranian TV channels. Apparently, according to one report, when Javad Zarif together with head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, submitted the full text of the deal to the Iranian parliament and proceeded to answer questions, some of its most hardline members pretended to be sleeping. But perhaps even more interestingly, a leading Teheran Ayatollah, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, proclaimed in his Friday sermon (on July 16) that, “The Zionist regime (Israeli) and Saudi Arabia are angry about the nuclear deal, and this is the best proof of the value of the deal.”

Thus, we have come full circle, and it has to be asked: has it occurred to Netanyahu that he may have been one of the main driving forces behind his now much-hated agreement? Did Bibi not consider that openly addressing congress to convince US lawmakers to oppose the deal was the most effective road to more substantial Iranian concessions? If these things did indeed occur to him, then why would he still want to try to scuttle the deal and why is he risking a new all-time low in US-Israeli relations?

We have all heard the arguments for and against. While convincingly explained by Joe Lieberman in a congressional hearing, simply explaining to Iran that US domestic legislators were “not sold” on the deal and that we now have to go back to the negotiation table is not likely to be very effective. In fact, as this report claims—and as Zarif himself has pointed out earlier—Iranians are well aware of how US domestic politics works, and most likely, a rejection of the deal in congress would mean a retaliatory rejection by the Iranian Parliament. Just about the opposite of an approval to go back to the negotiation table. Indeed, most of those critical to the deal seem to understand that the alternatives, short of using force, are not going to produce an ideal outcome given the circumstances and the progress that has already been made in the negotiations. That should also be obvious to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In fact, such an outcome may even be preferable to Netanyahu. Because he has probably decided that it was not all about nuclear weapons after all. In fact, it was more about regional politics. Looking at Saudi Arabia’s reaction makes this point clear. According to former IAEA director Hans Blix (and I paraphrase from a conversation that I had with him in 2005), “most Middle Eastern politics could be explained through the lens of Iranian behavior.” When asked why Saddam Hussein had presided over the destruction of his country’s nascent WMD stockpile but then refused to admit to it to the IAEA, he explained, “because Saddam wanted Iran to believe they still had them.” Thus, similarly, Saudi-Arabia is more afraid of a denuclearized Iran that has the money to influence the region’s politics, than a defiant and rogue, but poor, Iran that acts as the world’s favorite Pariah, and that can legitimately be “squashed” and checked at only a moment’s notice.

Although Israel’s certainly has not dropped its concern over Iran’s nuclear capabilities and breakout time (nor should they), Netanyahu’s posture shows that he prefers deterring Iran’s nuclear capabilities over a more complex verification and monitoring regime that promises an enhancement in US-Iranian cooperation and Iranian conventional capabilities. For Iran, this agreement does indeed give them the tools to regain their economic strength and dominate the region, a prospect feared by Saudi-Arabia, with a large Shia minority. For Israel, while an economically strong Iran is not necessarily a threat, an economically strong Iran with strengthening commercial relations with both the US and Europe, is. Under such circumstances, a strengthening of ties with Saudi-Arabia may be Israel’s best bet. And it’s indeed what is happening: Iran and Israel recently officially admitted that they have held secret talks—no less than five times over the past 17 months according to this report. According to Shimon Shapira, a retired Israeli general and an expert on Hezbollah, the Israelis and Saudis have discovered they share the same problems and challenges, as well as answers.

However, there is one slight problem, Saudi-Arabia does not recognize Israel and does not plan to do so in the near future. Full cooperation, say the Saudis, would only be possible if Israel accepts and implements Saudi-Arabia’s proposal for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the Arab Peace Initiative. So Netanyahu is effectively stuck between a rock and a hard place. But one can always dream…wouldn’t it be nice (and a bit ironic) if a peace with the Palestinians would be the side-effect of Israel’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal?

Then life happened…

Screenshot 2015-08-12 16.27.13Dear friends, colleagues, “followers” and other readers,

I have been on a two-year hiatus from writing and updating this Blog as “life happened” around me, but I am beginning to restart the machines on a small scale again. Look here for new posts appearing shortly.

As they do appear, please let me know what you think: Be generous…be responsive…be understanding…but do not spare the critique!

