Bibi’s corner


With Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition finally taking shape — controversial Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman is his first official partner, and will play a powerful role — the pressure is mounting on the prime minister-designate to show that his government will not be of the extreme right.

Aluf Benn suggests in Ha’aretz that Bibi’s way out is to embrace the Arab peace initiative (peace with the Arab world if Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders), slow settlement growth and restart peace talks with Syria. This would win Bibi favor with the Arab League, not to mention the Obama administration and European heads of state.

It’s a nice idea, maybe, but it’s like asking a zebra to shed its stripes. As far as I can tell, Bibi does not favor withdrawing to Israel’s pre-1967 borders, nor does he appear to favor the eventual creation of a Palestinian state. For the time being, Bibi is doing all he can to avoid having to back a Palestinian state.

The Jerusalem Post’s editorialists suggest that the gap between Bibi and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni "can be bridged by a strong set of toothpicks." They put the onus on Livni to join up with Bibi.

Livni claims that she cannot become Netanyahu’s vice premier and foreign minister because they disagree over the two-state solution. This unhelpfully reinforces the misperception, mostly among foreign critics, that Israel is primarily responsible for blocking the emergence of a Palestinian state.

If Bibi sticks to his current position, Israel will be an obstacle to the emergence of a Palestinian state.

While right now the Palestinians may not be ready for a state — the Palestinian polity is divided between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank; the West Bank leadership still is not strong enough to govern a state; a sizeable chunk of the Palestinian public wants to see Israel destroyed, and significant differences remain on a peace deal with Israel — Bibi’s refusal to say that he favors the eventual creation of a Palestinian state dooms any real progress from the get-go.

This is not a minor difference between Livni and Bibi; it is a major difference.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic also faults Livni for not joining up with Bibi, but at least Goldberg doesn’t pretend she should do so because their differences are small. Livni should do so because it’s in Israel’s best interests, he writes. Essentially, the choice for Livni (as I wrote on Feb. 20), is between party and country.

But Bibi’s the real one responsible for the composition of his coalition. At some point, the only way for him to signal to the Israeli people, the Arabs and the world that his government is not beholden to the far right is for him to express or embrace some moderate positions. Israel is waiting.

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