JERUSALEM — Israel made a right turn, but signaled to the left.
It’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is who is back in the political driver’s seat for the second time in his career, did this for tactical reasons — to evade potential threats by his ultranationalist and religious coalition partners to quit if he deviates from their hard-line beliefs.
That is one of the reasons why Netanyahu made an offer that Labor Party leader Ehud Barak could not refuse. Barak remains defense minister, the post he holds in the outgoing government; other leading Laborites are Cabinet members again and the chairmanship of the Knesset’s influential committee on defense and foreign affairs is going to a Laborite as well.
Netanyahu, who learned a thing or two during his previous stint as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999, does not want the United States, European Union and Russia to back away from Israel in the belief that the Jewish state under its new regime will not consider territorial concessions in favor of the Palestinians or a peace treaty with Syria.
He will make his first diplomatic move by flying to Washington for talks there with President Obama and senior American officials during the first week of May. His main goal will be to explain why he does not believe that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is attainable under the current circumstances.
Like many Israeli analysts as well as independent observers abroad, Netanyahu regards the Islamic Hamas organization, which rules the Gaza Strip in defiance of the Palestinian Authority, as one of the main impediments to Palestinian statehood. Its theologically oriented leadership insists that all of historical Palestine must be under Islamic rule and that there cannot be a separate and sovereign Jewish state on Palestinian
Netanyahu is likely to alert his hosts to the possibility that Hamas may win a majority in the West Bank as well as in the Gaza Strip when the Palestinians go to the polls again in January 2010. This could bring down the curtain on the U.S.-backed negotiations between Israel and the P.A. if only because Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and therefore cannot be a co-signatory to any kind of agreement with it.
Netanyahu may be drawn into a military showdown if it authorizes or tolerates a resumption of the rocket and mortar fire that triggered Israel’s recent 22-day onslaught against Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip. His constituency expects decisive action now that he is back in power. This is something he will have to point out to Obama and other U.S. officials.
Lurking in the background of these discussions will be Iran’s effort to develop a nuclear capability that enable it to produce weapons of mass destruction, i.e. nuclear bombs. Israel is relying on the United States to forestall this nightmare, especially in view of the public threats by Iranian
leaders to destroy the so-called Zionist entity.
The scenario that undoubtedly concerns the Obama administration most of all is that Israel’s determination to prevent a second Holocaust in which Jews again would be the primary victims of premeditated genocide might prompt it to act unilaterally against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu’s advocacy of collective action against Iran, which he has long perceived as an existential threat to the West and as a sponsor of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, could prompt him to repeat the anti-nuclear airstrikes carried out by Israel against Iraq 28 years ago and in Syria last year.
Another issue Netanyahu will likely raise in Washington is the global economic crisis. He has been credited with rescuing the Israeli economy from collapse while finance minister under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and he is expected to be actively involved in Israel’s effort to avoid as many consequences of this downturn as possible.
There is a 35 percent decline in Israel’s exports, a sharp rise in unemployment, an increase in business failures and an unprecedented fall in interest rates here. Several of the country’s major banks sustained heavy losses in 2008 and Netanyahu undoubtedly will confer with American officials who have been dealing with similar setbacks on government policies designed to cope with these
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)