All comments are greatly appreciated! Please enjoy reading!

Thank you,

Tova Norlen

Are security concerns important for the Israeli-Palestinian relationship?


Is the Israeli policy toward the Palestinians in the West Bank driven by security concerns or are there mostly other reasons for why Israel maintains the territorial status quo with respect to the 1967 borders?  What has Netanyahu done to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations and what is his new government expected to do in the near future? Given their obvious negative impact on Israel’s security, why does the Israeli government continue to allow civilian settlements in those areas?

While the recent Israeli elections showed that Netanyahu’s political support has begun to slip, there is also evidence that most Israelis are happy with his foreign policy decisions and share his skepticism regarding the seriousness of the Palestinian partners.  But Israel is deeply divided between “hawks” and “doves” and the division regarding what to do with the territories acquired in 1967 stems from ideological and religious factors rather than security. These issues and others are addressed in a piece published today with the International Security Network, in Zurich, Switzerland.

Peace Not Likely a Priority for Israel’s new Coalition

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with President Peres to announce that he has put together a government

As Netanyahu presented his coalition for the 33rd government to President Shimon Peres on March 16th, he also included the customary declaration hoping for an improvement in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship:

“The coalition’s basic guidelines state that “Israel will pursue a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the goal of reaching a diplomatic accord that would end the conflict; if such a resolution is reached, the government would be asked to approve it and should the need arise, it would be subject to a referendum.”

For those of us who are hoping for the resumption of peace talks if for no other reason than for the fact that talking is better than not talking, this seems like good news. However, it only takes a quick glance at the outlines of the new government coalition to see that any advancement in the dialogue with the Palestinians is guaranteed to come with a spill-proof “no territorial concessions” guard.

That guarantee comes from the handing of major government ministries with influence over key government decisions regarding settlements directly into the hands of Naftali Bennet’s HaBayit HaYehudi, a party that is directly apposed to the peace process and supports the expansion of settlements. While it may seem expected that the prime minister himself would set policy towards the West Bank, most important routine decisions regarding construction of housing and infrastructure is under the control of the Ministry of Housing, a ministerial position that has been filled with HaBayit HaYehudi’s number two, Uri Ariel.

Haaretz: Israel's new ministers
Haaretz: Israel’s new ministers

Ariel, a former secretary general of both the settler organization Amana and the Yesha Council, was ranked as the most effective right-wing member of the Knesset in 2011. The ranking was based on a number of nationalist achievements in the areas of “nationalist achievements” and “sovereignty and construction.” Ariel’s achievements listed in the study were laws passed on settlement building, making Jerusalem a “national priority zone” and legislation towards improving cell phone service in the West Bank.

Naftali Bennet himself will be in charge of the Economy and Trade Ministry, (formerly the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor), a cabinet position that will most likely give him substantial control over the promotion of economic growth and regional economic development in Israel.  According to its website, the ministry is “engaged in the encouragement and support of export and international commerce, in order to assist Israeli businesses in enhancing their exports and entering new markets abroad.” While this may not seem like an important post for someone whose primary concern is the promotion and expansion of settlements, it is in fact one of the major quiet battlegrounds where the ideological struggle over resource allocation to settlements is played out. This ministry determines whether how economic and industrial support is allocated, including whether or not economic growth is allowed and encouraged in the West Bank. Being in charge of the export market also gives him certain powers over how West Bank products are marketed and sold in the rest of the world, something that is becoming increasingly important as the international divestment campaign against settlement products is gaining ground.

As defense minister, Netanyahu picked former General and deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, explaining that at this decisive time when “region all around us is stormy” Israel needs an experienced man on this post. Ya’alon, who came in fifth place in the 2011 ranking of the most right-wing MKs, is well know for his hard-line views towards the Palestinians and his hawkish views towards Iran. However, Ya’alon should not be dismissed as a one-dimensional character. His roots are in Labor Zionism, and he originally supported negotiating with the Palestinians and the signing of the Oslo accords, but like many Israelis, became disenchanted when the results were unsuccessful. Instead, Ya’alon argues for a “bottom up” rather than top-down approach to peace, where Palestinians first must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, then prove themselves economically and politically, before gaining the right to statehood.

