Israeli elections. More reactions. Don’t give up on peace process just yet.
CNN Reports that “The Obama administration’s frustration with Benjamin Netanyahu is turning into outright hostility after the Israeli prime minister’s commanding victory this week.”
Senior officials in President Obama’s administration, including White House spokesman John Earnest, are reported as saying that Netanyahu’s final pre-election push, in which he said that there will be no Palestinian State and no Palestinian capitol in Jerusalem, present “very significant substantive concerns,” and that, “we will have to reassess our options going forward.”
Yet another official asserted that if Netanyahu’s change of position reflects a new Israeli policy, that we are in a “different situation than we have been in years,” and that, in effect scuttling the multi-administration peace talks, could change the U.S. relationship towards Israel.
Others focused on the democratic nature of Israeli elections as if to suggest that Netanyahu’s hawkish posture to reclaim the far right vote might well be softened once the coalition is formed. President Obama is giving Netanyahu space to back down on his desperate last minute campaigning switch in policy by waiting to congratulate him on his victory. Secretary of State John Kerry sent an administration’s nominal congratulations, but Obama, we are told, consistent with past elections, will wait to congratulate Netanyahu until Israeli President Reuven Rivlin asks Netanyahu to form a coalition, or until that coalition is an actuality. Remember, a unity coalition government, including both Labor and Likud, has precedence, including this past ill-fated government. If a coalition including both the right and the left parties were to become necessary, a softening of Netanyahu’s campaign stance would be the minimum condition for Zionist Union’s participation. The first implied retaliatory move by the United States would be to relax their unqualified support to Israel in the United Nations. This probably would take the form of more dovish language in compromised statements criticizing Israel’s stance towards the Palestinians. My guess is that Netanyahu will back-peddle and re-establish a vaguely worded and general support for a two-state solution. Could he be trusted to negotiate seriously, or will that be subordinated to his late campaign diatribe. Which represents the real Netanyahu? The answer will surely be open to different self-serving interpretations. This is, after all, the Middle-East, and yes, state negotiations almost always resemble bargaining over the price of a leather purse in one of the souks.
Indeed, while Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief peace negotiator said, “It is clear Israel has voted for burying the peace process, against the two-state choice,” in my opinion he did so in order to justify going forth in international tribunals to get them to condemn Netanyahu as a war criminal.
Meanwhile, Nabi Arabi, the Arab League head, dismissed Netanyahu’s late campaign promise to prevent a Palestinian state, as simply “electioneering.”
So, don’t bury the peace process just yet, though trust certainly has suffered. As for U.S.-Israel relations, there is too much at stake for both sides to shatter them completely. Most day-to-day relations involve exchanges between the respective military and intelligence agencies. This will likely continue, though some military requests may run into “bureaucratic” delays.
Israel will exist well beyond Netanyahu’s administration, and the U.S, beyond Obama’s. No doubt, however, the already chilly relations between those two leaders has dropped a few degrees.