By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Though much suggests that both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority prefer to blame the other than pay the price for peace, and notwithstanding US Secretary of State Kerry’s frustration – seemingly even more with Israel than with the Palestinians – talks are still going on. Whether they’ll yield much is impossible to ascertain. In view of the record so far, it’s difficult to hold out much hope.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, gave vent to her frustration with her own government in a just published interview on ynet in which she accuses the Habayit Hayehudi coalition partner in very strong language. She blames its leader Naftali Bennett and his deputy Uri Ariel for torpedoing the negotiations.
Bennett has threatened to take his party out of the coalition if Israeli Arabs, serving prison sentences for terrorist activities, are released as part of a deal. One suspects that if he had not chosen this as a stumbling block, he’d find another. Ariel complicated negotiations recently by announcing at a sensitive moment the construction of more settlement housing.
Both are obviously bent on making sure that Livni fails, because they regard themselves as representing the settlers and one is left with the uneasy feeling that they’d rather see the country sink than witness the evacuation of even some outposts. Livni’s public lashing seems deliberate and desperate; evidence of great frustration.
She got implicit public support from an unexpected quarter: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He has of late assumed a more statesman-like persona, perhaps as a way of preparing himself to be Israel’s next prime minister. As part of his new image, he said publicly that if someone wants to leave the coalition let them leave: an obvious reference to Bennett. A break-up of the coalition could perhaps advance Lieberman’s seeming ambition or perhaps he supports peace with the Palestinians.
Though he has made conciliatory noises during recent visits to the United States, the Americans are less than enamored by him in view of his serious flirtation with Putin and Russia, which may explain why Netanyahu hasn’t come out in support of the United States and Europe for their handling of the Ukraine crisis. Israel’s allies may not like Netanyahu but they may have more reason to worry about Lieberman.
Netanyahu’s silence about Bennett’s threat can be interpreted either as siding with Bennett or as being afraid of Bennett lest his departure may result in the end of the current government, and thus perhaps also the current prime minister (even if his Likud party will get more Knesset seats than any other party, as a recent poll indicated).
As Israel is about to celebrate Pesach, “the season of our freedom,” many of its citizens will be painfully aware of how fragile that freedom is and how difficult it is to make peace, perhaps even more difficult than to make war. It’s painful to accept that, in order to enjoy the opportunities freedom has given the Jewish people, sacrifices have to be made to retain it and ideologies have to be revised to sustain it.
Whatever the future may hold, the festival is giving all parties something of a respite. Even John Kerry’s representative in the negotiations, Martin Indyk, has gone back to Washington, presumably for the Seder. All that’s left for the rest of us is to pray hard and hope for a miracle of the magnitude of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.