Finally, and if he is exonerated from the corruption charges against him, the foreign ministry will remain in the hands of Yisrael Beiytenu’s Avigdor Lieberman, who does not miss an opportunity to point out that he is adamantly opposed to any freeze in settlement construction anywhere at all for the purpose of restarting the peace effort.

Tzipi Livni, Leader of Kadima Party -Israel. צ...

Thus, whether Tzipi Livni, charged with the Ministry of Justice and Israeli-Palestinian affairs, will have any chance to make concessions that can be acceptable to the minimum Palestinian demands, seems highly unlikely. As “chief negotiator” Netanyahu has promised not to side-step her, but any concession that she makes would be subject to a vote both in the coalition and in the full Knesset, and possibly also to a referendum. Palestinians, it was reported, are underwhelmed by her appointment.

Bennet defies prediction and allies himself with Lapid!/image/3988980943.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_640/3988980943.jpg
HaBayit HaYehudi’s leader
Naftali Bennet (Photo:Haaretz)

I said I never try to predict anything and for good reason. The news this morning shows that my prediction yesterday that Bennet would accept the offer by Likud-Beytenu could not have been more wrong. Instead, Bennet has decided to ally himself with Yair Lapid in order to prevent the haredi parties from entering the government. That story is detailed this morning in Israel Hayom. What Bennet’s strategic calculations will gain or cost him remains to be seen. Most news sources in Israel at the moment are focused on the story about the jailed Australian Mossad agent who committed suicide his prison cell.

The rest of the prediction–the one about Netanyahu bargaining about his own political survival–actually seems even more likely now that both Bennet and Lapid are pushing for a seat at the table.

Bibi’s Double Bargain

Netanyahu walks a frayed tightrope. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Netanyahu may find that the outcome of the bargaining process to determine the coalition for the 33rd government will have repercussions for his future political survival.

I try not to predict things very often, especially in Israeli politics, but the news coming out of the latest coalition talks between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennet make “predictioneering” very tempting.  So here we go: if Naftali Bennet takes Netanyahu up on his very specific offer to join the government—an offer that would only be on the table for 48 hours—the next Israeli government will lead a tumultuous life and is unlikely to survive until the next elections.

Most likely, Naftali Bennet will accept the offer. With its 12 Knesset seats, Bennet’s HaBayt haYehuda party is a contending force in Israeli politics, representing more hawkish views than the Likud party, and is a heavily favored political choice in the modern orthodox and national religious settler communities. However, it is not concern for the party’s relative numerical strength that will compel Bennet to join the coalition. Neither is it his own personal political ambitions (of which I am an unqualified judge). Rather, the nature of the party itself and the issues that it promotes makes a role in the opposition unthinkable and utterly meaningless.

This is because Bennet’s party is essentially a one-issue party; its only true concern being the prevention of any developments in the process to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace that could lead to the creation of a Palestinian state and the surrender of Israeli-held territory. Because of its singular focus, a seat around the coalition table is crucial, as it would only take one political “misstep” for the next Israeli administration to destroy the party’s raison d’etre

The lessons of the Olso Agreement and the Gaza evacuation taught the national religious that “peace” can “strike” at any moment and that even the most staunch settler allies (read Ariel Sharon) can have what seams like a sudden change of heart. This is sometimes referred to as the “peace disease” or “peace fever” and can be described as the realization by Israeli politicians—once they assume a leadership role—that territorial sacrifices are necessary in order to prevent further deterioration of Israeli democracy as a result of the impending Palestinian demographic “bomb.” In other words, they come to understand that it is imperative to separate Israel from territories that are heavily populated by Palestinian Arabs in order to retain a Jewish majority inside of Israel’s borders. How HaBayt haYehudi intends to deal with the impending demographic inevitability is the topic for another day (and one that resembles the debate between evolutionists and creationists). More important, however, is what awaits Israel and the world if Bennet accepts to be part of the coalition.

According to recent reports, the party was offered a number of important ministerial posts to sweeten the deal, including the education portfolio and a top-level economic portfolio. Apparently, the party would also get the portfolio of deputy of defense, which would mean that it would have broad authority over the expansion of settlements and construction in Judea and Samaria. If it’s true that Likud-Beytenu is also willing to grant Bennett’s party the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee their victory over those who promote a settlement freeze would be complete. In other words, should Yair Lapid also decide to join the coalition, he will be in for a battle.

