Israeli Government Crisis Raises Fresh Doubts for U.S. Peace Plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fended off a challenge to his fragile coalition Monday as a key partner backed away from a threat to quit the government, staving off snap elections but leaving the embattled leader’s position so precarious that U.S. hopes to begin a peace process in the coming months could be thrown off course.

Naftali Bennett’s decision to stay on as education minister and keep his Jewish Home party in the ruling coalition lessens the possibility of early elections, at least for now, though the government’s majority remains razor thin, with 61 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.

.. “Any schmuck in the coalition can blackmail him with whatever reason, it’s really hard to handle,” Mr. Navon added.
.. His announcement follows a week of crisis in Mr. Netanyahu’s government, triggered Wednesday after the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in protest at the government’s policy toward Gaza. Mr. Lieberman, who said Israel’s response to a flare up in violence with Gaza hadn’t been tough enough, subsequently withdrew his Yisrael Beiteinu party from government, costing the coalition five seats.
.. In the wake of that resignation, Mr. Bennett said he would withdraw his party unless he was appointed defense minister.
.. Mr. Netanyahu announced Sunday that he would keep the defense brief for himself. He is now the
  1. foreign minister,
  2. defense minister and
  3. health minister, as well as the
  4. prime minister.

.. Mr. Netanyahu has served as prime minister since 2009 and won three successive elections. He is favored to win again in a 2019 contest.

.. looming over him are a string of corruption probes, with indictments possible in the coming months, which analysts said are also figuring into his calculations about when to hold elections. Police have so far recommended Mr. Netanyahu be charged with criminal bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption probes, but it is up to the attorney general to decide whether to bring charges.

 

Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot

“As a Palestinian, I would not support Qatar if they said they wanted a two-state solution,” said Mr. Gatshan, 44. “I want my human rights. My rights are to live without any limits or restrictions and without occupiers.”

.. The Trump administration plans to focus on an “outside-in” approach, meaning that Israel would first pursue agreements with Arab countries to help solve the conflict with the Palestinians.

.. Supporters of the outside-in approach say that the merging of interests between Israel and Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt could provide an opening.

.. The divisions among Palestinians also undermine support for their cause. “Even if they wanted to do something, they don’t know who they should support now,” Mr. Hellyer said.

.. On Monday, it announced that Yehya Sinwar, a hard-line member of its military wing, had been chosen as its new Gaza leader.

.. Though Hamas has declared a truce, and largely controls other groups who try to continue fighting, some Israelis say a new war in Gaza is the only way to ultimately achieve peace.

.. Israel “cannot be the only country in the world where children cannot walk down the street without worrying that a missile will fall,” Naftali Bennett, a far-right lawmaker and education minister, said on a visit to the fence dividing Gaza and Israel last week. “Our enemies are investing all their resources in developing ways to kill us.”

Only with a complete victory,” he said, “can we put an end to this cycle.”

Will Netanyahu Seize the Chance for Peace?

The product of this sad history is today’s three-way division of the Israeli public. An increasingly fervent right rejects a two-state solution in theory (as a violation of God’s plan for Judea and Samaria) and in practice (as a mortal threat to Israel’s security). An enlarged, more skeptical center accepts it in theory but not in practice. A much-diminished left continues to believe in the two-state solution, in theory and in practice.

In the eyes of most Israelis, events have discredited the left’s noble dreams. If centrist politicians offer no alternative—and most have been reluctant—the right will retain the initiative.

.. Yet if Mr. Netanyahu is serious—and not just playing rope-a-dope until the Trump administration exhausts itself in the Middle East—he will do his utmost to broaden the talks by bringing the Saudis, and the Sunni coalition they lead, into the process.

..  If Mr. Netanyahu is skillful and determined, he will seize on the newly strengthened ties between Washington and Riyadh to engineer a similar invitation from the Saudis to meet face-to-face. To make this happen, the Israeli prime minister would have to utter some encouraging words about the Arab Peace Plan, a 15-year-old Saudi initiative, which he did as recently as 2015.

Two parties in the current coalition— Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu—would leave. The leaders of the Zionist Union, Ms. Livni and Mr. Herzog, almost certainly would be willing to join. There is a potential majority coalition for new and broadened negotiations, which only Mr. Netanyahu has the hard-line credibility to lead.

This would be the moment of truth for Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership. Does he want to use his mastery of coalition tactics to maintain himself in power indefinitely, or does he want to be remembered as a man who gambled on changing the course of history for his country?

Israelis cheered for Trump. But they may miss Obama more than they expected.

Policy vs. personality in Middle East politics.

Real policy differences over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran caused innumerable disagreements, many of them quite public. But during my time representing the United States here, I found that the caricature of universal Israeli hostility to Obama was overstated.
.. the arrival of a president who “at last” would support Israel unconditionally and not pressure the country to limit settlement growth or make concessions to the Palestinians.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, declared, “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state.”
.. revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state solution, with the support of key Arab states
.. With Obama, Israelis may not always have gotten everything they wanted. But they always got consistency. Obama held as a firm principle the idea that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security was unconditional.
.. relationship mature enough and durable enough to withstand such differences — but they needed to know that the United States was a reliable ally when it mattered most. And he delivered
.. they came to appreciate was Obama’s style of leadership: steady, thoughtful, knowledgeable.
.. he had the maturity, the discipline and the judgment to reach well-informed decisions that benefited Israel’s security.
.. The result was a period of unprecedented intimacy between our militaries and intelligence services.
.. I was struck by the depth of appreciation that senior Israeli military officers and intelligence officials expressed for Obama’s contributions to Israel’s security, often drawing a contrast with sentiments expressed by their politicians or the public.
.. Amos Gilad, a longtime senior defense official.. told me: “It’s easy to criticize Obama. But on the military front, the relationship was incredible.”
.. His unpredictability .. was already a source of anxiety
.. Israelis now have to ask which Trump will show up for work each day — the friend who pledges his loyalty or the adolescent who can lash out at allies such as Australia and Canada, and perhaps one day Israel?
.. His lack of knowledge, compounded by his aversion to reading and short attention span
.. His carelessness
.. shaken the confidence of the Israeli intelligence services in the reliability of the United States as a partner
.. indifferent to democratic values and institutions and enamored of authoritarian leaders is harming the United States’ standing globally, which is never good for Israel.
.. off the record, officials are beginning to acknowledge that something has changed.
.. erratic, unreliable leader?
.. David Ben-Gurion, gave President John F. Kennedy
.. The best way you can help Israel, Ben-Gurion told him, is “by being a great President of the United States.”