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Islamic State crisis salvaged Bibi's coalition

November 24, 2016 23:18

The war between the West, moderate Arab states and the Islamic State (IS) is only in its early stages and no-one can predict how it will turn out, but so far there is only one tangible result - it has stabilised Israeli politics.

Only a few weeks ago, the various components of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition were at loggerheads with the prime minister.

In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, the possibility of a renewed diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority threatened to force out Habayit Hayehudi. Conversely, centre-left Hatnuah would have found it very difficult to remain if no process was pursued by the government.

Mr Netanyahu had not been on speaking terms with his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who had publicly criticised the PM's management of the war, and an irrevocable split seemed all but inevitable.

Relations with Yair Lapid were also at a low point, with the Prime Minister withholding his support from the Yesh Atid leader's flagship policy, the plan for zero-VAT on first homes. Likud's old partners, the Charedi parties, were already talking about a return to the cabinet room from the wilderness of opposition.

But the shift in regional focus, away from the Israel-Palestine issue and firmly onto IS in Iraq and Syria has had a knock-on effect on local politics.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, anxious that his cause has been losing the world's attention, launched a confrontational policy in his fiery UN speech two weeks ago. He made it clear that there would be no negotiations with the Palestinians in the near future.

Not only has this cleared the path for Habayit Hayehudi to remain in the coalition, but Tzipi Livni can also now blame the Palestinians for the lack of a peace process. In a Facebook message to her supporters this week, she wrote that Mr Abbas "is going to waste years on demanding the UN fix a date for a Palestinian state".

Meanwhile, she wrote, "the international and regional co-operation against Islamist terror can create new opportunities, and we have to concentrate on that".

This new emphasis on building ties with Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE, rather than pushing forward with the Palestinians, was also the main diplomatic proposal in Mr Netanyahu's own speech at the UN last week.

This has long been the preferred path proposed by Mr Lieberman, who could barely hide his satisfaction. He now has no reason to leave the coalition either.

And while IS is not threatening Israel directly for now, its addition to the list of security challenges has made it easier for the government to widen the deficit next year and provide funding both for a larger defence budget and the Zero-VAT plan, so Mr Lapid is satisfied.

Mr Netanyahu's UN speech, in which he sought to link IS, Hamas and Iran, may have been in English but it was directed at Israelis. These are the threads tying his coalition together.

November 24, 2016 23:18

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