For the rest of this article, please read my blog post in the Times of Israel.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Jewish Home (HaBayt HaYehudi) leader Naftali Bennet

How Netanyahu’s Coalition Talks Will determine the Chance for Peace

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/Flash90)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/Flash90)

Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent electoral success has been described by some observers as “pyrrhic”. As the Israeli Prime Minister begins the process of forming a coalition government, Tova Norlen considers what the election results mean for the country’s domestic politics and the future of the Israel-Palestine peace process.

Not surprisingly, Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteynu coalition won a plurality of seats for the 19th Knesset in last week’s Israeli election. However, while his victory may have seemed certain, his post-election position is much weaker than some of the pre-election opinion polls had predicted and his struggle to form a government of his choice may have only just begun. A quick glance at the new electoral map shows that even with their projected 12-seat lead over the next largest party, forming a government with only right-wing parties (without the religious Orthodox) would leave Likud-Beiteynu short of the 60 seats needed for a Knesset majority. Representing the right-wing political establishment, Netanyahu has to reach out to one of the remaining three traditional Israeli political blocks; the ultra-Orthodox, the center-left and the Israeli Arab. Since no Israeli government is considered “legitimate” unless it has a Jewish majority, only the ultra-Orthodox and the center-left blocks are likely to be considered. (For various coalition scenarios click here)

Netanyahu’s choices all mean different things in terms of the direction the prime minister could take Israel in the coming years. On the one hand, only the prime minister can tell us which issues he deems to be national priorities.

Potential coalition partner, Yair Lapid, head of the center-left party, Yesh Atid (Photo: Ariel Schalit/AP).

Although we have a vague idea about Netanyahu’s Iran policies and his pro-settlement sentiments, it will really be his choice of coalition partners that will determine which national and international issues will make it to the top of the next Israeli government’s agenda. While the Iranian nuclear issue will surely continue to be a priority regardless of what shape the coalition takes, other issues—including the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks—may not be considered a priority at all.


Read the rest of this article, titled “The Israeli Elections and the Future of the Peace Process” on the webpage of the International Relations and Security Network (ISN), Zurich, Switzerland.

Is Peace Still on the Agenda? The Israeli Election Results and the Peace Process

Election poster for Prime Minister Netanyahu (Photo: Washington Post)
Election poster for Prime Minister Netanyahu (Photo: Washington Post)

This is a longer and re-worked version of a piece that appeared on the RAND blog on Jan 24. For that version, click here.

As expected, prime minster Netanyahu and the combined Likud-Beiteynu list won a plurality of seats for the 19th Israeli Knesset (See the results below). However, despite his victory, Mr. Netanyahu is not done, and he is likely to face some tough bargaining choices in the next few weeks. A quick glance at the electoral map shows that even with their projected 12-seat lead over the next largest party, forming the government with only right-wing parties (without the religious orthodox) would leave Likud-Beiteynu short of the 60 seats needed for a Knesset majority.

2013 Israeli Election Results (Haaretz)
2013 Israeli Election Results (Haaretz)

Despite the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians are calling the two-state solution dead, important voices both regionally and internationally continue to trumpet the need to seize the last fledging opportunity to make it happen.  As the first projections of the Israeli elections came in on Tuesday, Britain’s foreign minister is said to have warned Israel that the next Israeli government has the last chance for a two-state deal. Earlier in the week Jeff Goldberg reported in Bloomberg that President Obama had lamented that Netanyahu is not acting in Israel’s best interests. Obama’s complaint came after the Israeli Prime Minister had announced the Israel planned to build 3,000 additional housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including in an empty area that connects Jerusalem with the Jordan valley, essentially making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. Obama’s complaint and Britain’s warnings are reminders that Netanyahu has done very little during his time in office to prove to Western leaders that he is serious about peace.While Netanyahu officially declared his support for a two-state solution in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, recent policies and actions have made his continued adherence to that commitment questionable. In the weeks before the elections, several hardline Likud officials were heard reassuring voters that Netanyahu was not really serious in his earlier statements and that Likud had never officially changed its staunch opposition to a Palestinian state. Hardline Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely even added that the Bar-Ilan speech was a tactical maneuver meant to placate the world. Even if Netanyahu, in a little-advertised rejoinder to his hawkish colleagues, did reaffirm his belief that he believed in “two free peoples living side by side in this small land,” the real test will come when he chooses his government.

