Israel's unity government: How big was the shift to the center?
A new coalition government in Israel was expected to give Prime Minister Netanyahu more flexibility on Palestinian peace talks. But moves on Jewish settlements suggest otherwise.
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"I doubt that Netanyahu would suddenly become a dove because [Kadima] joined the coalition,’’ he says. "But he also doesn’t want to be perceived as someone who doesn’t seek out negotiations.’’Skip to next paragraph
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By bringing in Kadima and its leader, Shaul Mofaz, as a deputy prime minister, Netanyahu boosted his coalition from 66 seats to 94 seats of the 120 member parliament. That means that no single political party can bring down the government on its own, giving Netanyahu new freedom to pursue his avowed support for a Palestinian state. During his first three years in office, he was seen as too dependent on hard-liners to risk his political future on the issue.
Still, the grass roots of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party has seen an influx of religious Jewish settlers, who are opposed to compromise and likely to come out strongly against any signs of pragmatism. Any serious progress toward and agreement with the Palestinians is likely to cause a rebellion among Netanyahu’s core supporters.
Moreover, Kadima and Mr. Mofaz’s influence on policymaking seems limited. Despite the fact that Kadima represents nearly one-third of the coalition, Mofaz is Kadima’s sole representative in the cabinet as well as the "nonet" forum of ministers that Netanyahu consults on foreign policy. And there were apparently no Kadima representatives on the two panels that discussed reinforcing the legal status of the settlements last weekend.
Indeed, one of the first tests of the new unity coalition’s mettle regarding the peace process will come during the summer, when the government faces a court-imposed deadline to evacuate several settler homes in the West Bank erected on Palestinian-owned property.
"We have to look at the outposts very closely, as a weathervane," says a Jerusalem-based foreign diplomat who follows Israeli politics but declined to speak on record. "We can see the real Netanyahu now if he so wishes. He can go whichever way he wants. He has run out of excuses. He gets to describe himself at this point."
If Netanyahu continues to avoid a confrontation with settlers and looks for an alternative solution that leaves the houses in place, as his aides have suggested he will, it will be a sign that he sees himself as very much dependent on the hard-liners in his own party.
If Netanyahu should dismantle the homes at the Givat Haulpana settlement, it will be seen as a sign that he is striking a more independent path on foreign policy and may rely on Kadima despite being imperiled among his core constituency.
But Danny Danon, a Likud parliamentary hard-liner, isn’t worried. "Netanyahu knows that if he wants to keep his base for the next election, he cannot count on Kadima," he says. "If not, he will be dependent on the goodwill of the center left; and he knows that when they have the first opportunity, they will go against him."