WASHINGTON – John Kerry may not bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but he is rocking the Netanyahu government from the inside. The jolt could be seen Sunday on Netanyahu's face as he delivered the closing address of the Saban Forum in Washington via video. As opposed to Obama, Netanyahu refused to answer any questions. All the questions remained with him – and there are no answer so far.
Kerry, in his hectic efforts to advance the negotiations, is imposing quite a difficult problem on Netanyahu. The military plan devised by a huge team of experts, led by General Allen, robs Netanyahu of the immediate argument he has raised every time he was required to discuss the outline of the future border between Israel and Palestine: Security arrangements. Now there are security arrangements, and they include a long transition period before we leave the Jordan Valley, international supervision over border crossings, and more.
There is a consensus in Israel over the need for tight security arrangements. The American plan breaks the consensus and reopens the internal argument over the 1967 borders and the fate of the settlements. In this argument is it not only the public opinion that is divided – so is the government and the coalition. If Netanyahu is forced to decide where he is headed, which he particularly hates doing, he will find a government in a dynamics of a division.
Habayit Hayehudi will not be able to live with an outline based on the 1967 borders. If it splits from the coalition, it may drag along part of the Likud and possibly all of Yisrael Beiteinu. If, alternatively, Netanyahu refuses to progress on the outline the Americans are paving for him, Tzipi Livni will find it difficult to explain to her voters why she is staying in the government. Lapid may leave after her. Lapid has been realizing for a while now that his way out passes through the peace process issue. Under such circumstances, the Labor Party won't be able to join. Netanyahu will be left with the rightist bloc and the haredim – not enough to sustain a government and deal with global pressures and the wide Israeli public.
PM's defense line: Recognition of Jewish stateNetanyahu can rely on his defense minister, Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, to search for and find holes in the American security plan. Ya'alon knows that he will find it difficult to maintain his position in the Likud if he supports a move implying a discussion on the 1967 borders. The work the Americans have put into the plan could bear fruit in other areas, in the battle over the public opinion or in future rounds with a more convenient government for an agreement.
In Sunday's speech, for understandable reasons, Netanyahu skipped the security argument. He preferred to withdraw to the next defense line: The Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That is the minimum demand, a necessary condition. The demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state was first raised by Tzipi Livni in the Sharon government. Livni believed that at the end of the negotiations, as part of the declaration on ending the claims, there is room for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu has turned it into a precondition.
Former Minister Dan Meridor, who participated in the forum, pulled out from his cellular phone an old recording of Yasser Arafat's speech in English, in which he talked about "a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state." The recording proves, allegedly, just how hollow this argument is. Abbas could say, "I adopt Arafat's words about a Jewish state. Arafat gave, Arafat went, bless Arafat's name," thereby turning the Israeli demand into a joke.
Whether we like it or not, Iran and the negotiations with the Palestinians are now intertwined, combined into Kerry's ambitious agenda. They are on the background of the talks about a new coalition of the countries America has disappointed in the region, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia, and they are the two issues Netanyahu over which is clashing with the Obama administration.
In Sunday's address, Netanyahu referred to them as one. In fact, he said, you screwed us in Bushehr, so don't expect us to give you Yitzhar. He could have taken an opposite policy, making progress with the Palestinians and using the positive response in the world for additional pressure on Iran. But that is not Netanyahu's choice – not at this stage.