Netanyahu thus has a number of alternatives with respect to forming a coalition, the choice of partners influencing the direction of Israeli policy over the next few years. His pick of partners will be influenced by his calculated priorities with regard to the most prominent issues that Israelis care about and his ability to tackle vs. ignore them. This includes the issue of the future of the peace process with the Palestinians.

While public opinion had projected that the Israeli electorate would shift the Knesset further to the right (shrinking the chances for a negotiated deal with the Palestinians), the preliminary election results did not entirely support those predictions. Even if the Likud party certainly lost seats to the right-wing national religious party, HaBayt HaYehudi (Jewish home), its chairman Naftali Bennet certainly did not garner as strong a support as he expected, making his pro-annexationist policies far from unchallenged in a future coalition. It is only in the unlikely scenario that Netanyahu decides to govern from a minority right-wing coalition that Bennet’s pro-settlement policies would be absolutely safe. What is perhaps more likely is that Netanyahu forms a center-haredi government or a right-center government, where he includes one of the larger parties from the center, such as Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, or Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua. (See the possible scenarios here)

In fact, the most surprising outcome of the elections was the resurgence of the center left, this time with the new party of Yesh Atid. Under the leadership of former television host Yair Lapid, the new party managed to garner 19 seats, putting it in second place after Likud. Thus, the leftist-centrist block, which includes, Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua party and Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor, is in fact the strongest of the four traditional electoral blocks in Israel (right-wing, ultra-Orthodox, center-left and Israeli Arab). Should Netanyahu decide to form a government with any of the parties in this bloc, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will not be dropped from the government’s agenda.

Scenes from the Israeli elections (Photo: Bloomberg)
Scenes from the Israeli elections (Photo: Bloomberg)

Ultimately, Netanyahu’s ability to form a government of his choice will also depend on the ability of the resolve of the center-left to “hold out” against him. In 2009, Netanyahu was “passed the torch” to form a government although Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party received a majority of the votes, after she failed to gather a majority left-center coalition. Although such a scenario is probably unlikely for Likud this time, the Labor leader, Shelly Yacimovich, has high hopes. In response to the preliminary results she announced that she would do everything in her power to create a coalition of parties with a “shared social and economic agenda, which will also kick-start the peace process.” However, Yair Lapid put such rumors partly to rest on Wednesday when he pledged not to obstruct Netanyahu’s efforts to form an effective government.

This brings us back to the point that was raised in the beginning of this piece—what are the chances that the next Israeli government will indeed make a renewed effort for peace with the Palestinians? While it is probably safe to say that a renewed effort is highly likely, given the way that the political ducks have lined up with Obama just having entered his final term, whether such an effort is successful depends on the shape and the content of such an effort, rather than whether an initiative takes place. The Middle East is used to seeing second-term US presidents launch half-hearted efforts to make history in the Middle East while not paying much attention to the formula or content of their proposals. The complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and the seriousness by which both sides view their own demands deserves a serious look at previous proposals and a re-crafting of some of the basic assumptions that have served as the foundation for the two-state formula. Thus, while the two-state solution may be dead, the new government will have the unique opportunity and the responsibility to craft a new formula that can better meet the complexities of the current Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

Graphics: BBC/Pat Carr

Warning: An Angry Post About Gaza

A rocket being launched from the Gaza strip into Israel
A rocket launched from Gaza heads towards Sderot, Israel. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP

I mostly feel hopeless right now…and a bit numb. My facebook page is exploding with hatred, ignorance, and even bigotry from people on both sides of the widening chasm. I just want to scream and swear and say “how the &$!#! can you be so unbelievably stupid to actually believe the old slogans that EVERY (with a big emphasis on every) Muslim wants to push Israel into the Sea,” or the opposite, that “Israel deliberately targets civilian areas in order to kill Palestinian children?”

