American administrations have a tendency to blame the ‘radical’ settlers for torpedoing peace missions. The real problem, however, is with the ‘moderates’ who are complicit in maintaining the status quo.
There is a lot of talk in some circles about Naftali Bennett’s appearance at the Saban Forum last weekend (video below). Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party and is the star of the Israeli Right, took to the stage with former special envoy to the peace process Martin Indyk. Bennett essentially declared that Israeli will never accept the two-state solution, that there will be no more “land for peace” and that he has the Israeli public behind him. “How many more missiles need to fall on Ashkelon until you wake up?” he asked Indyk, who remained mostly speechless. Bennett shared a clip of the event on his Facebook page.
Bennett, with his overtly confrontational attitude, is clearly the new boogeyman in the eyes of the Obama administration. According to mainstream thinking, if he ends up being appointed the next defense minister, the peace process will be as good as dead. This is a mistake: there is no hope for peace with Bennett, but this is not where the real problem lies.
American administrations have a tendency to divide societies into “good guys” and “bad guys,” or “moderates” and “radicals.” Moderates, they believe, are the ones you can do business with, and thus are the political forces worth cultivating. The Israeli case is no different: there is a non-stop effort to decipher whether or not certain politicians – specifically rising stars and potential leaders – are “moderates.” The settlers are always the radicals, while Labor leaders are the moderates as long as they show some interest in the Palestinian issue. Liberman was a radical; now he is a potential moderate. Netanyahu was the exact opposite; there was a moment when he had the ability to become a moderate, but is now considered a hopeless case.
While amusing, this game misses the point entirely. Besides a lot of wishful thinking, it betrays a simple misunderstanding of Israeli politics. What political leaders think or say is not as important as the balance of interests and the environment that shape their behavior.
The heart of the matter is this: the common denominator that allows coalitions in Israel to exist is an agreement on the status quo with...Read More