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Israelis, Wake up!

22/03/2013

Bestowing Yesh Atid with 19 mandates, Israeli voters left critical positions related to land in the hands of the Habayit Hayehudi party, which promotes “partial annexation” of the West Bank. Ignoring this pressure cooker will lead to more violence. And no, President Obama cannot ‘save us from ourselves’.

In her inaugural speech, Israeli Leader of the Opposition Shelly Yachimovich reassured PM Netanyahu she would not let his coalition fall apart. Yachimovich said she would not let the “deep ideological divide” between them jeopardise the chance of reaching an interim agreement with the Palestinians, provided that Netanyahu starts delivering on his so far mostly verbal commitment to a two state solution.

The math is simple:  Habayit Hayehudi party, with its political vision of “Partial Annexation” of the West Bank, has 12 mandates. Meanwhile, Labor, whose political vision consists of the two-state solution according to the Clinton Parameters, also has 12 mandates. According to Yachimovich, should Habayit Hayehudi walk out of the coalition as a result of negotiations with the Palestinians, Labor will join Netanyahu’s coalition and save the day.

Which camp does Netanyahu belong to? His words from the Bar-Ilan speech place him in the latter, while his actions on the ground promote the former. Amid a new government, President Obama’s visit and rising violence levels in the West Bank, the Israeli public deserves a straight answer.

In a previous post I wrote about measures Israel can take in order to avoid an ‘Obama Intifada’. Since then, unfortunately, the flames have been slowly rising:  A settler was injured by gunfire near Qalqilya; an Israeli infant was critically hurt  and her mother injured in traffic accident caused by stone-throwing Palestinians;  earlier today, an Israeli was shot from a passing car near Nablus in the West Bank; and the list goes on.

So far, Israel has been sending very mixed signals about its intentions. On the one hand, it highlights the dismantling of a few structures in two West Bank outposts and announces the transfer of 20 million NIS to President Abu-Mazen, to go towards renovation of Palestinian infrastructure. At the same time, the 33rd government that was sworn in yesterday is extremely settler-friendly, with two crucial positions related to land and real estate in the hands of Habayit Hayehudi, whose vision of peace relies on “partial annexation” of the West Bank. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to imagine any halt of outpost and settlement expansion.

So even if the math that Shelly Yachimovich alluded to is simple, the political math is not:  the 12 mandates Habayit Hayehudi brings with it are not equivalent to the 12 mandates of Labor.  As things now stand, the Government of Israel has little incentive to pay more than lip-service to negotiations in the form of a few concessions to the PA, in order to alleviate the “diplomatic pressure” it faces.

It is therefore up to the Israeli public to wake up: many well-meaning Israelis wish for President Obama to bend Israel’s arm, drag it back to the negotiations table and somehow fix everything. But this is not going to work – even if Obama were interested in this ungrateful role. And while many well-meaning Israelis gave 19 mandates to Yesh Atid party in order to vouch for Israel’s middle class which consists of 70% of the public, security and foreign affairs issues were left in the hands of HaBayit Hayehudi, which represents merely 6% of Israel’s population: West Bank and East Jerusalem Jewish settlers.

According to a recent poll, public support for Yesh Atid and its focus on middle-class problems is soaring. It is therefore unlikely that there will be a sudden popular wave of peace protests forcing Netanyahu to swap Habayit Hayehudi in favor of Labor. After President Obama departs, we will likely remain with the same government that is verbally committed to the vision of a two state solution but practices partial annexation. Experience shows that this pressure cooker is bound to spill over. Will the Israeli public wake up before violence in the West Bank reaches the point of no return?

This was originally featured in the Times of Israel.