The fact is that the Gazans live in a hellhole. Although Hamas is certainly partly to blame the truth is that they have lived in a hellhole long before Hamas took over the government. Yes, it’s true; Hamas is also responsible for this escalation, as they were for the escalation that led to Operation Cast Led. It’s also true that giving up Gaza in 2005 did not help Israel, but in many ways only made it worse. It emboldened Hamas and obviously made it more difficult for the IDF to keep track of weapons, bomb making, rocket labs, and tunnel smuggling. But it’s also true that except for a few years of economic upswing in anticipation of the Oslo agreement (a time during which support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad was at an all-time low), Gaza is a living hell and the only country that has the power to instigate a change is Israel.

Don’t tell me that the Gaza Palestinians can choose to go to any Arab state; you know that’s not true. Don’t tell me they were recent immigrants to Palestine anyways before 1948 so they are not really refugees anyways; it just shows you are bigoted and ignorant. Many of the refugees from Haifa and Jaffa had lived there for generations and probably even have Jewish genealogy. Somebody should check their DNA just for the heck of it. Could be funny – it would set off a firestorm on both sides.

Don’t tell me I am being anti-Israel, anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian – seriously, what do you think happens if a million people are locked up in a big prison for over 60 years lacking even the most basic supplies and amenities, including access to adequate education? They may get a bit restless, and angry, and then somebody comes along and brainwashes them. At that point, deterrence does not work because they really have nothing to loose, especially if someone guarantees them 77 virgins in heaven. Most of them can’t double-check the facts anyways, as they have no computers.

I have no passion for Hamas or Islamic terrorists and I agree that they still have no right to shoot rockets into Israel and that something has to be done to stop it quickly – no country can live under a constant barrage of random missiles that are hitting civilians in apartment buildings, schools, and nurseries. I also agree that there is very little coverage in the international press about this constant barrage. But I am also a political scientist who studies world events and analyses the cause and effect. And, as Washington Post Jerusalem bureau chief Janine Zacharia asks in Slate: What is Israel’s long-term strategy for Gaza to try to change this situation?

An Israeli child seen through a window of a building in the Southern Israeli town of Netivot that was hit by a Gaza rocket. southern town of Netivot. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Haaretz: A breakdown of the Fighting between Israel and Gaza

In fact, except for “cutting the grass” – in other words, “bomb them back to the Middle Ages” every ten years, the current government has NO STRATEGY. Why? Because “they are never going to stop hating us,” so why bother to make their lives better?

I do agree with Zacharia’s assessment when she says: “It’s time to declare Israel’s policy toward Gaza and Hamas a failure. This is not an anti-Israel statement. Rather, it is an honest acknowledgment of the facts, which are simply too numerous to avoid.”

Regardless of who was there first, who shot first, who hates whom, and who’s God is right, if Israel really wants to stop this from recurring it has to figure out a way to get rid of the problem. If the preferred outcome is to move the Gaza Palestinians to Arab states, then negotiate with those Arab states to allow them to emigrate. Bribe them, do whatever it takes! I am sure that at least 50% of Gazans would happily leave. If the preferred outcome involves leaving them where they are ask what can be done to educate the next generation of Gazans in order to prevent the indoctrination they are currently getting.

But most importantly, for Israel’s sake, look around the region. “Cutting the grass” and “bombing them back to the middle Ages” with impunity may leave them with a smaller stockpile of weapons for the next few years but it is not going to work for that much longer as Israel’s neighborhood is drastically changing. As U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta noted last year: “The question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to protect your military strength.’’

Instead, Israel assassinates the guy who apparently was just about to put his signature on a cease-fire agreement. True, he had a lot of blood on his hands, but are his followers going to be more accommodating? And how about the kids and the grand kids?

Some sources for latest information and opinion:

The rocket count on IDF’s blog

LA Times: Israel attack on Gaza: Familiar tension, new circumstances

Live blog from Haaretz

Slate: Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign is Doomed, by Janine Zacharia

BBC blog/tweet page

NY Times, Nov 16th: As Battlefield Changes, Israel Takes Tougher Approach

The Daily Beast, Daniel Levy, Nov 16th: “Living By the Sword”