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Netanyahu Seeks National Unity
Israelis ask why - peace, war, or media spin?
Yehonathan Tommer (tommery06)     Print Article 
Published 2010-01-04 13:51 (KST)   
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is probably Israel's strongest leader in recent years. He heads a firm, center-right coalition government with a parliamentary majority of 78 seats that is unchallenged by a disarray of left wing opposition parties.

So why does he want to broaden further his coalition by bringing in the Kadima opposition party with 28 Knesset seats?

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Mr. Netanyahu's invitation to Kadima Chairperson Tzipi Livni last week to join his already inflated coalition has had political analysts speculating about the Prime Minister's motives.

What, if anything, has changed from a year ago - politically or diplomatically - to persuade Mr. Netanyahu to believe Kadima will accept less than an equal share of the portfolios he offered Ms. Livni then and she at the time rejected?

Several things.

First, Mr. Netanyahu, in his Bar Ilan speech in June, agreed to accept a two-state solution of the dispute with the Palestinians. His refusal to do so in March scuttled negotiations with Kadima for a national unity government.

Second, pressed by the White House, Mr. Netanyahu agreed to President Obama's demand to freeze Israeli West Bank settlement construction. The freeze, albeit, is only for ten months instead of the two years which the Americans wanted.

Third, Mr. Netanyahu instructed his government to issue settlers with immediate freeze orders on building construction. He stands by Defense Minister Ehud Barak's measures to enforce them and impound equipment that continues to be used in violation of those orders. He also stands by his decision in a face-off with angry settler demonstrations and in confrontations with building inspectors and security forces sent in to keep law and order.

The freeze order is undeniably selective. It certainly does not apply to building construction in Jewish neighborhoods, like Gilo, which were annexed to Jerusalem after the Six Day War in June 1967 and which Israeli governments have unanimously viewed as an integral part of the Israeli capital and State of Israel. Nor does it include certain isolated West Bank settlements whose settlers have repeatedly been involved in attacks on Palestinian villagers and property.

These are now included for some inexplicable reason among high priority development areas. And the freeze, as well, does not include Jewish building in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem like Ras el Amud, Silwan and Sheik Jarrah.

Mr. Netanyahu has also said, to pacify his far right coalition partners, that the building freeze is temporary and will be lifted at the end of the ten months moratorium.

The partial settlement freeze, limited by scope and time, has angered the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas demanded a comprehensive and permanent freeze as a condition for resuming peace negotiations with the Israelis. He has rejected repeated Israeli calls to return to negotiations and his refusal conveniently strengthens his public position vis-a-vis Hamas which would accuse him of submitting to an Israeli 'diktat.'

Unsatisfying as the settlement freeze is to critics all round, Mr. Netanyahu has done the inconceivable. Like his predecessors former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert he has made a pragmatic shift in accepting a Palestinian state. Only time will tell whether his response was a tactical one to ease American pressure, or a strategic decision to initiate negotiations to finally end the conflict.

Now he is accused of scheming to dismember the Kadima party. If Ms. Livni rebuffs his offer to join the coalition, as senior party politicians predict, Mr. Netanyahu will try to split the party by luring a breakaway group of five or six Kadima politicians with cosy job offers in his government.

The cynics say that there is no national emergency or diplomatic breakthrough on the horizon to justify Kadima joining the government as a junior coalition partner.

Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed the urgency of a national unity government because of the crucial challenges Israel will face next year.

Some have speculated that he wants a wall to wall coalition to back a military strike which Washington presently opposes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Others say Mr. Netanyahu wants Kadima on board to replace two far right factions - HaBayit HaLeumi (the Jewish Home) and the National Union - which will quit the coalition if he relaunches negotiations for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

Yossi Beilin is a former left wing foreign minister who with Mahmoud Abbas negotiated the Geneva Initiative - a blueprint for a final settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He is also a past critic of the Likud leader. Beilin told the Haaretz daily that Mr. Netanyahu is genuine. He has American approval for an outline program to conduct peace negotiations over the next two years based on the 1967 borders to end the conflict.

Netanyahu, says Beilin, accepts all previous agreements signed with the PLO including the Road Map. He is ready to discuss the future of Jerusalem, find a multilateral solution to the Palestinian refugee issue and take into account international initiatives ? like the Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002- which help to promote the peace process.

But, he also warned, that Mr. Netanyahu tends to take opposite steps to appease his settler lobby which hand cuff and sabotage peace negotiations.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Yehonathan Tommer

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