By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
References to peace with the Palestinians have returned to the rhetoric of Binyamin Netanyahu. During the election campaign he tended to talk about the threat from Iran and its stooges, not about opportunities for peace. But in his acceptance speech in response to the request by President Peres that he form the next government, he spoke of peace with the Palestinians and called upon their leader Abu Mazen to respond in kind.
Among the many reactions to Netanyahu’s peace talk, I’ve gleaned three sets of speculations.
- The first has to do with forming a coalition. It’s likely that Yair Lapid, whose victory at the polls has turned him into a major player, insists on it. As Netanyahu may also want Tzipi Livni and her comparatively small party in the coalition, peace has to be on his agenda. The fact that Naftali Bennett and his settler constituency may not be keen could be an additional incentive, since – that rumour mill again – neither he nor his wife are said to really want him inside the proverbial tent, despite Netanyahu’s call for a broadly based national unity government.
- A second possibility for Netanyahu’s ostensible re-embrace of the peace process seems less speculative: President Obama is reported to insist on it. The new US Secretary of State will be in Israel even before Netanyahu will have formed his government. Netanyahu himself is due to visit the United States within a month. Whatever the formal occasion its real purpose is, of course, to meet with Obama and those on his team who’ll come to shape the relations with Israel in the next four years.
Netanyahu must know that to deal with what he, probably rightly, considers as the threat from Iran and now Syria, the increasingly destabilized Egypt, the precarious situation in Jordan, and the peculiar noises from Turkey, he needs not just support but full coordination with the United States. It’s difficult to imagine that it would be forthcoming without some tangible commitment to peace with the Palestinians.
- A third speculation has to do with the surveys that indicate that the majority of Israelis – Jews and Arabs – want peace. Judging by the diminished support for his party in the last elections, this is likely to be Netanyahu’s last term in office. Perhaps, in addition to his record-long tenure, he also wants to leave a lasting legacy. Making peace with the Palestinians would undoubtedly keep him in the history books for ever.
Perhaps also Netanyahu the person wants to come to some agreement with the Palestinians. Not that he’d give up the settlements, but he might want to go back on the pre-election bravado calculated to impress right-wing voters. The patriot that he is he knows that only peace can secure the future of an Israel that includes his own children.
Cynics might want to suggest that, whatever his reasons and for all his rhetoric, Abu Mazen won’t cooperate. Even if he shares Netanyahu’s vision, he may reject the latter’s overture out of fear that any agreement with the Israelis will prompt Hamas – with the support of Iran, of course – to take over the West Bank. And Hamas insists that it wants to dismantle the Jewish state, not make peace with it. This would then show both the American administration and the Israeli public that the new government yearns for peace but that, as the saying has it, it has no partner.
Please remember: the above are speculations; facts may emerge in due course.