Pacts will founder on the peace process

November 24, 2016 22:56

After six weeks of wrangling, on Wednesday night a deal was done that looked set to pave the way for Israel’s 33rd government.

The coalition negotiations have taken a tortuous path, and the fact that they have gone all the way to the 42nd and last day of the mandated time allotted does not speak well of the ability of the erstwhile political partners to work together in the future.

With the disagreements over the education and interior portfolios finally ironed out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present his new government to President Shimon Peres on Saturday night.

Mr Netanyahu’s government then, will be made up of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu [31 seats], Yesh Atid [19], Habayit Hayehudi [12] and Hatnuah [6] — a ruling majority of 68 MKs.

Significantly, this government will not include the Charedi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.

Jewish Home will leave the coalition if a deal with the Palestinians becomes likely

What was not possible with the Charedim in government — teaching core curriculum in Charedi schools, drafting Charedim into the army and increasing their participation in the workforce — may now be possible. Possible, but perilous, as much rests on how much is done with the co-operation of the Charedi leadership.

While the Charedim are out, the settlers of the religious Zionist stream are in, and they are making a beeline for the institutions of religion and state; most significantly the position of chief rabbi. Again, making successful changes to Charedi society relies on a smart and humanistic combination of carrots and sticks.

Once installed in his third term as prime minister, Mr Netanyahu’s first challenge will be to pass the national budget, ostensibly the reason he called elections in the first place. Israel is in murky financial waters, and the government will have to cut some NIS 30 billion in the state budget, as well as increase taxes and institute other painful austerity measures.

On socioeconomic issues, the coalition may be able to make some important changes to the structural flaws in Israel’s society and economy, but any far-reaching, root-and-branch reforms, if they happen, will take time. While some changes can be expected to be made to the institutions of religion and state in Israel, it is unlikely that Likud and Habayit Hayehudi will agree to transportation on the Sabbath, for instance.

While the coalition will move to redress the imbalance in the equality of national burden, do not expect to see thousands of young Charedi men join the ranks of the IDF, or, alternatively, be locked up behind bars for draft dodging.

The story of this post-election period has undoubtedly been the historic and ironclad alliance between Mr Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett. Setting aside their ideologies on the peace process, the two ascendant leaders see eye-to-eye on almost every socio-economic issue, especially the tough nut that is the non-participation of the majority of the strictly-Orthodox sector in the military and, more crucially, the workforce.

The Lapid-Bennett alliance was, due, in most part, to the personal animosity the prime minister has for his former bureau chief. The alliance worked well for both Mr Bennett and Mr Lapid, essentially in forcing Mr Netanyahu to bring them both into his coalition, as forming a government without them would have been a precarious adventure for the PM. But the Lapid-Bennett alliance was for coalition negotiations leverage only, and should, by all accounts, founder on the rocks of serious diplomacy with the Palestinians, should such diplomacy actually happen.

Jewish Home will not leave the coalition if talks with the Palestinian Authority restart. It will not even leave the coalition if a limited settlement freeze is implemented to get PA President Mahmoud Abbas to the table. It will only leave the coalition if a real deal is likely. The truth is that this suits Mr Netanyahu just fine: the kind of Palestinian state he is willing to agree to is the kind of state the Palestinians will never agree to. In any case, the current regional turbulence, and especially the implications of an imploding Syria and an uncertain Egypt, make any bold peace moves by this government extremely unlikely.

During the election campaign, Mr Netanyahu said repeatedly that should he form a government, he would make sure that Ms Livni gets “nowhere near” the negotiations with the Palestinians. Ms Livni was the first person Mr Netanyahu signed a coalition deal with, placing Ms Livni in charge of peace talks with the Palestinians, with the caveat that a Netanyahu representative is in the room with her whenever she is meeting the Palestinians. It is obvious why Ms Livni accepted this: she had no choice. With six mandates, her “movement” would have disintegrated in opposition. Mr Bennett, however, is demanding that Mr Netanyahu amend his coalition deal with Ms Livni, to make doubly sure that she is not able to give away any meaningful concessions [read settlements] to the Palestinians.

Some movement on the diplomatic track does seem likely, even though the consensus in Washington, Israel and the Palestinian territories is that a deal is very, very far off, if even possible. The upcoming visit by US President Barack Obama, and the planned visit to the region afterward by Secretary of State John Kerry, do not represent an American administration imposing a peace plan on both sides. Obama and Netanyahu have much bigger fish to fry, namely the Iranian nuclear program, Syrian chemical weapons, and an Egypt spinning out of control.

November 24, 2016 22:56

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